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Cornwall’s secret summer sweet spots

Written by Emma Benney

Beaches Off The Beaten Track

It’s no coincidence that Cornwall’s busiest beaches – Fistral, Watergate, Harlyn, etc – are the ones with the big carparks close-by. Holiday makers with small children and lots of kit to carry have to be able to drive right up to the beach, or tired little legs won’t make it back to the car at the end of the day.

So, if you want to avoid the crowds, Scarlet Secret Sweet Spot Tip #1 is to leave your car behind. If you’re prepared to shoulder a daypack and picnic, and walk a little way, you’ll find you’re able to explore lots of our remoter, less accessible beaches that are quiet – even in high Summer.

Fox Cove, Near Padstow, North Coast

Fox Cove is a wide crescent of sand that’s sliced in two by a long, mussel-crusted blade of rock. Completely inaccessible at high tide, the beach only shares its smooth, golden sands when the sea is in full retreat. This deserted shore offers a glorious refuge from all the busy, happy, noisy sun-seeking and sandcastle-building going on at neighbouring Porthcothan.

As with most of Cornwall’s ‘secret beaches’, the path down the cliff to Fox Cove is for the sure-footed only. Take particular care on the final part of the descent onto the beach, as it gets particularly challenging here, but if you’re feeling intrepid it’s well worth the effort. The snorkelling is good here on calm days, but don’t go in if the swell looks rough. There have been rock falls in this area this year, so keep an eye out for, and make sure you obey, any warning signs.

To get there, take the B3276 south from St Merryn and, when you arrive in Porthcothan, park in the council car park. From the carpark, head south along the coast path.

Lantic Bay, South East Cornwall

This secluded little suntrap is on the rocky stretch of coastline between Fowey and Polperro. You’re pretty much guaranteed peace and solitude here in the height of Cornish tourist season, as it takes a 25-minute walk via farmland and steep cliff-paths to get there. Remember to keep some energy in reserve for the climb back out. There are no loos, cafes or shade here, and therefore no crowds.

What you get instead is white pebbled sand, spectacular views of Pencarrow Head, sheltering cliffs, rock pools and crystal-clear turquoise water. For something even wilder, try the nearby Lantivet Cove, but only when the tide is out.

You can get to Lantic Bay and Lantivet Cove from the A38 between Liskeard and Bodmin, turning on to the A390, and then taking a left on to the B3359. Keep turning right until you find Lantic Bay’s National Trust carpark. On foot, take the South West Coast Path from Polruan (1 ½ miles away) or Polperro (4 miles away).

Pen Vounder, Treen, West Cornwall

Many claim this beach is the most beautiful in Cornwall. Why not decide for yourself? The beach is framed by Logan’s Rock on one side and the Minack cliff-top theatre on the other. It’s a tricky scramble down onto the sand, but so worth it, as at low tide off shore sand bars form shallow lagoons that warm up in the sun like natural jacuzzis.

Because of the steep descent, you’ll find this beach free of the usual seaside paraphernalia of wind breaks, beach bbqs and families – just a few people relaxing on the sand. Though nude (sun)bathing is not a pre-requisite for visiting Pedn Vounder, it is aunofficial naturist beach. So don’t be surprised if you stumble across the occasional individual soaking up some rays sans swimmers.

From Penzance (B3315), turn left 2 miles before Porthcurno and pass the Logan Rock Inn (TR19 6LG, 01736 810495) to reach the car park.

Inner Peace

While most holidaymakers head to the coast in Summer, it’s actually a really good time to turn inwards and explore Cornwall’s quieter inland villages.

Places like Ruan Lanihorne, Philleigh and Tregony will be much less crowded than the super-popular coastal towns and villages of Padstow, St Agnes, St Ives et al, and they offer an equally lovely day out.

Ruan Lanihorne

This village is a scattering of houses straddling what was once the busy coach road from Penzance to London, but is now a quiet, leafy lane. There’s a striking 14th century Gothic church here to wander round, and the quaint King’s Head pub to try in the centre of the village. The creek is great for birdwatching, as the silt provides a haven for waders and waterfowl. All-in-all, you’ll be richly rewarded for exploring inland by the fantastic countryside and river views to be found all around Cornwall’s heartlands.

