Cornwall’s Coast: The UK’s best beaches, best sailing and best surfing
Cornwall is a tale of two coasts: the north coast with its’ rugged cliff-tops, sandy beaches and strong surf, and the south coast with its calmer waters, marinas and secluded creeks. Whether you’re looking to catch a tan, catch a wave or catch a whopper, Cornwall’s coasts deliver a great experience all year round.
Cornwall’s best beaches on the north coast lie just a short drive from Redruth. Gwithian is often the locals’ first choice, in the centre of eight miles of golden sands along Carbis Bay. The sea is ideal for swimming in, and it often serves up great waves for the amateur body-boarder and serious surfer alike. There are rock pools to keep your kids occupied even longer, and a lovely cafe back by the car park which is a great place to sit and watch the sun go down from, especially on a clear autumn or winter’s evening. Dogs can walk along the beach during the off-season, and there are extensive sand dunes to explore which are open to dogs all year.
At the edge of the bay lies Godrevy, best known for its lighthouse sitting on a rocky island off the cliff-tops. The large car park here is operated by the National Trust, so you can use that National Trust membership to good effect here (if you haven’t got one then click here). The sandy beach is broken into smaller areas by large rocky outcrops which make for the best place for your kids to bring their nets and buckets to go rock pooling, and the waves are usually much calmer than at Gwithian, making it more friendly for younger kids to have a swim. Take a walk around the headland and you’ll often spy families of seals on the rocks or in the water, and you can always grab a bite to eat of drink at the nearby Sandsifter beach cafe.
Even nearer Redruth there is a great beach at Portreath, and then a little further up the coast sits Porthtowan: another lovely sandy beach with the beachside Blue Bar serving up delicious food. There’s another National Trust car park at the secluded beach at Chapel Porth, and Perranporth provides a wonderful venue for sun-seekers in Cornwall with plenty of shops nestled against a lovely family-friendly beach. Of course, you can always travel up the coast just a little more to Newquay, with the world-famous Fistral Beach and more surf shops and surf schools than you can shake a stick at!
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Cornwall’s beaches are just for the summer: they’re great fun all year round (the photo at the foot of this page was taken on New Year’s Day) and there’s plenty more elbow room outside of the height of summer! Some of the best weather in Cornwall is usually in the spring and autumn (especially with all the recent wet summers), and you won’t have to wait as long for the sunset to light up the sea and the sky in gold and crimson whilst you enjoy a barbecue on the beach.
Meanwhile, Cornwall’s south coast is best enjoyed by its sailing, with Falmouth in particular a great venue to either sail down to or charter a yacht from. You could always moor up for a bite to eat at the legendary Pandora Inn, or cruise south to the Helford river – the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek – for a drink at the Ferryboat Inn. There are a number of good sailing schools in the Falmouth area if you wish to try your hand at some dinghy sailing, or if you’d rather go totally overboard then Falmouth’s diving schools offer some of the best courses in the world, with night dives and shipwrecks available to those with a little more experience under their belts. Locals’ tip: if you’d rather just watch everyone else enjoy the water, grab a half-hard, hard-soft Cornish ice-cream with a Flake from the van at Pendennis Point – delicious!
There are some lovely beaches on Cornwall’s south coast too. Gyllyngvase beach at Falmouth is ideal for sunbathing, swimming and rock pooling and has a great beachside cafe, whilst Swanpool and Maenporth around the corner are other alternatives. If you fancy a longer drive then the Lizard is littered with secluded beachy coves like Coverack and Kynance, whilst Housel Bay is one of the most tranquil and quiet beaches in Cornwall, because it vanishes at high tide! If lying down on the sand isn’t your cup of tea, then you could always try a spot of fishing instead: sea angling is popular around Cornwall’s coasts, with plenty enjoying the sport all over both coasts. You can bring you own gear and fish from the shore, or many of Cornwall’s harbour towns offer fishing tours for mackerel, bass, conger eels and sharks.
Image of a Cornish surfer by Nicholas R Horne @ Flickr. Other images by Ross Tucknott.