Bound for Carbis Bay

This is beach life with bells on. The delights of the soft sand and captivating sea are matched by an array of on-the-beach eateries, for pre- and post-sea swims and sunbathing.

Trundling alongside the glittering Hayle estuary by train, watching seabirds take flight and bright-pink buddleia brush the windows, the beach-bound traffic on this sunny day in June is miles away. We’re travelling light. Just a towel stuffed into a canvas bag. Everything we need awaits on the shore at Carbis Bay.

Find a Carbis Bay retreat

“We hire a wetsuit and head out on a solo snorkel, tracing forests of kelp that cling to the rocky borders of the beach.”

From the carriage of one of Britain’s most scenic railways, you can sit back and watch scenes of St Ives Bay roll by: miles of golden sand yawning to Godrevy lighthouse. A lone dog walker on Porthkidney Beach. A pair of surfers peering out to sea at Hawke’s Point. Scenes bathed in the ethereal light that has lured artists here since the 19th century.

Many of the fellow passengers will soon be browsing these scenes in the galleries of St Ives. But we disembark at the station before the arty enclave that’s become one of Cornwall’s most famous seaside towns. The doors hiss open, and just a trickle of people step out into the salty breeze at Carbis Bay. Wheeling gulls call us down towards a sheltered cove lapped by a vast emerald ocean, rubbed flat beneath a misty horizon. Beach life is in full swing with picnickers and paddleboarders; powder-white sands smattered with deckchairs and windbreaks.

Sea bound

A few swimmers take on the bracing temperatures in bare skin, but we head for the Ocean Sports Centre, to get kitted out for sea-bound adventures. The currents forced towards St Ives’ headland bring shoals of mackerel with them, in turn leading a feeding chain of larger predators into the bay.

“Fin whales, basking sharks and even humpback whales have been seen here, but more often you’ll spot grey seals, sunfish and dolphins,” Glenn Eldridge, owner of the Ocean Sports Centre, tells me. An all-round waterman, Glenn shares his passion for the ocean and locality through guided tours aboard stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoes with underwater viewers. You don’t even need to get your hair wet to come nose-to-nose with the sea life.

Image credit: Hayley Lawrence

Today’s a day for full immersion, salty locks and the eerie underwater quiet, so we hire a wetsuit and head out on a solo snorkel, tracing forests of kelp that cling to the rocky borders of the beach. The light refracts, bringing the dappled seabed up close. Will we spot the iridescent blue-green stripes of a rayed limpet shining on the golden kelp? Pipe fish dart beneath us. A hermit crab scuttles into an anemone-pricked hole in the rocks. The quality of light that lures artists to St Ives seems to paint this underwater world in a more emerald-hued clarity, too.

Land bound

Floating shoreward, there’s the feint outline of a turbot camouflaged in the sand. It’s here in these waters that some of the best seafood in Britain is caught. Plated up in the beachside restaurants just hours after being landed. Sure enough, along Carbis Bay’s ‘promenade’ of eateries, day catch features on the menus of the Med-style Beach Club Restaurant, the swanky Walter’s on the Beach, and the Michelin-starred Ugly Butterfly. With an ice cream kiosk and deli, as well, there are shoreside foodie delights for everyone.

We opt for a short, under a mile, walk from the beach to a different body of water. At Una Kitchen, part of the Una St Ives spa and leisure complex; the wood-roasted Cornish mackerel and Waldorf salad stands out on the menu. And in the lido, a lone swimmer completes laps.

Day passes are available to all the leisure facilities here, where portholes, wooden changing rooms, beach umbrellas and sun loungers create a modern take on 60’s seaside Britain. After a few laps, the jacuzzi and sauna beckon.

This is a beach to be spoilt at.

Image credit: Una St Ives

Carbis Bay beach community

Learn more about the people of Carbis Bay and its thriving sustainable foodie scene, from local community initiatives to zero-waste dining.

Image credit: Ugly Butterfly

Sea more

Carbis Bay beach champion

Learn what beach champion Ashleigh from Beach Retreats loves about Carbis Bay, and her shoreline recommendations.

Sea more

Your Beach. Found

Your beach is the one that has just what you’re looking for: sandcastle sand, shoreline strolls, sunset surfs or sunrise swims. Find your beach with the Beach Match Quiz.

Take the quiz