Why bother going abroad for a beach holiday when England has some of the best beaches in the world? The rugged north coast of Cornwall boasts the pick of the bunch, and they’re so close to each other you could see them all in a day or two on a beach crawl. Here are my top five.
5. Rock (Set your SatNav to PL27 6LD)
Cornwall’s poshest resort, on the other side of the Camel Estuary from Padstow, has a world class beach when the tide is out, as the picture below shows.
On sunny days, with blue skies and white sand you might have to remind yourself you’re not on a desert island. It can get pretty windy here on the estuary where the River Camel meets the sea, although with no waves windsurfing replaces surfing as the beach sport of choice.
Get here by ferry from Padstow (foot passengers only), or park at the pay and display car park right next to the beach (get there early, as it fills up pretty quickly). If you tire of lazing on the beach, there is one pub and a handful of shops as well as coastal walks through dunes to Daymer Bay and Polzeath.
4. Mother Ivey’s Bay (PL28 8SL)
This one doesn’t appear on many roadmaps, and is not the easiest to find or park near so it can get pretty quiet which is always a good thing. It’s one of the Seven Bays, just outside Padstow (along with Trevone, Harlyn, Booby’s, Constantine, Treyarnon and Porthcothan), and has bucket-loads of character. Privately owned by the campsite backing onto the beach, but free and accessible to all, the sand here is the softest, fluffiest and whitest you will see this side of the Caribbean. There is an offshore islet, and Padstow’s RNLI lifeboat launch is just to the left as you look out to sea, next to some seriously knobbly eroded rocks.
There’s a £5 fee to park at Trevose Head, or if you’re very lucky you might be able to squeeze onto the layby near the campsite entrance for free. The South West Coast Path links Mother Ivey’s to the other six bays and to Padstow if you fancy a walk.
There’s not a lot of choice here if you get peckish, and nothing at all out of season. The campsite shop is the only amenity, so make sure you bring enough with you.
3. Bedruthan Steps (PL27 7UW)
Owned by the National Trust, Bedruthan Steps is on the B3276 coastal road from Newquay to Padstow. Park up at the National Trust carpark and have a cake in the tearoom before heading down to the beach – the Cornish cream tea served here is one of the best I’ve enjoyed. From the tearoom, a path winds along the cliffs for a while – take in the stunning views of the stacks and stumps getting battered by Atlantic rollers, before reaching a series of steep stone steps that take you down to the sand.
These aren’t the Bedruthan Steps themselves – they are the rocks poking up from the sand when the tide is out, said to have been the stepping-stones for a giant called Bedruthan, all with their own names such as Queen Bess.
The beach may not be the best for swimmers, and the constant wind and rocks may put paid to a game of beach football, but when the tide is out this is a rock-pooler’s dream at sea-level, and an absolutely gorgeous site from the cliffs above.
2. Perranporth (TR6 0JL)
This has to be one of the biggest beaches in the country, with miles and miles of golden sand when the tide is out. It gets busy in season, but there should be a patch for everyone. Its unique selling point is its pub on the sand itself, The Watering Hole. There are plenty of car-parks and shops in Perranporth, and from the cliffs to the south (the left as you look out to sea), you’ll get arguably the best views and coastal walks in Cornwall.
Popular with surfers, families and photographers, the sunsets here can be epic with the arched rocks in the foreground.
Before leaving Perranporth, pop over to Holywell Bay next door (SatNav: TR8 5DD) which just missed out on a place of its own in my top-5. It has proper hilly and grassy sand dunes hiding another massive sandy beach, with the distinctive twin Gull Rocks off shore.
1.Watergate Bay (TR8 4AA)
Just north of Newquay, Watergate Bay is another private beach with miles of golden sand and loads of facilities. It hosts surfing competitions, a music festival and the annual Polo on the Beach tournament. There are plenty of parking spaces and refreshment stops. If you can’t get a seat on the decking area of the Watergate Bay Hotel’s Living Space bar, try the Beach Hut just overlooking the sand.
This is perfect coastal walk territory, and the short walk south to Porth affords great views of Watergate Bay. Popular with surfers (it’s home to the Extreme Academy surf school) and dog walkers (it’s dog-friendly all year around), the beach is big enough to find some space, especially when the tide is out.
Dip your toes in the freezing cold Atlantic, before heading to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen for a meal at one of the best spots in Cornwall to watch the sun set.