Europe’s hidden beaches: Cornwall

Photo by Benjamin Elliot
Photo by Benjamin Elliot

Europe’s hidden beaches: Cornwall

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

The most obvious means of enjoying a beach is as a place to swim and sunbathe, but alongside some of northern Europe's most compelling shorelines, the whims of the weather call for wellies and rain macs more often than swimsuits and flip-flops.

The excursion is no lazy day at the beach but rather a fairly ambitious, 11-mile hike which can be undertaken during all but the most blustery months of the year. The route is an 11-mile slice of shoreline making up part of England's South West Coast Path. Lace up your hiking shoes and set off from Newlyn, a gritty yet bonafide fishing village some two miles west of Penzance, in the country’s most southwest county of Cornwall.

As you make your way westward, the road gains in elevation and you will be treated to views of distant St Michael's Mount, a lesser-known doppelganger of France's Mont Saint Michel. Like its much larger and more famous cousin, the abbey built atop an island is only accessible on foot at low tide. (A tour of this site is a must for another day while visiting this part of the world.)

After about an hour’s worth of walking, you’ll reach the curiously named Mousehole, a picturesque village of gray granite houses, many of which are now pubs, gift shops and holiday accommodation. This postcard-perfect town was deemed to be to be ‘the loveliest village in England’ by writer and poet Dylan Thomas.

Back on the coastal trail, the path becomes more rugged, but persevere and be rewarded with an ever-changing pallet of almost orchid-like blossoms in your midst and cerulean surf pounding far below.

After another hour or so of traversing fairly steep and challenging terrain, descend to Lamorna, a stony harbor mentioned in novelist Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers and the base for a school of post-impressionist artists back in the early 20th century.  There’s not much here nowadays in terms of civilization save a pair of cottages, boat ramp and a shut-tight restaurant. Nevertheless, it’s an ideal spot to enjoy a sandwich, or if you are into local specialties, a pasty —a savory pie typical to the area. As you enjoy your savory treat, you may catch a glimpse of a frolicking seal out at sea, or as we did, a pokey badger slowly making his rounds besides the trail.

The last stretch of the walk offers sweeping coastal views unspoiled by human settlement and stretches of challenging footwork over rocky outcroppings.

Eventually, you will reach the village of Porthcurno, famous for its stunning sandy cove and a theater by the sea. From here, it's possible to catch a bus back to New Quay or Penzance, but plan ahead, as the bus service is spotty at best. If time permits, suck down a cider, the beverage of choice in a part of the world known for apple orchards. The crisp and refreshing local drink makes a tasty reward for your exertions.

Getting there: From London, it’s possible to reach the Cornish coast by means of a direct bus or a train with a transfer.  The driving time between Mildenhall and Penzance would be between six and seven hours, but with so much to see not far off the main route, it would be a highly worthwhile destination for a circular tour taking in Torquay, Plymouth, Land’s End and Bath, for example.

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