Blessed with over 400 miles of spectacular coastline that fringes almost every side of the county, when you’re in Cornwall, you’re never more than 20 miles from the sea, which means you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a stunning coastal walk to enjoy on holiday.
From gorse-covered cliff tops to craggy coves, from vast expanses of sand to secret beaches hidden in rocky inlets – Cornwall’s coast is ever-changing and always enthralling.
Whether it’s a mid-summer’s walk with a turquoise seascape, a blustery autumnal cliff top hike overlooking stormy seas, a brisker winter’s trek to blow the cobwebs away on a bleak day, or a leisurely spring-time stroll to admire migrating birds and newly abundant wildflowers – no two walks are ever the same.
The South West Coast Path has made the Cornish coast easily accesible for walkers of all abilities, so a coastal walk is now one of the most popular activities to do whilst on holiday in Cornwall, and perfect for couples, families, friends and your four-legged friends too!
Here are 5 of the best coastal walks in Cornwall, specially selected for being circular, so you can enjoy walking along the breath-taking Cornish coastline, exploring quaint fishing villages and rambling through picturesque woods and countryside, starting and finishing in the same place without going back on yourself.
1. Polperro, South Cornwall
This figure-of-eight walk passes through the narrow streets of the pretty fishing village of Polperro and then up to the stunning headlands surrounding it, passing the net loft which enjoys magnificent views from where it’s perched above the harbour, a Victorian tidal sea pool and the route to the lighthouse formerly walked by the blind harbourmaster.
Distance: 2.9 miles/4.7 km
Start from: Polperro car park, sat nav PL13 2PL
- From the car park, follow the lane down the hill between Crumplehorn Inn and Millys. Continue all the way to the bottom of the hill until you reach a junction marked “Access Only”.
- Keep left to reach a sign for the harbour. Follow this, keeping left when you reach the bridge and the museum to follow the narrow lane up the headland until, just past a metal cage on the right, a path departs from the right and there is a coast path sign ahead.
- Keep left at the Coast Path sign and follow the path uphill until you reach the gate for Dinas Bal where a path descends to the right. Continue on the Coast Path until you reach Roy’s Bench on the left with a flight of steps on the right.
- Go down the steps and follow the path until you reach a rock outcrop overlooking the lighthouse, where a path climbs up to the right. Follow the left-hand path to a junction with the path leading down to the lighthouse. Continue ahead from this to re-join the coast path just before the metal cage.
- The path below the coast path, leading to the lighthouse, is known as Reuben’s Walk after Reuben Oliver – a local magistrate who, even when he became old and blind, regularly walked along here to the lighthouse.
- When the path meets the coast path, turn left and follow the path back into Polperro to reach the bridge, then turn left and cross the bridge to the other side of the harbour.
- On the other side of the bridge, bear left up the lane past the Three Pilchards until it ends beside the Blue Peter, then bear right around the Blue Peter to reach a flight of steps marked “To The Cliff”.
- Climb the steps. At the top of the steps, bear left onto the path and follow it to a rock outcrop on the end of a headland with a bench on it. Turn right at the rock outcrop and follow the path a short distance past the information board, and past a steep path on the right, to reach a waymark where the path forks.
- The path to the left of the information board leads to the net loft on Peak Rock, from which there are nice views of the harbour, and Chapel Pool at the base of Chapel Cliff.
- Chapel Pool is a tidal bathing pool built in the 1940s. Its south-facing aspect means that the sun warms it up beyond the temperature of the sea once waves stop flooding it. The pool is accessible from about half tide, but be careful as it is a steep climb down the steps with no handrails.
- Bear left at the waymark, departing from the coast path, keeping on the major path, ignoring any smaller paths off to the left and right. Follow the path until it eventually passes around a rocky outcrop and climbs some steps to re-join the coast path.
- Turn right onto the coast path and follow it until you reach a junction. Keep left to depart from the coast path and follow the path, keeping left, to reach a junction of paths in front of a large wall.
