10 best places to swim in Cornwall this autumn
Think the onset of autumn means it’s too chilly to get in the sea? Think again. Swimming in Cornwall at this time of year is a delight – the crowds have gone home, you’ll have the beach more or less to yourself and the sea temperature is only just slightly declining after its steady rise over the summer. Going into October, the outdoor air temperature will certainly be cooler, but you can often get some cracking days of warm Cornish sunshine that make a spur-of-the-moment dip irresistible. Try to swim at a lifeguarded beach and between the red and yellow flags and, if you’re experienced, always use a tow float. Don’t forget some warm layers to snuggle back into afterwards and pack a hot drink. Here are some of our favourite locations for sea swimming in Cornwall that are even more fabulous in the quieter autumn months.
1. Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth, south Cornwall
Gylly is an easy way to dip your toe into autumn sea swimming in Cornwall – it’s accessible at all tides, there isn’t much surf or many currents, it has a coveted Blue Flag award for clean water, there’s a cafe and toilets nearby and it’s very pretty. This triangular pebbles-and-sand beach is bordered by rock pools on either side and has great views of Pendennis Castle. At high tide, it gets very deep, very close to the tideline, so be careful if you are swimming with kids. If there are members of your party who are less than inclined for a bracing dip, send them off to the nearby well-kept formal Queen Mary Gardens, where they can wander and enjoy sub-tropical plants such as colourful agapanthus and giant-leaved gunnera.
2. Porthminster Beach, St Ives, north Cornwall
Clear, flat water and golden sand makes for an idyllic swim at this Blue Flag-awarded beach. You can go for a dip at high, mid or low tide but it’s shallow for a long way out if it’s low! Experienced swimmers may like to splash all the way round to Carbis Bay or further on to Porthkidney – take a swim bag with dry clothes and towel off on shore before walking back to St Ives. The Porthminster Beach Cafe will be a welcome sight for tired swimmers, offering warm drinks and deliciously fresh locally sourced food. Here, you can gaze over to Godrevy Lighthouse and Hayle. If you fancy leaving the car at your holiday home, the railway station is right behind the beach.
3. Pedn Vounder, Penwith, west Cornwall
This secluded and still fairly secret bay (also known as Treen) is really special, set like a jewel among the imposing cliffs of Teryn Dinas. A word of warning – the dramatic bay, protected by the towering granite outcrop of Logan’s Rock, is difficult to get to and a hard trek down a steep cliff path. Wear sensible footwear (no flip-flops!), pack light, take a rucksack and stock up on snacks and water. Check the tide times before you leave as the beach mostly disappears at high tide and you want to enjoy swimming at this Caribbean-esque gem for as long as possible. Park at Porthcurno and give yourself plenty of time to amble along the coast path, taking in the glorious views out over to the Minack cliff-top theatre. On a sunny day, the colour of the sea is breathtaking. The water is crystal clear and the sand golden. Photographs just don’t do it justice! One last thing: this is a nudist beach so be careful where you aim your camera.
4. Nanjizal Bay, Penwith, west Cornwall
Only the really intrepid get to swim at Nanjizal! It’s a good hour from Trevascan village, where you can park – a great day out for families with older children or those who are seeking a secluded and wild swim. Bring plenty of supplies as this beach is very remote (and therefore un-lifeguarded), but well worth the effort. Known for its natural stone sculptures, caves and freshwater waterfall, the main attraction is the stunning Song of the Sea rock arch and Diamond Horse. First, take a dip in the shallow rock pool – which could have been made for mermaids – then snorkel through the sea tunnel. Arrive at mid or low tide – at high tide, you may not be able to access the beach.
5. Kynance Cove, Lizard, west Cornwall
Like somewhere out of a fairy tale, Kynance Cove is simply stunning. And because it’s so beautiful, it can get extremely packed in high season. Going for a swim here in the autumn is a great choice. Its clear, azure waters are ideal for swimming and snorkelling and at low tide, the north bay opposite Asparagus Island offers sea caves, rock pools and jumps. Strong swimmers can head through the “canyon” and enter the huge sea caves to the right. There’s an eco-friendly cafe run by the National Trust. It’s open until November but only on weekends during the winter months.
6. Lamorna Cove Beach, south-west Cornwall
For tropical-style waters and a nice, quiet swim, head to Lamorna Cove, on the South West Coast Path between Porthcurno and Mousehole. It’s fairly remote – there’s no lifeguard cover – with limited mobile reception, so be safe and sensible. If you get the conditions right, this bay is beautiful. Enjoy your dip in crystal-clear water, admire the white sand and granite boulders and if you like snorkelling, there are lots of fish. There’s a cafe that sells freshly caught Newlyn crab sandwiches – perfect for a post-swim lunch. Open until November.
7. Lansallos Cove, Polperro, south Cornwall
A pretty walk from the village church through woodland meanders down to Lansallos Cove, which is smack bang in the middle of proper smugglers’ Cornwall – just next door is Polperro, a fishing harbour steeped in smugglers’ lore. The path suddenly turns into a passageway hewn through the slate, where goods would have been more easily unloaded. The beach is a perfect curve of white sand and even more perfect for a refreshing, calm dip.
8. Daymer Bay, Trebetherick, north Cornwall
Superb white sands and safe swimming sum up Daymer Bay, just around the corner from the wild surfing beach of Polzeath. The sunken 15th-century St Enodoc church, celebrated by poet laureate John Betjeman, lies in the dunes behind, and there is a path through the dunes to Rock. On a sunny day, start your swim when the tide is coming back in over the warm sand and you’ll feel like you’re in the south of France in summer than north Cornwall in autumn.
9. Harlyn Bay Beach, near Padstow, north Cornwall
This famous Cornish beach is a great all-rounder and perfect for families, although lifeguards finish their cover at the end of September. Park right near the beach, hop in for a dip and bob about in the waves if there’s a swell. This beach is also popular with surfers but its location to the east of Trevose Head means it is more protected than those exposed directly to the Atlantic rollers. However, do exercise caution if the waves are big. Pick up a reviving post-swim coffee at the Beach Box cafe or go all out and book in for a decadent lunch at the Pig at Harlyn hotel.
10. Praa Sands, south-west Cornwall
Praa Sands does pick up the surf but if you choose a flat day, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic swim with amazing rock features to swim through and past. However, because of its remote location, this swim is best done within a group outside the summer months. This big, blindingly white beach is backed by sand dunes and is a stunning place to warm up with a hot drink after your time in the water.