Waves crash against rugged shorelines and the air takes on a crisp, invigorating chill. Cornwall unveils a different kind of magic during the autumn and winter months. The season for a change of pace, a chance to embrace the coastal environment and relish precious downtime.
Summer by the sea has much to offer, then as the days shorten and the landscape shifts into its next season mode, it’s time to slow down, stretch out and look up.
You can’t beat the autumn and winter for stargazing. From September through to March, the stage is set for the perfect conditions to gaze at the stars.
Starry skies over Gwennap Head, West Penwith
Image credit: Graham Gaunt Photowork
Bodmin Moor is among the best locations nationwide to turn your eyes skywards. In 2017, the majestic granite moorland was awarded an International Dark Sky Park accreditation – the first to be given to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the UK. This means that night-time levels of artificial light are extremely low, creating pitch-black conditions in which to admire celestial sights. And with ancient monuments all around – from stone circles to burial mounds – the past feels within touching distance. To see the stars in a dark night sky as our ancestors would have done thousands of years ago is an awe-inspiring experience.
A second Cornish region recently gained the same accreditation. West Penwith – ranging from near St Ives to St Just to Mousehole was added to the roster in 2021. Unlike Bodmin Moor, West Penwith is a sweeping coastal habitat, which offers the opportunity to enjoy dark skies from a clifftop vantage point and picturesque ruins of tin mines silhouetted against the sea.
“And as the shower’s peak on 14–15 December coincides with the crescent moon, the sky will be left dark, meaning viewing conditions should be perfect. Moonless nights offer the best opportunity for stargazing – if you want to admire the Milky Way, for instance, time your viewing with the new moon.”
Sights to see
With luck, you may see the spectacular colour of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, when the night sky is filled with dancing shades of pink, green, yellow and violet. Though only rarely seen further south than Scotland in the UK, the colourful phenomenon graced Cornish skies twice last year.
Image credit: Graham Gaunt Photowork
The cosmic calendar is filled with must-see events this winter. On 28 October, the UK will witness a partial lunar eclipse, as the moon passes through the earth’s shadow; turn your eyes to the skies at 21:15 for the maximum eclipse.
In December, the Geminid meteor shower will see up to 150 meteors per hour dashing through the night sky, making it one of the best displays to see this year. And as the shower’s peak on 14–15 December coincides with the crescent moon, the sky will be left dark, meaning viewing conditions should be perfect. Moonless nights offer the best opportunity for stargazing – if you want to admire the Milky Way, for instance, time your viewing with the new moon.
On 22 December comes the winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year. This needn’t be gloomy – far from it. The annual Montol Festival in Penzance on 21 December aims to revive ancient pagan traditions to joyous effect. Six days of celebration – including storytelling, folk music and mask- and lantern-making workshops – will lead up to the main event on 21 December, in which a procession of picturesquely-costumed figures parades through the town.
Image credit: Bella Bunce
Sea views and swims
The winter months are the perfect time for bracing coastal walks. The South West Coast Path along the rugged cliffs and hidden coves of north Cornwall offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. Bundle up, bring your camera, and set out for an invigorating hike.
You might even catch one of the season’s most dramatic spectacles: storm watching. Head to a cliffside viewpoint and witness the power of the ocean as it crashes against the cliffs and sends waves soaring into the air. Then there’s the prospect of taking it all in from a beach side retreat, or retreating back there for a mug of cocoa after facing the elements.
Image credit: Bella Bunce
For keen swimmers or those game for a short cold water dip, secluded sea pools offer protection from the wildness of the waves, and local favourites include Bude Sea Pool and Treyarnon Bay Tidal Pool, near Padstow. For something less exhilarating and more relaxing the geothermal pool at Jubilee Pool in Penzance is open all year round, filled with seawater that’s been geothermically warmed to a toasty 35 degrees.
“During winter, hundreds of thousands of starlings gather here to swoop in their impressive formation – known as a ‘murmuration’ – at sunset.”
Winter is an excellent time for wildlife enthusiasts to visit. As mainland Europe freezes, the Cornish coast becomes a hub for both resident and migratory bird species, including puffins, gannets, and razorbills. Look out, too, for flocks of brent geese and wigeons arriving from the Arctic, seeking refuge in the mild Cornish climate. The cliffs provide ideal vantage points to spot these majestic creatures as they soar along the coastline.
Image credit: Graham Gaunt Photowork
Some of the best places to bird-watch include the internationally-important Maer Lake Nature Reserve near Bude, Middle Amble Marsh and Walmsley Sanctuary, both near Wadebridge, and Windmill Farm Nature Reserve on the Lizard. And to combine heritage sights with natural wonders, you can’t do better than a trip to St Michael’s Mount in Marazion, near Penzance. During winter, hundreds of thousands of starlings gather here to swoop in their impressive formation – known as a ‘murmuration’ – at sunset.
