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Cornwall is laden with wondrous stretches of golden sand and inviting waters. While some are within easy reach, others take a little walking to get to – but are absolutely worth the effort.
Best for views: the cliffs at Bedruthan Steps Beach, a few miles north of Newquay, have eroded to leave a series of huge rock pillars looming from the sands: the name comes from a staircase in the rock face that leads down to the beach. There are caves to explore and cliff walks between Bedruthan and Carnewas (staircase closed Nov–Feb).
Best for surfing: the classic Cornish surfing beach of Fistral in Newquay is one of the best places to learn how to surf in the UK, which is why so many surfing schools have set up shop nearby. Professional competitions are regularly held here too. There’s a range of surf shack and beach house accommodation on the sands, so there’s no need to waste any time in the morning before hitting the waves (Headland Rd).
Best for families: a half-shingle, half-sand beach in a secluded cove, Crackington Haven near the village of St Gennys is backed by cliffs, making for great walking, with views over Bude Bay and out to the Bristol Channel from the nearby St Gennys Church. The beach is dotted with rock pools, full of sealife, and the protection from the Atlantic winds make it a recommended spot for swimming.
Best for drama: a beautiful triangle of beach folded within the Porthcurno valley three miles from Land’s End, Porthcurno is something of a sun trap. Best of all, up on the cliff overlooking the beach stands the Minack, an open-air theatre built into the rock with the sea its backdrop and the moon rising over the waves an enjoyable distraction.
Best for history: a fine curve of sand and pebbles by Mount’s Bay, the beach of Marazion retains a sense of peace and seclusion despite being close to the town of the same name. At the end of the beach nearest the town, at low tide it is possible to cross the causeway to the island of St Michael’s Mount, the Norman monastery and castle that dominates the shoreline. Ferries operate at high tide (Manor Office; castle admission from £7.50).
Best for beauty: the Lizard Peninsula lies at the very edge of the country – all ink-black cliffs, raging seas and open heaths. It’s covered in wild flowers in summer and Kynance Cove is the pick of the many striking beaches here. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Caribbean, such is the intensity of the blue sea and the whiteness of the sand, while the huge serpentine rock formations provide a gritty contrast.
Best for wilderness: a three-mile sweep of flawless sand, Whitsand Bay’s relative inaccessibility (there are few roads nearby, and to arrive at the beach requires a cliffside scramble) lends it an isolated beauty. The shoreline’s overlooked by Rame Head, with the ruins of a 14th-century chapel on top (near Tregonhawke).
Best for seclusion: Lantic Bay is the sort of beach that everybody wishes they could have as their own. The bay sits at the base of a gorse and hawthorn-laden cliff valley, with a half-moon of white sand looking out over the water. It takes a 20-minute walk down a cliff path to get here – if you’re lucky, you could enjoy all of this natural splendour with nobody else around (near Fowey).
Best for fishing villages: the pretty fishing village of Polperro is no secret, and the jumble of fishermen’s cottages lead to a harbour that is regularly thronged with fishing boats. The beach here, adorned with a tidal pool, acts as welcome respite from the bustle of the town, while the walks along Chapel Cliff and through the valley itself are among the best throughout the region.
Where to stay
Orchard Lodge, a short walk uphill from the village of Boscastle, is a fine example of a modern b&b, furnished in bold, colourful fabrics. Rates come down if you stay longer (open Mar–Oct; from £75).