Charming rural villages and seaside towns, winding tree-lined country lanes, rolling green farmlands and all the time in the world to enjoy it. Sure, Cornwall paints quite the peaceful, laidback picture at first glance, but don’t be fooled. Behind the sleepy old world facade, the Cornish countryside houses one of the best adventure playgrounds in the British Isles. By land, sea or air, Cornwall has plenty of energetic options to get the blood pumping – and burn off all the ice cream, fudge and Cornish pasties.

Surf’s up
Whether you’re an old hand at riding the big waves, or wanting to make your surf debut, you can’t go wrong on the beaches of Newquay. This lively seaside town on Cornwall’s northwest coast is Britain’s surfing capital, and hosted the World Surfing Championship every summer until 1998, when they moved to Seignosse in France. Fistral Beach, just west of town, is the most famous surf beach, boasting fast hollow waves, particularly at low tide, and good tubing sections when there’s a southeasterly blowing. On the eastern side of Newquay Bay is Watergate Bay, a 3km stretch of sandy beach with ideal conditions for beginners and surf lessons. If you need a bit of help getting on your feet, there are plenty of surfing schools around. Try the Extreme Academy (www.extreme; 01637-860 840) and Cornwall Surf Academy (; 0870-240 6693).

Horse around
One of the best ways to enjoy Cornwall’s picturesque countryside is to saddle up a horse and let them grab the reins. The quiet country lanes, shallow streams, bridleways, farmlands, and rolling estates provide a stunning, serene ride you won’t forget in a hurry. Some stables also offer riding trips on the Cornish moors and beaches. Stables generally cater to experienced and beginner riders, and match riders to a horse or pony that best suits. Giddy up. Check out St Veep Riding Stables (; 01208-873 521).

Get off the road
Ever wanted to get behind the wheel of a 4WD and try your hand (and nerves) at some scrub bashing? When they’re not being used for raising cattle and growing crops, the farmlands of Cornwall make for some tough off-roading and several resourceful farmers have built formidable off-road training courses. These courses have it all, mammoth mud hills, gut-dropping gullies, and some of the biggest puddles cityslickers will ever face. Try a taster session for fun or, if you’re serious about it, enrol in an accredited course. You can bring your own 4WD vehicle or hire cars on site. Just don’t try your newfound driving bravado back on the highway. Check out Cornwall 4×4 (; 01290-842 317) and Trax and Trails (; 01579-370 718).

On your bike
Cornwall is etched with some of England’s best trails for cycling and mountain biking. There’s terrain to suit every ability and energy level, with rugged and craggy downhills for the experts, and riverside tracks, ancient bridleways and woodland trails for the more casual cycling enthusiast. The Cornwall Coast path is the most scenic section of the South West Coast Path. The Saint’s Way is a 41km trail that runs from Fowey (pronounced Foy) to Padstow on the north coast. In the north, the easy 28km Camel Trail along the banks of the River Camel follows an old railway line from Padstow through Wainbridge to Bodmin. For those wanting a more challenging jaunt, the North Cornwall coastal road provides some of the steepest gradients in the county. Whatever route you take, there’s always an inn or hostel within easy reach for lunch or an overnight stop. For cycle routes and hire outlets contact Cycle Cornwall (; 01872-322 900).

Up the creek
Grab a paddle and see the sights of Fowey from the namesake estuary and river that it sits on. The small town has a rich maritime history, and in the 14th century conducted raids on coastal towns in France and Spain, which prompted retaliatory attacks from the latter in 1380. Today, the harbour is an altogether more peaceful setting and makes for a pleasant canoe ride. On the rising tide you can paddle up the River Fowey and explore hidden creeks and waterways, or alternatively head downstream to the mouth of the river to check out the beaches and caves. Try Adventure Cornwall (; 01726-870 844).

Hang out
There are ample opportunities to climb, abseil and throw oneself off a great height in the South West. The national parks offer some top climbing locations (the inland crags of Dartmoor are popular), as do the dramatic sea cliffs jutted along the coast. If you’re new to rock climbing and abseiling, and keen to have a go, try a taster session to get a grip of the techniques. You’ll be scaling the heights before you know it. If you want to get wet, as well as high, try some coasteering. Check out Penhale Adventure (www.penhale; 0800-083 5037).