You may even be lucky enough to witness seals and dolphins playing in the brisk waters. Grey seals haul themselves ashore to have their pups in autumn and winter, and there are spots around the coast to observe seals at this time of year from safe vantage points. Bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and harbour porpoises are frequently seen off the Cornish coast year-round.
Whether seeking adventure, carving out some precious downtime, or looking for both, the autumnal and wintery coast has something to offer every traveller.
Make your escape, experience #coastalwonder.…
A guided walk on the Morwenstow cliffs by David Myers
The phrases “off the beaten track” and “hidden gem” are often used to describe Cornish beaches and villages, which, upon arrival to the teeming carpark, are evidently anything but. However, Cornish wildnerness guide David Myers would like to introduce you to a place which might well be Cornwall’s best representation of the above terms.
There’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Morwenstow, the wild and windswept coastal parish at the extreme North end of the county, and there’s a good reason why – it’s literally not on the map (well, a lot of them!). The postcard below is a great example: the 7-mile stretch north of Bude has been chopped off, an unwieldly inconvenience to the map maker.
This isn’t a negative, far from it. It’s a unique quirk about the area which only adds to its feeling of remoteness. An hour’s drive to the nearest dual carriageway, and a further half-hour more to the closest motorway and proper train station, you really have to make an effort to get to this place. But those who do will be rewarded with some of the most unspoiled, stunning and quiet stretches of coastline in the South West. On a sunny August bank holiday, if there are more than 5 people on some of the beaches it’s classified by the locals as busy.
There are no settlements on the Morwenstow coastline, just a string of remote beaches and coves, towering clifftops and rugged coastal scenery. The only building you will encounter is a tiny cabin, constructed in 1843 by an eccentric vicar from the salvaged timbers of a ship wrecked on the jagged rocks far below. It’s been standing there defiantly for the past 180 years, surviving all manner of storms the Atlantic has thrown at it, and serves as a visual reminder to the area’s wild history of shipwrecks, piracy and smuggling. Even the local pub, the Bush Inn, owes its name to a code the smugglers used to distinguish friend from foe.
Hawker’s Hut by David Myers
That’s not to say the coastline is all that this area has to offer. You can head inland up one of the many deep, wooded valleys, surrounded by ancient oaks. It’s a paradise for walkers and trail runners, with the vast network of paths leading into the parishes of Welcombe and Hartland, forming a network of hundreds of miles of adventure, where you will most likely not encounter a soul.
Bluebell lined woodland trail by David Myers
If cycling is more your thing, the quiet country lanes make an excellent way to explore the area. An electric bike, hidden beaches, a 13th century pub and a tearoom all combine to make an unforgettable day out.
If you’d to experience perhaps Cornwall’s best kept secret then visit www.davidmyers.co.uk or Instagram @davidmyersguide. David is a wilderness guide and Morwenstow native who offers guided walking, trail running and electric bike trips in the area, for people who want to experience the quieter side of North Cornwall and Devon. From easy one-hour history walks, to challenging all-day and multi-day adventures, there’s something for everyone.
“The minibus is buzzing with conversation as we drive the family group back to their hotel. As the youngest son gets out, he hugs the guide and says, ‘I want to be a marine biologist just like you.’”
We recently caught up with our friends from Newquay Wild Activities, who gave us a run down on their latest Rockpool Ramble on Fistral beach….
Image credit: David Kirwan
The day started when Liz picked them up three hours earlier from Watergate Bay. A lovely group down on holiday and booked with Newquay Wild Activities to experience a rockpool ramble. The van pick up means they can leave their cars in the car park and not worry about navigating the busy Newquay streets. They arrive at Esplanade Green overlooking the world famous South Fistral Beach.
Image credit: Neil Wilkinson
Here they meet their guides, two passionate locals who are as excited as the group to share and explore the rocky shore.
There are some amazing pools on South Fistral that contain a wondrous number of species – each with their own story to tell. Even the seaweed has some secrets to share, if you look close enough. A multitude of shells cling to them for security such as the iridescent blue ray limpet as does the beautiful Stalk Jellyfish.
Stalk Jellyfish by Ivan Underwood
Blue Rayed Limpet by Zeni Hayton
The group wander their way down towards the surf to look at the deeper pools and rocks covered in thousands of mussels and barnacles, always keeping an eye out for wildlife passing by in the bay. Crabs are discovered, fish swim by and shrimps come and play on their toes. Starfish of all types are found – they are incredible creatures that eat algae while clambering over rocks. Did you know they can lose a limb for an easy getaway if they are ever in danger?
Spiny Starfish and Cushion Star by Gwynnie Griffiths
As the tide exposes more rock, anemones begin to close to protect themselves while they wait for the protection of the water.
