Beach holidays the way they should be - miles of open sand, a place to get away from stress and the city, stunning scenery, rock-pooling, burying Dad in the sand, clotted cream ice cream, romantic evening walks, barbeques on the beach while the sun goes down and maybe some surfing or kayaking. That’s exactly what the beaches of South East Cornwall are all about.
On the eastern side of the Rame Peninsula, overlooking the entrance to Plymouth Sound, are Cawsand and Kingsand, a pair of 17th century fishing villages once famous for smuggling. Both have great family beaches right next to the villages. Good rock-pooling, and also a good vantage point to spot warships and submarines coming and going from Plymouth’s naval base. In the summer, there is a passenger ferry service across the Sound to Plymouth.
Cawsand Beach, image Adam Gibbard
The region’s biggest beach is Whitsand Bay – actually several different beaches, depending upon the tide. (Be careful not to get cut off!) It stretches from the Rame Peninsula in the east to Portwrinkle in the west – several miles of pale, sandy beaches interspersed with rocky outcroppings that are great for rock-pooling. The bay is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Despite its beauty, Whitsand is often pretty quiet – you certainly won’t be elbowing other holiday makers out of the way! However, access from the road and car parks to parts of the beach is via lengthy (and sometimes quite steep) cliff paths.
Whitsand Bay from the South West Coast Path, image Victoria Clare
West along the coast from Whitsand Bay you will come to Downderry and Seaton beaches. The two beaches are joined at low tide, but separate at other times. Again, be aware of which way the tide is moving to avoid getting cut off from the rest of your party. Both beaches are greyer in colour than Whitsand, with more shingle. Seaton has a famous beach café (now restored to its former glory after taking quite a battering in the 2013/14 winter storms). Keen snorkelers should try swimming out not far from the shore line at Downderry to see if they can spot the wreck of the Gypsy (sister ship to the Cutty Sark) hidden under a bed of kelp.
Seaton Beach, image Adam Gibbard
The fishing town of Looe has several beaches of its own. Millendreath Beach is a small beach (very small at high tide) in a sheltered cove at the foot of a wooded valley. Plaidy Beach is also small, but faces the southeast and so catches the sun. Low tide rock-pooling is excellent, with flat rocks exposed as the sea recedes. Parking is restricted though, and so travellers coming by car should park at Millendreath next door.
Looe Beach (in East Looe) is right in front of the town and is truly a beach with something for everyone. Its proximity to the popular resort town means that this is sometimes a livelier (and busier beach) than our other beaches.
Looe Beach, image Adam Gibbard
Just west of Looe is rocky Hannafore Beach. Another southeast-facing suntrap, and perhaps our best rock-pooling beach (it made The Wildlife Trusts’ list of the best rock-pooling beaches in Britain), Hannafore is rarely too busy. It is also dog-friendly all year round.
Continuing west (perhaps along the South West Coast Path…) brings you to Talland Bay and its twin beaches. These are very quiet, very beautiful beaches in a sheltered cove.
Talland Bay, image Adam Gibbard
Polperro is one of Cornwall’s most picturesque fishing villages. It also has a small beach, just outside the harbour walls and sheltered by cliffs. It won’t be there at high tide though!
Some of our most beautiful beaches take a bit more effort to get to, but are that more rewarding (and more secluded) because of it. Lantivet Bay, between Polperro and Fowey, is accessible only at low tide by reasonably agile beachgoers. It is a stunning and sheltered spot.
Further west are the white sands of Lantic Bay, another hidden cove. Its steeply sloping shelf makes it a popular place for visiting yachts to moor, although swimmers should be careful of strong currents.
On the western outskirts of Fowey (the older part of the town), across the mouth of the River Fowey from Polruan, is the brilliantly named Ready Money Cove, overlooked by St Catherine’s Castle and a former house of Daphne du Maurier. There is a small sandy beach here, with a slipway for easy launching of boats.
Ready Money Cove, image Adam Gibbard
Our final South East Cornwall beaches are the two beaches of Polridmouth Cove, between Fowey and the peninsula of Gribben Head that marks the western limit of South East Cornwall. To get to either beach, you walk down a lovely wooded track. Again, these are both very quiet, very sheltered beaches.
Some of our beaches allow dogs all year round, others allow dogs out of season and some are dog-free all year. Most beaches provide bins, so please remember to pick up after your dogs. See below:
Cawsand: No dogs between Easter and 1st October
Kingsand: Dogs allowed all year
Whitsand Bay: Dogs allowed all year, except at Freathy, Sharrow and Portwrinkle (no dogs between Easter and 1st October)
Downderry: Dogs allowed all year
Seaton: Dogs allowed all year
Millendreath: No dogs allowed
Plaidy: Dogs allowed all year
Looe Beach: No dogs allowed
Hannafore: Dogs allowed all year
Talland Bay: Dogs allowed all year
Polperro Beach: No dogs between Easter and 1st October
Lantivet Bay: Dogs allowed all year
Lantic Bay: Dogs allowed all year
Ready Money Cove: No dogs between Easter and 1st October
Polridmouth Cove: Dogs allowed all year
Plenty of room for dogs to run around at Whitsand Bay! Image Victoria Clare
Most of our smaller beaches have no lifeguard cover, and extra care should therefore be taken when in the water. Take special care when climbing over rocks, and be aware of the tide. The following beaches have lifeguard cover:
Whitsand Bay – at Sharrow Beach from 5 May to 30 September and at Freathy from 7 July to 2 September.