As a family, we have been visiting the much-loved North Cornwall coast since the early 90s, back when Rick Stein had just the one Padstow-based restaurant and the shops still sold sea shell souvenirs and sticks of rock. We had a static caravan at a beautiful spot called Mother Ivey’s Bay and a little piece of my heart will always live there.
Time moves on, however, and our extended family has expanded rapidly over the past few years, so much so that last summer’s holiday ensemble included one set of grandparents, two sets of parents, five kids (ranging in age from 3-10 years) and a five-month-old baby. Finding a holiday home large enough and nice enough in close proximity to Padstow required a fairly hefty budget, so it was with some reluctance that we left our North Cornish comfort zone and decided to try somewhere new.
Our search took us to the south coast and the village of Cawsand on the Rame Peninsula, close to the Devon border and overlooking the Plymouth Sound in what’s known as ‘Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner’. As soon as we drove into the village and through its winding maze of narrow streets to our seafront townhouse, the sighs of relief were instant. Cawsand is the quintessential Cornish fishing village, with pastel- coloured cottages, fishing boats bobbing in the bay, calm waves lapping at the shore and spectacular views across the sea.
What struck us instantly was how few people there were milling about. It was the third week of August, peak summer holiday time and just before the bank holiday weekend, and yet there were just a handful of families on the beach. Rock up at Harlyn Bay on the North coast during the same week and you wouldn’t be able to move for people. It felt like Padstow in 1990, unspoiled and relatively undiscovered, yet to be taken over by Joules, White Stuff, Seasalt and Stein.
Although officially two separate villages, which were once in two separate counties (Devon and Cornwall), Cawsand and neighbouring Kingsand merge into one. Each has its own beach, small and shingled but sheltered and safe. The sea is calm and inviting, with paddle boards and kayaks available for hire. When the tide is out, the rock pooling is, according to my nephews, “epic”. They spent hours clambering over the rocks, collecting sea creatures in buckets and coining the world’s most ear- wormy song about the biggest crab that they’d ever seen (“it was bigger than an elephant’s turd!”).
The Devonport Inn at Kingsand conveniently overlooks the best rock pools, so it was no coincidence that the men happily volunteered to the take the kids out of an early evening, no doubt downing a couple of Doombars en route. To be fair though, my mum and I also snuck off a couple of times – baby strapped to my chest – for a quiet G&T at The Bay, a modern wine bar and restaurant overlooking Cawsand beach.
Our accommodation was a four-storey townhouse right on the seafront, with uninterrupted views from every window across the millpond-like Plymouth Sound. There are an abundance of holiday homes and cottages for rent in both villages, many with similar sea views, but very few with parking, so you have to leave your car in a public car park a short walk away. We did a stop-and-dump at the front door with our luggage/kids/shopping if it was too much to carry. Speaking of shopping, there is a small convenience store in Kingsand, but for a big shop, you need to drive a good 45 minutes to a decent supermarket.
As idyllic as Cawsand is, the beach is small and not very sandy, so for the proper Cornish beach experience you’ll need to head further afield. Whitsand Bay stretches for over three miles from Rame Head to Portwrinkle and houses some absolutely stunning sandy beaches. The coastline drops away dramatically, revealing impossibly steep cliffs where tiny beach houses cling on like mountain goats. Navigating your way down the steep and winding cliff paths can be a challenge, although we managed it with the grandparents, all five kids, the baby (and his accompanying equipment), a beach tent, a picnic box, footballs, Frisbees, beach towels and buckets and spades – and once you’re down there, my goodness is it worth it.
Every single beach we visited that bank holiday week in August was almost deserted. In fact, twice we had an entire beach to ourselves. The kids ran as free and wild as kids can be, jumping waves and digging holes and building sandcastles and kicking a ball without being hemmed in by other people’s camps or bopped on the head by wayward boogie boarders.
We visited Sharrow Beach (a small, sandy cove with excellent rock pooling), Tregonhawke Beach (a vast expanse of glistening, pristine sand, great for sandcastles and surfing) and Finnygook Beach (the shortest access path but not the nicest sand) and had a great day out at every one. Be aware that this stretch of coast is notorious for its rip tides, so pay attention to the lifeguards and stay between the flags.
Away from the beach, we did a couple of day trips too. The small passenger ferry runs from the beach at Cawsand across to Plymouth, where you can explore the town or visit the aquarium. It was worth it for the boat trip alone and the kids loved it. We spent a very wet morning in Looe and a very sunny afternoon in Polperro, both of which have some lovely little shops and galleries – the kids did not love this so much.
With so many people to feed and so many differing dietary requirements, we ate at home most of the time, but I can highly recommend The Coddy Shack just outside Looe. We ate big, steaming bowls of fresh-from-the-sea mussels and delicious sharing platters overflowing with buttery crevettes, crispy whitebait, molten-hot brie and spicy fish cakes. We rolled out of there full to the brim.
We were lucky enough to have a week of glorious weather last August and I honestly think that when the sun is shining, there is absolutely nowhere better than Cornwall. The North coast will always have a special place in my heart, but I’m so glad that we got to experience a different side of this beautiful county and we will definitely return to its Forgotten Corner.
Written by Beth Roberts
Beth works in PR and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two sons, aged four and eight months.