Anemone by Josh Symes
The group are enthusiastically hunting for more animals as Liz returns with their pasty and drink. A perfect spot to enjoy some sustenance before the slow meander back to the steps.
Amazingly, as they clamber their way off their beach, more wildlife is spotted – a Stone Chat just hanging out on the brambles!
Stone Chat by Josh Howells
There is so much to explore on Newquay’s shores. Liz and the group spend the drive back talking about everything they saw. The guides log all the wildlife information ready to send to the record centre which the group helped to collect (they are now citizen scientists!) and the guides get ready for their next group – this time… a Wildlife Walk around the headlands of Newquay to spot some of the bigger, more elusive wildlife.
Grey Seal by Adrian Langdon
Newquay Wild Activities is a brand-new Social Enterprise set up by Liz and Laura in 2022 – it stemmed from a decade in the marine conservation sector in Cornwall, a fabulous network of friends and colleagues and a yearning to show tourists and locals that Newquay has so much to offer.
Discover what lies beneath our rockpools and the wildlife that shares our shores. Book onto a Rockpool Ramble or a Wildlife Walk with mini-bus pickup included. Learn how to collect valuable scientific data that can help to inform conservation research and national policy. Explore the north Cornwall coastline with experts on hand to guide you.
For more information visit Newquay Wild Activities for the summer dates and activities. Including the spectacular night-time rambles – see what happens in the cover of darkness!
Anemone by night, Josh Symes
Freedom. Ease. Drop-of-a-hat adventuring. As you wake to the stirring sounds of the ocean, surf-check from your balcony and pace your day to the pattern of the tides –you’ll soon discover the joy that comes with staying a stone’s throw from the shore.
From first-light swims and car-free beach days to nature spotting and late night sundowner suppers on the sands – strip back the stress, dial-up the magic and put the best of the coast at your fingertips by staying footsteps from the beach.
Bracing waters in the light of a fresh day, nothing starts the day off quite like it. Staying so close to the sand means first-light dips in the vast blue are as simple as rolling out of bed, gathering the troops or going it alone, getting the coffee on to brew and being back in time to warm up your hands up with a mug or two.
Image credit: Lily Bertrand-Webb
While you’ll find yourself a solitary swimmer in small coves and harbours, such as Port Isaac and Mousehole, in other larger bays, such as Gyllyngvase in Falmouth, you’ll likely meet fellow dawn dippers who’ll share a comradely nod.
Sea temperatures reach their zenith in August at around 18.5°C degrees on the North Coast, while the South Coast can be up to 2°C cooler – but the bravest swimmers dive in whatever the season. Always check the conditions, and let people know where you’re headed.
Stretching way beyond the beach, a water-front stay invites you to explore some of Cornwall’s most tranquil wending waterways. These easy reach river hideaways will soon have you in tune with the daily river rhythms, rills and runnels, ebbs and flows.
Lean into the low-key ease of a lazy paddle out on the River Fowey, where you can hire boards straight from the harbour. From here, let the surging river tide push you towards Golant for a beer at the Fisherman’s Arms and back in time to catch a late lunch at Captain Hank’s on the water’s edge.
Or, for big groups with a thirst for adventure, lash your boards together for a float down the Gannel estuary, where you can disembark, prop up your paddleboards and head up the steep steps to the Fern Pit Café, where refuelling means crab sandwiches and a stellar sea view.
WHEN TO WALK
If your hound is in the holiday party, staying beach-side is a real boon. While some beaches are open all hours to dogs, others have restricted access between 10am and 6pm. Staying within walking distance of the shore means cutting out the drive and making the most of freshly tide-washed sands with your faithful friend in tow. And if you’re an early riser, you’ll often have the beach to yourself.
Image credit: Lily Bertrand-Webb
Find a shorefront property welcoming well-behaved four-legged visitors…
WHATEVER THE WEATHER
Azure blue skies, splinters of sun bursting from behind clouds, and brooding black veils signalling storms on the horizon – weather watching takes on new dimensions when you’re this close to the coast. Image credit: Lily Bertrand-Webb
Sit back and savour sublime vistas on your seafront balcony, or let the pattern of the skies shape your day. Seek out gentle sunny hazes to set the scene for your little ones paddling in the shallows at Porth, embrace fat-rain raucous swims with your whole gang on Croyde, and take advantage of your seaside spot at Gylly to be the first out onto the sand when the sunshine’s on your side.
And as the hours ebb away into evening, capture a clear horizon and take yourself down to the sands for a North Coast Cornish sunset – if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive green flash.
A glimpse of a dorsal fin dipping below the surface, the swoop and caw of a low-flying kittiwake, and the bobbing head and bristling whiskers of a seal; with the sea within your sights, nature’s bound to put on a show.
