The best British county for beaches after Dorset is probably Cornwall, the far south-west wedge of UK territory thriving on relatively good weather (though a tendency towards warm but wet), excellent walks (especially impressive is the South West Coast Path) if clouds gather and relaxed locals. Cornwall embraces two differing coastlines:
- North Cornwall is a rugged, weather-beaten coast, supposed home to King Arthur in Tintagel, along with smugglers and wreckers originally, but now the province of surfers and other adrenalin freaks taking advantage of lengthy beaches, good winds and consistent Atlantic surf, while in the summertime young party people wreck themselves in the pubs and bars while locals smuggle their rage home.
- South Cornwall tends to be more suited to families with toddlers, with its charming little fishing villages, many characterful coves, soft sand, and generally shallow, protected waters though surf happens there too in a more limited way.
Porthcurno beach, Penwith peninsula, south Cornwall, with Logan Rock in the distance. More Porthcurno pictures.
South Cornwall's best beach, and probably Britain's best is - in our humble opinion - Porthcurno, with its fine white sand, aquamarine seaweed-free waters and dramatic rock protection. The gradual shelving sand is family-friendly, the summertime lifeguard is a cool attentive dude and there's a pretty good café nearby. The South West Coast Path is nearby for hikers or adventurous beach walkers can get to next door Green Bay or on to the bay below Logan Rock if the tide is not too high.
Crappy, tourist trappy Land's End is a few minutes away by car for those who wish to visit one end of Britain and consider the state and style of local politics (Dumb, grasping local councils busily helping developers despoil the green and pleasant land that was England in exchange for taxes and who knows what other favours).
Kynance Cove, south Cornwall. More Kynance pictures.
More fine sands can be found at Cornwall's Kynance Cove on the right tip of the Lizard Peninsula, though the spectacular rock formations somewhat impede beach-goers from spreading out on the sand when the tide is in.
Access to Kynance beach involves a 10 minute walk down steps from the car park or an eon depending on how many shrieking rug rats you are dragging, but once there it's a beach of good kid interest with caves, cliff walks, tiny flowers, strange rock shapes and comfortable grass to mellow out on, instead of the grey-white sand that tends to get into every crevice. An excellent little café (picture right) looks after lunches; no dogs allowed. Head for Lizard village and you'll see Kynance signs pointing right just before the village appears.
Marazion, within shouting distance of St Michael's Mount, is a lovely little town lined with a massive flat beach of sand/pebbles depending on what the tide brought in, with magnificent views of the sometimes island of Michael. Marazion is just 10 minutes drive from Penzance and en route for Kynance Cove.
Sennen Cove, (just) north Cornwall
Whitesand Bay, also near Land's End, pretty obviously offers
fine white sand but also manages to appeal to both families and surfers, with a selection of facilities including surf schools and kit hire, cafés and a pleasant Inn, the 'Old Success'.
At the other end of the beach are the grassy dunes of bumptious Sennen Cove, one of the great surfing, kayaking and even climbing spots in Cornwall, with a fine beach restaurant to boot, though the picture above taken in wobbly summer weather doesn't convey the true spirit of the place. Probably.
Fistral beach, Newquay, north Cornwall. More Newquay pictures.
North Cornwall's best known town is Newquay, conveniently close to the UK's best accessible surf, especially the rollers found at Fistral - where surf competitions regularly take place and currents run strong - or Watergate Bay a couple of miles north, both windy locations and much loved by adrenalin junkies pursuing varied mad activities, though both areas also sport some fine restaurants with spectacular views and outdoor seating.
Newquay has recently become notorious for young-blood nightlife that has a habit of getting waaaay out of control and comprehensively turning the town centre into a rampant, raucous, vomit-stained rubbish dump between the hours of 10pm and whatever.
Another excellent surf spot on the north coast is Polzeath, enjoyed by seals and dolphins too on a good day. Adjacent to great hiking trials too, Polzeath is on the point opposite Padstow (home to Rick Stein property empire and many second homes of rich city folk, off the B3314 road.
Porthmeor, St Ives' surfing beach, north Cornwall. More St Ives pictures.
St Ives, North Cornwall, is a much more sedate town than Newquay though still offers good surf on Porthmeor beach, great views from many locations, attractive flower displays (the town is a frequent Britain in Bloom winner), great sea food and broad cultural interest including the Tate St. Ives museum - part of the London Tate Gallery - the Barbara Hepworth sculpture museum and the two-week September Arts Festival that hosts music, poetry, literature and fine art.
Nudism: It is not illegal to strip off and do the beach thing in the nude anywhere in Britain. The problem is if someone complains...However, British Naturism lists some fine beaches in Cornwall where the nude life is either unofficially commonplace or officially permitted.
UK Water Quality: The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has published a Good Beach Guide. Britain has less recommended beaches this year, probably due to contamination as a result of heavy rains washing pollutants into the sea. MCS suggests that you avoid ALL beaches within 24 hours of heavy storms. Conveniently you can download a free, best-beach listing sat-nav plug-in.
High Water Quality beaches in 2009:
Cornwall: Newquay's 4 beaches, St Ives x 3, Porthcurno, Mounts Bay x 4, Bude (Sandymouth), Widemouth Sand, Crackington Haven, Trebarwith Sand,
Mother Ivey's Bay, Constantine Bay, Lusty Glaze, Holywell Bay, Perran Sands, Perranporth x 2, and many more.
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