Pondering where to spend your time out next year and those precious annual leave days, it’s hard to avoid the pull of the sea.
From exploring unique estuaries that evoke ancient landscapes, or the sheer joy of catching the energy of a wave, to eating freshly prepared and locally caught shellfish and the refreshing rapture of a cold water dip, take yourself to sea in 2024.
Get close to nature at its most abundant along rare and beautiful estuaries. These changing tidal environments create unique habitats that support a variety of life, think kelp and other seaweed, with barnacles, periwinkles and shore crabs hiding in the foliage. Look up along the banks and see trees leaning towards the water, filled with the sound of resident and visiting birds.
Image credit: Encounter Cornwall
Take the 27-mile long Fowey River, from heart of the estuary at Golant heading inland towards the village of Lerryn is “just beautiful” says Clair Connibeer at Encounter Cornwall, which runs kayak expeditions along the river.
Taking to the water here means the chance to spot “kingfisher, egrets, heron, cormorants, deer, our resident seals, sea-bass and mullet,” says Clair.
Ospreys, a fish-eating bird of prey, once common in the UK, are making a comeback. They can also be spotted along the estuary, in early spring or autumn months.
Image credit: Encounter Cornwall
The Fowey – which gets its name from the Cornish word for beech trees fowydh – is also lined by woodland, including ancient woods stretching back to the Domesday Book of 1086. In spring the forest floor is a carpet of bluebells and wood anemones.
Wandering down from your holiday retreat to the beach, you glimpse the white surf breaking just before the beach. You’re in luck, a few yards ahead is one of Cornwall’s many well- and appropriately-stocked beach shops – Porthcothan Bay Stores.
A location on the Surf Wood for Good network, you can hire a wooden bellyboard here, crafted by Dick Pearce & Friends (DPF) in Newquay, for cleaner wave riding. Different to foam boards which float, a bellyboard is designed to plane across the surface of the water.
Image credit: Dick Pearce & Friends
With board in hand, DPF says to wade out until the water is thigh deep, select a powerful-looking wave and time your take-off to about a second before the water hits you. As easy as that, hopefully, you’ll be cruising into the beach on white water.
For their full guide and graduating to flippers, head to the DPF How to Bellyboard guide.
Image credit: Evie Johnstone
Porthcothan, along with a host of beaches around Cornwall, is a Surf Wood for Good location, and a captivating cove to go wild in the waves on a smooth, clean running board. Surf Wood for Good was thought up as “a sustainable alternative to cheap polystyrene bodyboards, thousands of which end up broken and discarded on our beaches every year,” says DPF.
Read Wood for Waves in Board Stories for more on learning the movement of the waves with a bellyboard and how it helps build up to surfing.
Later in the year, as the temperature cools and the days slowly draw in, revitalise the senses and quieten tangled minds by chasing a chilly autumnal sea dip with the intoxicating heat of an outdoor sauna.
Until recently, saunas were viewed on these shores as a way to unwind after a gym or spa session, but now they’re embraced as holistic wellness spaces in which to commune with nature and fellow sea swimmers.
“Humans have enjoyed saunas in one way or another for thousands of years,” says Jenny Garland, founder of Rising Embers, a new wood-fired mobile sauna within the sanctuary of a walled community garden in west Cornwall. “In Finland it’s built into the fabric of their cultural identity – it’s an everyday practice. It’s only in the past couple of years, however, with the rise in popularity of outdoor swimming that we’re fully appreciating the amazing health and social benefits of regular sauna sessions.”
Jenny set up Rising Embers after relocating from London to Cornwall. Having long been a sauna advocate, she sourced a Scandi-style wood-fired mobile sauna and found a home for it in St Anthony Gardens, Penzance.
Footsteps from the Penzance coastline and opposite the sea water pool at the gloriously art deco Jubilee Pool, the six-person sauna attracts year-round visitors seeking invigoration through taking their body temperature from one extremity to the next.
“Not only do saunas ease tension and help you relax, they can improve cardiovascular health by elevating your heart rate and boosting your circulation,” says Jenny.
“Regular sauna use is shown to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, boost immunity and reduce joint and muscle pain. They’re also just a great place to hang out with your mates and meet new people. The sauna really is the new pub.”
We might imagine tucking in to a sumptuous bowl of moules mariniere or a platter of oysters in the bright summer sunshine, but did you know that the peak season for many of our favourite shellfish species is actually winter?
There’s scientific basis in the old fisherman’s saying that you should only eat shellfish in the months that contain the letter ‘R’, which is September through to April. In part it’s because algae blooms in the warmer summer months can increase toxin levels in the water potentially affecting molluscs, like mussels, and it’s spawning time for wild shellfish, so reducing shellfish consumption during this time allows species to repopulate.
Mussels, native oysters, scallops and clams all taste their succulent best during cold water months. And there’s no shortage of great places to try locally caught seafood, at the right time, around the Cornish coast.
At The Mariners in Rock on Cornwall’s north coast, mussels on the menu in the winter months are likely to come from St Austell Bay, south Cornwall, while at the cosy surroundings of the Verdant Seafood Bar in Falmouth the small plates menu often features native oysters from the Sailors Creek fishery in Flushing, where you can wash down briny wintry delights with beers on tap from Verdant Brewery.
For your holiday, whatever time of year, be all at sea in 2024.