Padstow & Bedruthen – Cornwall
From Newquay to Port Isaac, the north Cornish coast bears the full brunt of westerly storms and swells. Great caves have been pummelled into the cliffs and dramatic blow holes have been forced up through the ground. On hot days, wander down grassy headland tracks to find secluded coves.
One of the best places to experience the drama of this wild stretch of coast is at Bedruthan Steps, its long, sandy beach packed with extraordinary rock stacks and pinnacles. Precarious steps were hewn out of the cliff-face in the late-18th century, when Bedruthan was a stopping point for poets and artists of the Romantic school. The Victorians also built steps down to the beach at Pentire, a continuation of Bedruthan to the north, and far fewer people know of this route down to the beach. The old Victorian switchback track now ends where the cliff has collapsed, but there is still faint footpath for the intrepid to scramble down.
If sea caves fascinate you then seek out the the Round Holes, sea caves that have collapsed in on themselves, at Trevone, Trevose, Lundy and Porthcothan. Those at Trevose and Lundy make a great destination for an adventure swim, but make sure the sea is calm or the tide is low.
While other Cornish estuaries, especially along the south coast, can be muddy, the river Camel winds its way to the sea leaving a trail of golden sand. Sand bars glow against the blue ocean horizon and there are long beaches, such as the famous Doom Bar, where you can splash out in the shallows. After a swim at Daymer Bay, explore the dunes to find the remains of beautiful St Enodoc’s church. You can hire kayaks at Rock or cycle the length of the river on the Camel trail, a flat cycleway on the path of the disused railway (built to carry the famous sand inland for the farms). There are a couple of good spots for a river swim along the way, and you might even see an otter if you are around at dawn or dusk.
Thanks to the influence of local chef Rick Stein, you are never too far from good local food, although his establishments get very crowded in summer. A safer bet might be Stein’s fish and chips on Padstow quay, but don’t forget to explore lesser-known villages inland, such as quirky St Mawgan (Falcon Inn and bonsai gardens), St Kew (good pub and farm shop) and timeless Pencarrow House. When we visited, the lady of the house herself was taking a break from gardening to serve tea on the café’s lawn. There are some wonderful trees to climb in the parkland, too.