Bill Oakley escapes the crowds and looks at a few of the lesser-known coves, beaches and bays of Cornwall.
At more than 300 miles the Cornish coast is one of the longest in the UK (430 miles including the Isles of Scilly) and although one of the best known it can still surprise even the most intrepid traveller with the many sheltered coves and unknown inlets. To hear, “we had the whole beach to ourselves”, is not uncommon, and a spot of cove-hunting is a chance for real adventure as you seek-out a stretch of secluded sand all for yourself.
Some coves are only a minute away from a car park, whilst access to others can come and go with the storms. Either way, if you’re willing to head off the beaten track there are many hidden gems with something for everyone and every occasion. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a guide and a few suggestions to get you started. Stay safe and have fun.
Bearing the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, the north coast offers golden beaches and the opportunity to discover many caves pummelled out of the rock. It is consequently one of the most varied shorelines of Britain, and you will not be bored amongst the plethora of wild flowers such as kidney vetch and bladder campion. Be sure to keep an eye on the skies for Falco perigrinus, better known as the Peregrine Falcon. There are about 50 pairs on the North Cornish coast, nesting on rocky outcrops far out of reach and often out of view.
Not particularly secret but well worth a visit, Crackington Haven near Bude is a great beach to take the family. Work up an appetite with the good surf that can be found here and then head to the Coombe Barton Inn for an extensive fish menu and a pint of the local ale. Further west is Tintagel; an area steeped in Arthurian Legend. You can pretend to be the great King himself as you wade ashore to tiny Tintagel Haven where Merlin is said to have rescued young Arthur after he was shipwrecked.
With it’s rocky outcrops this whole area is typical of the North coast and particularly good for cave-hunting. Continue south a few miles toward Port Isaac for peaceful Port Quin. It is signed not far from the St Endellion Church, and was tragically abandoned when the entire male population drowned at sea in the late 17th Century.
For the kids head to dog-friendly Daymer Bay near Wadebridge. The large car park and nearby facilities make for a comfortable day out, but also mean the area is popular. To escape the crowds walk 500m North from the car park to the Greenaway. Here you can find a few secluded pools for a spot of snorkelling beneath the houses there. If instead your are feeling a little more in the mood for history, pay a visit to the final resting place of Cornish poet laureate Sir John Betjemen at St Enodoc Church, Trebetherick.
West of Padstow, another dog-freindly bay is Treyarnon. Again, it is particularly good for children for two reasons: it has lifeguards in the summer, but perhaps best of all, a large natural rock pool big enough to dive into. North of Padstow is Hawker’s Cove, created by the formidable stretch of sand which has wrecked many a vessel, known as the Doom Bar. Explore the ancient well and Napoleonic fortifications, 15 minutes away at St. George’s Cove.
A personal favourite in the area is Long Cove on the north east coast of Trevose Head, in Mother Ivey’s Bay. As the name suggests, this small inlet is long and narrow, and if you are lucky enough to find that you have it all to yourself it will feel like your very own private bay.
Situated 8 miles north of Newquay is Pentire Steps. This little-visited cove is actually a northern extension of better-known Bedruthan Steps, separated by Diggory’s Island at high-tide. Look out for signs to Pentire Farm. Head west of Newquay meanwhile, from Perranpoth to Crantock on the A3075 and continue to the West Pentire car park. A ten minute walk from here will lead you to the alluring and often deserted Porth Joke.
Further west along the north coast are some seriously secluded coves dotted around Navax Point near Godrevy. Leave the car at one of the few small car parks beside the road and keep your eyes peeled for many discreet footpaths snaking off into the gorse. Not all lead to the coast, but if you pick a winner you’ll be confronted by spectacular private bays with inviting turquoise water.
Beware however, the climb down can be treacherous so take care. Experienced divers hunt bass with harpoon guns in this area. Keep an ear out for the odd ice cream van that frequents the vicinity, or drive to The Sandsifter at Godrevy for something a bit more substantial.
Continuing west into the Penwith area about a mile north of Zennor village, is the homeplace of Morveren the Mermaid at Pendour Cove. Such is her beauty, she is reputed to have lured local lad Matthew Trewella into the sea, so listen for his fabled singing. If you get bored continue to the nearby Tinner’s Arms pub which dates back to 1271.
