Sea spotting

15th February 2024

It’s spring and the coastline, from the clifftop fields to the low-tide rock pools, is waking up to the new season. We took a closer look at seaside sights, from the door of one Beach Retreat right down to the shore, and found out more about what spring has in store for coastal adventurers, rock poolers and seasonal menus…

Spring is a rapidly unfolding season by the sea, with nature’s delights unfurling: seasonal flavours ready to savour at dinner and clear blue seas inviting explorers in. While seaweed is starting its fresh new growth, farm produce is welcoming in the sun’s growing energy ready for harvest come May.

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To begin, we follow the coast path from Port Isaac to Port Gaverne to find out what spring holds for coastal adventurers Cornish Rock Tors

Image credit: Mia Rumble

Early emergence

Ben Spicer, Cornish Rock Tors owner, says the team are “a bit like coastal wildflowers, starting to emerge and grow as spring picks up pace”. Winter excursions happen occasionally but March is when everything is checked, in readiness to fully open on the beach-front at the start of the school Easter holidays.

Image credit: Mia Rumble

Based in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a stretch of Heritage Coast, it’s a wild and unspoiled environment with extraordinary sights in store. “If there is a prolonged period of high pressure and calm weather then the sea in spring can be extraordinarily clear, marking a stark contrast to the winter,” he explains.

“The rocky coast is a playground of jumps, wave features and caves, and because the tidal range here is so large the route can change drastically over the two hours between setting out and getting back.”

By April, wildflowers begin to carpet the edges of cliffs, with thrift, also known as sea pinks, standing out, soundtracked by the sounds of razorbills and guillemots nesting along the coast.

Coastal playground

Coasteering with Cornish Rock Tors is to journey through an intertidal world, revealing “multicoloured seaweeds, predatory starfish, beautifully patterned anemones, crabs and common blennys – small fish that can survive out of water and slither between rockpools,” says Ben.

Once out in this rocky world, there’s little sign of human activity, aside from distant movement atop the cliff and the occasional passing fishing boat. Instead, the shifting sea reveals a truly picturesque playground:

Image credit: Mat Arney, Cornish Rock Tors

“The rocky coast is a playground of jumps, wave features and caves, and because the tidal range here is so large the route can change drastically over the two hours between setting out and getting back – what was a one meter ‘introductory’ jump at the start of the session can be much bigger a few hours later if the tide is dropping,” he says.

Kayak to clarity

“If we get a period of prolonged high pressure, as has happened a few times in the last few years, the clarity of the water is incredible and you can look over the side of your kayak and see many meters down, all the way to the seabed below,” says Ben.

Image credit: Mat Arney, Cornish Rock Tors

A short paddle from the shore reveals respectfully distant views of seabird nesting sites, and kayak trips often take in the unique view of the harbour at Port Isaac from sea.

“Beyond that, there is a beach that is only exposed at low tide and that it is impossible to get to any other way than by sea kayak or boat. In spring we often take groups there to enjoy their own little private beach before paddling back to Port Gaverne,” he adds.

The dynamic weather along the coast any time of year means booking in advance for any activity is best, advises Ben; if the weather or sea conditions change for the booking time, a different weather window can be found to head on out.

“Every two weeks, all year round, we have spring tides…It’s so much better than other times because these rock pools are home to species that wouldn’t be able to live further up the beach”.

Lying low

While the tidal flux along Port Gaverne’s rocky surrounds creates an ocean playground, each day all along the Cornish coast – north to south – the tides are revealing hidden habitats to discover, with spring quite possibly the best time of year to go on safari there, says Dr Ben Holt of The Rock Pool Project:

“Rock-pooling is all about the tides; it’s the only reason rock pools exist. So it has a really big impact on what you can find.

Image credit: Mia Rumble

“Every two weeks, all year round, we have spring tides when there’s either a full moon or a new moon. It’s when the tide goes out the furthest. It’s so much better than other times because these rock pools are home to species that wouldn’t be able to live further up the beach as they wouldn’t survive with being out of the water for too long.”

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Hide and seek

This abundant marine environment, hidden for much of the day, is bright and bustling as spring shoots into life. The 350 different seaweed species in the UK waters are more vivid than ever, growing fresh fronds and leaves, while, mirroring the terrestrial life cycle, it’s a time for laying eggs and carrying young.

Image credit: Mia Rumble

“Pipe fish are in the same family as seahorses, and the male pipe fish carries the eggs,” says Ben.

“Female crabs carry their eggs on the underside of their body. They can be carrying six or seven thousand tiny eggs until they’re ready to be released. Some rock pool creatures reproduce at other times of year but spring is when there’s a higher rate of this behaviour.”

Spring tides – which fall to their lowest in the middle of the day in Cornwall – get their name because spring is when these tides are at the greatest range, their lowest and highest; although, autumn is the other season of very high and low spring tides.

As well as checking the tide times for the best rock-pooling opportunities, Ben’s tip for any intrepid explorers is to make sure you have the right footwear. Flipflops and bare feet don’t make for the best foundation on the slippery, sometimes sharp rocks out on the farthest strandline. In colder conditions, wellies are great, and a pair of old trainers work well for safely exploring in warmer temperatures.

To get searching, grab the guidebook and a camera – to snap any mystery finds for later identification.

The Rock Pool Project runs community projects around Plymouth and Falmouth. You can also book a guided rock pool safari with the team throughout the year.

Diverse delights

Looking out to St Michael’s Mount standing tall in Mounts Bay near Marazion, the team at Trenow Fields are tending to their produce, dictated by the season on land that’s managed to regenerate the habitat and boost biodiversity.

“There’s wild rock samphire, foraged at the cove, which is fantastic in curries or sautéed with eggs.”

Ready for harvest from May, flavourful salad leaves, herbs and edible flowers from Trenow can be found in restaurants all over west Cornwall, and further afield, from Argoe in Newlyn to The Crumb, Penzance, to Source Kitchen in St Ives.

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Chefs also request ingredients from the wilder fringes of the farm, emerging from rocks and sand as spring gets going.

“There’s wild rock samphire, foraged at the Cove, which is fantastic in curries or sautéed with eggs. And nettles – great steamed with poached eggs on sourdough toast, or as a creamy nettle soup with lashings of double cream,” says Trenow grower Mark.

Image credit: Mia Rumble

Not on the Trenow produce list, but abundant not far from the shoreline, Mark recommends keeping a lookout for navelwort: “a cucumbery succulent leaf that will be all over the hedges”, and mallow leaves: “an excellent ‘poppadom’ when baked in the oven for a minute.”

While not open to the public, Trenow’s essential oils – produced from the lavender grown on the farm – are available online, and farm shops and veg boxes stock their seasonal sustenance.

To stay by the sea in spring is a chance to spot all that is unfolding along the shoreline from your door to the shore, whether fresh shoots served up at dinner, rare rock pool discoveries or tidal thrills in the clearest of seas.

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