Best beaches of Cornwall


John Nettles, actor, grew up in St Austell
Up past the pretty alms cottages at the end of Par beach, along the narrow cliff path towards Daphne du Maurier’s house, Menabilly, and Gribbin Head is Polkerris beach. It sits quietly in the eye of the setting sun, looking westward across the great arc of St Austell Bay towards the port of Charlestown. And from Charlestown, we St Austell boys and girls would sail, row and canoe across the mackerel-rich sea to this delightful place.

The water then was opaque and of a brilliant turquoise colour, much admired by holidaymakers, but actually caused by white effluent from the gigantic china-clay mines in the hinterland, which ran via every stream and rivulet to the coast. All that has disappeared now, and the sea is crystal clear. Gone, too, is the old pilchard store that stood at the back of the beach, replaced by a splendid water-sports centre, and, by its side, a very fine restaurant, Sam’s by the Sea. But the Rashleigh Arms is still there, an excellent hostelry in which you can get the finest pint in the South-West.

Rosamunde Pilcher, author

I didn’t discover this beach, it was always part of my life-because I was born and spent my childhood in the village of Lelant, and the beach was always there. The visitor parks his car at the church, and then walks-past the graveyard, across the golf links, the railway bridge and the dunes. The sands, at ebb tide, are huge and empty. The blue waters of St Ives Bay stretch to Godrevy lighthouse and beyond. There are no ‘amenities’. Once, we had a lifeguard, but his shed is now deserted. On a crowded day, there may be a few windbreaks set up against the breeze. Kites are flown. Waiting for the tide to turn, children build sandcastles, play rounders, or climb the slippery sand hills. On a really hot day, the flood tide, racing across the sands, can feel almost warm.

Prussia Cove
Jean Shrimpton, model and owner of the Abbey Hotel, Penzance

It’s about five miles from Penzance on the Helston Road. If you park at the car park, you can walk down to the sea past the cottages that were featured in the film Ladies in Lavender. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric beach with a rugged beauty thanks to its glorious coastline. It’s also famous as the home of the Carters, a family of 18th-century smugglers, one of whom was known as the King of Prussia.

Patrick Gale, author, living near Land’s End

Daymer Bay is unquestionably Cornwall’s best beach for exercising a disownably manic lurcher. But my favourite is Nanjizal. It’s within easy walking distance for us, but an off-putting distance from the nearest car park or campsite. It catches the sun even in early evening, has caves to explore and a sandy freshwater pool and waterfall for the dogs. Best of all, the sand has a handy way of vanishing for months at a time whenever it threatens to become too popular. You’d all hate it.

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Lundy Bay
Robin Hanbury-Tenison, explorer

I’ve been going to Lundy Bay with successive child-ren and now grandchildren for 50 years, and it’s still unspoilt, unlike so many. The bay is 15 minutes’ walk from the road, which is why it’s generally quiet. It’s import-ant to make sure the tide is out, as, otherwise, there’s no beach and fewer rock pools. There are also exciting caves to explore, and, last time I was there, I saw an adder. To find it, drive towards New Polzeath on the north coast. Soon after the fork from the Polzeath road, there is a National Trust car park with an honesty box-scramble down the precipitous cliff path and you’re there. If it’s a clear day, you may get a glimpse from the beach of Lundy Island.

Trebarwith Strand
Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, writer and garden designer

In the 1970s, we spent idyllic family holidays in north Cornwall, at EppHaven House, between Port Quin and Polzeath. From there, we made sorties to other beaches, and everyone’s favourite at low tide was Trebarwith Strand. A few years ago, we celebrated my husband’s 70th birthday there, with children and grandchild-ren in The Yellow Cottage, just 100 yards from the beach. There are rock pools, surfing, wide sands for cricket and races, and you can walk the coastal park to Tintagel, just to the north. But the best thing about Trebarwith Strand are the big juicy mussels, yours for the picking.

Porthgwidden, St Ives
Michael Foreman, illustrator

I have had a studio in St Ives for many years, where the light and the wide, white, sandy beaches are rightly famous. However, the small beach of Porthgwidden is something of a secret, almost hidden in the lee of the ‘island’. Its restaurant provides locally sourced seasonal produce and, of course, wonderful fish. From a terrace, you can enjoy the view across the bay to the lighthouse of Virginia Woolf fame and, at high tide, the beach disappears beneath the waves and the restaurant seems about to set sail.

Best for watersports
Mylor, near Falmouth

There may be plenty of surf spots in Cornwall, but for other watersports, from sailing to kayaking, you can’t do better than Mylor Yacht Harbour

Best for food
Watergate Bay

Between Padstow and Newquay, this is the location of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Cornwall, which is run along the same lines as Fifteen in London. The restaurant is practically on the beach and offers Italian-inspired dishes with an incredible sea view (01637 861000;

Best for birdwatching
Gunwalloe, near Helston

Cornwall has a well-earned reputation for birdwatching. As well as native species, the coast is often used for unscheduled stop-offs by migrating birds blown off course. Surrounded by the Penrose estate and near Loe Pool, Cornwall’s largest natural lake, made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s novel Frenchman’s Creek, the whole area of Gunwalloe is a haven for birds such as sandpipers

Best for walks
St Ives to Zennor

The cliff path west from St Ives takes you instantly into the ancient, unchanging land of legend. Zennor is seven strenuous miles away, via rolling headlands and sweeping, rocky bays. Here, the stream tumbling into the cove marks the course of the Mermaid’s journey in The Merrymaid of Zennor. This is not one for the faint-hearted

Best for solitude
Polridmouth, Fowey

This secluded beach is a good 20-minute walk from the nearest car park

Best for solitude
Polridmouth, Fowey

This secluded beach is a good 20-minute walk from the nearest car park

Best for surfing
Fistral Beach, Newquay

This famous beach is the home of some of the UK’s hottest surf competitions. To avoid the crowds, head to Porth-towan further west, where the waves ‘pack a mighty punch’ or, for family surfing, Polzeath

Best for Views
St Anthony Head, Portscatho

Situated at the southernmost tip of the Roseland Peninsula, this National Trust beach offers glorious views over the spectacular entrance to the Fal Estuary, one of the world’s largest natural harbours

Best for family picnics
Daymer Bay, Trebetherick

Some of Cornwall’s most popular beaches have a good reputation for a reason. Wide, open spaces, sheltered dunes, rock pools and a sea safe for paddling make Daymer Bay ideal for young families. Golfers can take on the challenge of St Enodoc, and there’s water-skiing and sailing in nearby Rock

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