Drive down the B3306 toward Morvah for the little-known gem that is Portheras Cove. It may not be the easiest to find, but you won’t regret the effort: this is a real locals’ beach. From the Pendeen lighthouse walk east along the coast for about half a mile. Debris from a shipwreck in 1963 prohibited access to some areas, although today it is completely clear, so don’t worry! Seals are often sighted here.
Something a little more pleasant than razor-sharp metal will be the gorse and heather which, ablaze in purples and golds, is a contrast to the rugged, granite coastline of Land’s End. Unspoilt Cot Valley, near St Just, is a typical example as it leads to quiet Porth Nanven Cove. Here you should be able to see Brisons Rock – the point to which an annual swim takes place from Priest’s Cove just off from Cape Cornwall.
With a chance to see Dusky Warblers, Skylarks and Stonechats, bird-watchers may want to stop by Porthgwarra, SE of Sennen. Serious cove hunters however, will want to walk about 2 miles north of Porthgwarra along the coast for Nanjizal Bay. Not only has this secluded cove featured in an episode of Dr.Who, it also has a distinctive narrow slit in it’s cliffs known as the ‘Song of the Sea’ arch. Carry on east along the B3315 to the hamlet of Treen for the alluring lagoons and seductive sand bars of Pedn Vounder Sands.
Much like Land’s End, the neighbouring Lizard peninsula has a rugged coastline but is still remarkably different. It’s name derives from the Kernewek word, “Lys Ardh”, meaning “high court”, and the Serpentine rock which can be found at beautiful Kynance Cove forms a basis for the otherwise rare Cornish Heath.
About 3 miles north of Kynance is Mullion Cove. Look out for the old pilchard cellar and harbour wall which was funded by Lord Robartes of Lanhydrock in 1895 as recompense for a bad seasons’ fishing. Whilst there is little sand here, it is a good place to grab a drink before walking 20 minutes north along the cliffs to Polurrian, where there is surf to be had.
Good surfing can also be found on the other side of the Lizard at Kennack Sands, near Kuggar. A car park, food hut and nearby campsite can make this beach a little crowded in peak tourist season, so head over the hill to the quieter part. Remember to pack the fishing gear as it is a hot-spot for bass.
Walk 3km east of Kennack on the scenic coastal path to reach Lankidden Cove. Again, there is good bass fishing here as well as great snorkelling. The footpath crosses ancient settlements and hill forts, dating back to the iron age. Perhaps even better snorkelling can be had north at Porthkerris. About 1.5 miles from St Keverne, this shingle beach is privately owned and accessed off the Porthoustock to Porthallow road. It attracts many divers who explore the shipwrecks of the Manacles Rocks, as well as fishermen for the abundant mackerel.
Heading north east past the Helford Estuary is the outstanding Roseland peninsula. With it’s quaint villages and gentle bays, it is a refreshing contrast to the bolder-strewn coast of the Lizard. Leave the car at St Anthony Head and walk a 30 minute pilgrimage east to Porthbeor Beach. This long stretch of sand reveals numerous rock pools at low tide which are great fun to explore.
Around 9 miles south of St Austell is Dodman Point, a headland which is home to a few beaches that are well worth a visit. On the west-side of the headland is Hemmick Beach located near Gorran Haven and is complete with it’s own National Trust car park. On the east is the shingle/sand of Vault Beach which is part-naturist.
At nearby Caerhays Castle, the screen adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca was filmed. However, the inspiration is said to have come from a cove further east near Fowey, called Polridmouth. Before reaching Fowey turn right onto the A3082, take the next left and park the car at Menabilly. The beach is a 20 minute walk away. Here Du Maurier is reputed to have swam naked and today you can still see the red and white striped Gribbin Head Daymark which is open to the public for a short period in September each year.
Further east along the south coast past Fowey is Polperro and Lantivet Bay. This region is synonymous with smuggling thanks to a smattering of small secretive sandy beaches. Drive to the village of Lansallos near West Coombe and leave the car at the church for Lansallos Bay. This beautiful cove is also home to a small waterfall which once drove a mill.
For something even more secretive, walk about 500m west to find Palace Cove. The descent can be hard-going, so take care. Finally, another must-visit gem of the area is Great Lantic Beach, situated east of Polruan. Leave the car at the National Trust car park and walk 20 minutes across farmland. Again, the descent can be tricky with a steep cliff path. Your legs will be feeling it the next morning, but it will be well worth it.
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‘The Cornish Coast: Cove Hunters’ is taken from our August/September 2011, Vol.2 Issue 7. Subscribe to myCornwall magazine for more stories like this one.