Beachside dwellers regularly catch sight of playful pods of dolphins as they skirt the bays and wave ride next to surfers. Keep your eye on the waters and take yourself to the closest cliff top or headland for a clearer view. Lucky sea-watchers recently caught a rare glimpse of a majestic humpback whale not far off the Pentire headland in north Cornwall – best keep your eyes peeled.
SWIM FOR YOUR SUPPER
As the day rolls on into the evening, explore the epicurean offerings of your stone’s throw beach-front stay. Whether it’s a post-swim hand-stretched pizza under romantic festoons at The Jam Jar just a short stroll from Crantock, or bringing some crowd-pleasing Rick Stein’s Fish and Chips back to your blanket at Padstow – why not leave the culinary work to someone else when you’ve escaped to the coast.
From rolling dunes to endless white sands, river-front retreats to bustling bays, get the instant beach experience from your holiday…
A visit to the unique county of Cornwall is the perfect chance to pick-up a new skill, learn something new, or try something different. It might be an old favourite in a new location, or an untested activity you’ve always hankered after. Here’s a round-up of what to do in Cornwall this year and what your stay by the sea could offer this year…
Discover new skies
Cornwall offers dramatic landscapes for night time adventures. In December 2021, West Penwith was recognised as an International Dark Sky Park, joining Bodmin Moor with this designation and the Dark Sky Discovery Site at Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps where you can see the Milky Way pass overhead.
Image credit: Graham Gaunt Photowork
Spend time on ocean time
Why not take some time out from the normal rhythm of life to follow the beat of the tides? From expansive beaches of golden sand and rocky pools teeming with hidden life to high-adrenaline coasteering and water sports at high water. Then there’s reading the waves as they come and go, learning the natural signs of the sea so you can decide what best suits the day’s conditions, from heading in for a swim to grabbing the surfboard.
Go to the ceramic source
China clay is synonymous with St Austell and its surrounding villages; a rich heritage that’s embarking on an artisan revival. Operating out of St Austell’s newly relaunched Market House, along with a host of other makers, Flookan runs a four-week introduction to ceramics course, in the home of china clay, where you can learn a range of skills for working with clay. There’s also one-off workshops and taster sessions running through the year, with private bookings on request.
Image credit: Flookan
Seek out supper from the sea
Foraging seaweed can be a sustainable, tasty, invigorating journey into a new cuisine. The Fat Hen offers a two-day course in identifying, gathering, preserving and cooking with 15 different seaweeds. You’ll also learn how seaweed can remineralise the body in baths and skincare products.
Find the vines
Cornwall’s relatively mild climate and long sunlight hours make it one of the finest regions for wine production in the UK. The Wild Wine School near Padstow has a commitment to sustainable viticulture, and deals in wine with distinctly untamed notes: its mission is to share wine knowledge and passion “in surroundings that enliven senses and expand minds, calling on nature to add a technicolour edge to your experience”. In its workshop on Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture, you’ll learn the basic concepts of organic and biodynamic viticulture, “from lunar cycles to the special alchemy of plants”, taste six sustainably produced wines, and have the chance to try making one of the Biodynamic preparations.
Image Credit: Ingrid Pop
Ride the West Kernow Way
An 230km off-road route – funded by the European Regional Development Fund’s Experience project – exploring west Cornwall is now fully open. It takes in many of the highlights of the western half of the Cornish peninsula, including the Botallack tin mines, the Bronze Age monument Mên-an-Tol, Land’s End, St Michael’s Mount and Lizard Point. Expect spectacular coastal scenery, hedgerows bursting with wildflowers and ancient tracks across isolated moorland.
Image credit: The West Kernow Way
Explore sea life
Graceful and silent, take to a kayak to explore aquatic habitats and the chance to share secluded coves with seals and cormorants. Koru Kayaking offer North Coast kayaking around the caves and mining heritage of St Agnes, and the sheltered creeks and coves of the Helford River near Falmouth. For the more experienced, Sea Kayaking Cornwall run a week-long adventure island hopping by kayak around the Scilly Isles.
Image credit: Koru Kayaking
Apnea or freediving, descending under water on a single breath has a long history, with roots in yoga, meditation and breathing techniques. Explore the wilderness underwater with Aquacity, based in the sheltered Porthkerris Cove on the Lizard. Aquacity offer a half-day introduction to freediving from May. There’s also a more advanced course giving an entry-level qualification.
Image credit: Daan Verhoeven
Take the geothermal waters
Jubilee Pool, the striking Art Deco sea water pool on Penzance’s promenade now has its new geothermal pool up and running, heated to 30-35 degrees via its own 410m deep geothermal well. So the pool now offers Geo & Dine, where you can enjoy an evening dip under the moonlight in the steamy geothermal pool, followed by a specially selected, fresh locally-sourced three-course meal. Or try its Geo & Fizz sessions, where you can buy an alcoholic drink from the cafe and enjoy some bubbles in the water.