Rough Tor, Bodmin Moor

Rough Tor is a stack of enigmatic stone formations on Bodmin Moor, not far from the highest point in the county, Brown Willy. The 8km walk to the Tor from the car park at Poldue Downs means you’re likely to be pleasantly alone as you stroll through scatterings of Neolithic monuments and Bronze Age stone circles.

Here, even in high Summer with Cornwall at its busiest, you’ll be able to enjoy losing yourself in the epic horizons of the north Cornish moorlands.

Hidden Valley Garden, near St Austell

You guessed it: Hidden Valley Garden is a garden hidden in valley! Tucked away near St Austell, this is case of small really is beautiful. An intimate three acres offers a Mediterranean area, an iris garden and ‘hot border’ of scorchingly-colourful Summer flowers.

St Nectan's Glen Waterfall, near Tintagel

Have your hushed tones at the ready for your sojourn to St Nectan’s Glen. This is a sacred site where the River Trevillet has carved its way through Late Devonian slate and created a magnificent 60 foot waterfall. This is where Cornish fairies, piskies and spirits play while serenaded by bird song.

To really go off piste, try Rocky Valley which is on the opposite side of the road to St Nectan’s Glen and a bit harder to find, so therefore even quieter. It’s definitely worth the search. On the walk down there’s a Cornish labyrinth carved in the wall.

Quieter Coastline

Cawsand and Kingsand

These two super-cute villages on the Rame Peninsula were once favourite spots for smugglers. Now, they’re referred to as Cornwall’s forgotten Cornwall. So, if you can’t resist the lure of a Cornish coastal village but are looking for a quiet time, then try these two. They offer all the loveliness of a stereotypical traditional Cornish village, without throngs of holidaymakers that usually go with them.

Quieter Cafes & Backroads Restaurants

The same rule applies to cafes and restaurants as to beaches. Places near popular beaches with massive carparks are best avoided if you’re looking for the quieter Summer Cornwall experience.

While we can’t guarantee a table, Scarlet Secret Sweet Spots Tip #4 is to suggest you try:

Relish, Wadebridge

One of Cornwall’s best cafe delicatessens, Relish is just yards from the bustling pedestrian shopping area of Wadebridge’s Molesworth Street, but tucked away in the pretty and secluded oasis of Foundry Court. There’s seating for 29 inside and 24 in the courtyard and you can order breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or coffee.

Strong Adolfo's, Wadebridge

Strong Adolfo’s stands right on the A39 Atlantic Highway on your way into Wadebridge from Newquay, and is sufficiently out-of-town to give you a good chance of getting a table. This place has everything you could want from a café, plus a little more, as it frequently hosts artist exhibitions, guest chef evenings and wine tastings.

Martha's Tea Room, Newquay

If cosy and cute is what you’re after, then try Martha’s Tea Room in central Newquay. This place serves a delicious range of homemade cakes, light lunches and cream teas, and there’s usually room at the inn.

The Hidden Hut, Porthcurnick Beach, Portscatho

You have to hunt pretty hard to find this small, rustic outdoor café, but it’s worth it. You can’t drive to it, for starters, you have to walk through two fields, along the coast path and down flight of granite steps – but that makes it all the more special, and more likely to be crowd free.

You can get to The Hidden Hut by parking in the Porthcurnick Beach Car Park on New Road, Portscatho – it’s best to put TR2 5HD into your sat nav –and walking the short distance North East along the panoramic coastal path towards Porthcurnick. When you get to the granite steps leading down to the beach, carry straight on up the other set of steps in front of you and the hut is just over the brow of the hill.

Woods Cafe, Cardinham Woods

Head inland to Cardinham Woods for this lovely organic café with plenty of outdoor seating. It’s a popular destination for cyclists and walkers, but it’s too out the way for most tourists and there’s plenty of seating space outside.