Best Coves in Cornwall
Cornwall's coast is full of hidden coves and tucked-away inlets, places where smuggling was rife and fishermen braved the rough seas in small wooden boats, landing crates of pilchards on old granite slipways. Some, such as Penberth and Prussia, have retained so much of their original character that to visit them is akin to stepping back in time. Others, such as Porthcurno, boast a fascinating and unexpected history. Many, such as Kynance and Trevaunance, offer broad sandy beaches with plenty of caves and rock pools to explore. Whatever your preference, we hope our list of Cornwall's Top Ten Coves will help you find the right one for you.
It is easy to see why Kynance, snuggled under towering cliffs less than two miles from Lizard point, is one of the most-photographed coves in Cornwall. Sparkling turquoise water, pristine white sand, offshore stacks and islands and numerous interconnected caves to explore have ensured that Kynance has been popular since Victorian times, in spite of its relative remoteness. The National Trust have recently built a toll road and car park, making Kynance more accessible. Lifeguards patrol the beach in summer, where strong currents can make swimming dangerous.
Porthcurno was once the centre of world telecommunications, connecting Britain with America via massive cables that were buried under the sand on what must be one of the loveliest beaches in Cornwall. The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum documents this unique history and incorporates a network of fascinating tunnels in the cliffs that were used to protect top secret equipment during the second world war. A steep flight of steps leads from the beach to the world-famous Minack Theatre, with superb views across the bay, sub-tropical rockeries, a cafe, exhibition centre and regular performances during the summer months.
Prussia Cove consists of a smattering of houses above a small sheltered inlet a few miles west of Praa Sands. The name harks back to the days of smuggling, when the notorious gangleader, John Carter (born 1738), went by the nickname 'King of Prussia.' Tumbledown granite fishing huts built into the side of the cliff are evidence of small-scale fishing, while the romantic-looking Neo-Elizabethan house, Porth-en-Alls, is a popular wedding venue and hosts the twice-yearly International Musicians Seminar. Prussia Cove can be accessed via a footpath from a free car park at the end of a narrow lane. It is usually possible to swim safely off the rocks.
The south-west-facing Church Cove is an attractive, sandy beach named after the church that sits right on the edge of the sand. More or less the first beach on the Lizard, Church Cove is part of the the Baulk Head to Mullion SSSI, with significant rock types and many rare or unique plants and habitats. Strong currents, unstable cliffs and a deep shelf at high tide mean care should be taken at all times, although there are lifeguards on the beach in summer. Church Cove is served by a National Trust car park and a seasonal cafe.
Readymoney Cove, near the mouth of the River Fowey and looking out over the Fowey Estuary, is a pretty, sheltered cove with a sandy beach that largely disappears at high tide. The cove is watched over by St Catherine's Castle, which was probably built by local landowners, the Rashleigh family. Behind the sandy beach at Readymoney Cove is the cottage Daphne DuMaurier rented when she moved to Fowey from London. There is a car park five minutes walk from the beach.
Hawkers Cove, two kilometers north of Padstow on the west side of the Camel Estuary, consists of a few cottages, a boathouse and a slipway that once housed the Padstow lifeboat. At low tide a wide sandy beach stretches across the estuary mouth to Trebethenick Point. At high tide the beach is submerged, along with a notoriously dangerous sandbank known as the Doom Bar. The coast path between Padstow and Hawker's Cove passes Gun Point, the site of an abandoned gun emplacement and fortifications that date back to the Napoleonic wars. Facilities are limited to a tiny tea garden at the back of the two hundred year old coastguard cottages, a short walk from the slipway.
Cadgwith began life in medieval times as a collection of fish cellars in a sheltered coastal valley with a shingle cove and good protection from the prevailing south westerly gales. Inhabited since the sixteenth century, Cadgwith still has some original local stone and thatch houses, which lend it a ubiquitously Cornish air. There are two beaches, separated at high tide by a small headland known as 'The Todden'. Deep-sea diving excursions to offshore wrecks known as The Craggan and The Boa are popular, as is the Cadgwith Cove Inn, thought to be more than four hundred years old.
Trevaunance Cove is home to St Agnes' principal beach, with an abundance of rock pools and a labarynth of caves making it a popular choice for families. Reasonably manageable waves (for the north coast) means that Trevaunance is popular with surfers, too, especially beginners. There are plenty of facilities including beach huts and surfboards for hire, a large pay and display car park and the Driftwood Spars Hotel, situated right on the beach. There is good fishing at Trevaunance Point at high tide.
Mullion Cove, on the Lizard, is a dramatic fishing cove with an attractive working harbour. The stout sea walls, built to protect the harbour from ferocious winter gales, were completed in 1895 when pilchard fishing was the main local industry. The nearby Poldhu Cove, backed by sand dunes, is an ideal family beach, while a circular walk along the cliffs and back through Predannack Heath takes in the sandy Pollurian Cove, popular with surfers.
Penberth lies at the bottom of a sheltered wooded valley a couple of miles east of Porthcurno. Possibly the most unspoilt cove in Cornwall, Penberth was handed to the National Trust in 1957, who have preserved it much as it was a hundred years ago. The few inhabitants, who occupy the stone fishermen's cottages, still put to sea in open fishing boats, much like their grandfathers and great grandfathers did a hundred years ago, although an electric winch, rather than the man-powered capstain, is now used to pull the boats back up the granite slipway. Penberth is an excellent starting point for coastal walks in both directions.