- Just before the wall, turn left to follow the leftmost path uphill. Continue a short distance until the path forks beside some woods. Take the right-hand path leading down into the woods. Follow this until it joins another path above a flight of steps. Bear left onto the path and follow it to reach a parking area. Walk through the parking area to a track and follow this until it ends on a road.
- When you reach the road, the holy well of St Peter is located a short distance up the road to the left.
- Turn right onto the road and follow it downhill into Polperro until you reach a junction just before the sign for Lansallos Street. Turn left over the bridge and follow the road on the other side to a junction. Turn left and follow the road up the hill to return to the car park.
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2. Talland Bay & Looe, South Cornwall
Starting from Talland Bay and following the coast path towards the mediaeval fishing port of Looe, this walk continues along the foreshore of Looe River to the quay to where two rivers meet, then turns to follow West Looe River to the picturesque Kilminorth Wood. The return route is on small lanes and across fields via Talland church, back to the golden sandy beach (and popular beach café) at Talland.
Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
Start from: Talland Bay car park sat nav, PL13 2JA
- Go through the kissing gate in the bottom-left corner of the car park and climb the steps. Follow the path until it meets a wide grassy path and turn right onto this, following it to a gap in the hedge. Continue, passing a kissing gate, until you reach a gate with a National Trust sign for Hendersick.
- Through the gate, follow the path through one more gate to reach a waymark beside a rock outcrop. Continue ahead along the coast.
- Follow the path up the steps, past a waymark and down the other side to where a small path departs from the right to a wooden gate. A flight of steps leads from the gate to the beaches of Portnadler Bay. At the western end is Hendersick beach. The small, rocky beach at the eastern (Looe) end of the bay is known as Old Mills Cove.
- Keep ahead on the coast path, crossing a footbridge at the bottom of a flight of steps.
- Pass through two kissing gates, keeping right on the path, then cross the field to the kissing gate next to the farm gate in the middle of the fence. Follow the path across the field to meet the fence on your right. Follow along the fence to reach a kissing gate leading onto a road.
- Follow the pavement in the direction signposted to Looe. Continue until the pavement ends at the Hannafore Point Hotel. The foreshore along Hannafore Point is popular with wading birds such as egrets and herons.
- Join the green pedestrian lane and follow this until it ends at a black signpost with a coast path sign and a flight of steps down to the quay. Go down the steps and follow the quay upriver. When you reach the shops, pass to the right of the triangular Quayside Centre and continue following the river until you reach a large slipway opposite Looe Social Club.
- Bear left to join the pavement alongside the road, then continue following this alongside the river to pass through the arch beneath the bridge. Bear right beneath the pillars to a walkway along the river. Follow this a short distance until it ends in a left hand bend leading onto a lane.
- Turn right onto the lane and follow it to the library. Cross the road and car park to the lake and turn left onto the path around the edge to reach the small jetty. From the jetty, continue following the path around the lake to reach the river, then turn left to follow the path upstream until you reach a slipway. If you’re lucky, you might spot a beautiful Kingfisher zipping up and down the river.
- Follow the path from the other side of the slipway uphill towards the woods to reach a wooden signpost just before the Kilminorth Woods sign. Turn left and continue along the track until you reach a public footpath signpost.
- Turn right up the steps and follow the path until you reach a junction of paths at a bench. The bank on your left is the Giant’s Hedge and the path runs along a ditch that accompanied the bank.
- Turn left at the junction and follow the path to another junction. Keep ahead at this one and follow the path to pass through a gap in an embankment. Then follow along the embankment, keeping it on your left, to reach a stile.
- Cross the stile and head straight up the field, heading for the brow of the hill. As you reach the top of the field, go through the gateway on the right and head straight across the field to a gap between the taller trees on the skyline. On a clear day you can see Caradon Hill across the fields to the right.
- Go through the gateway and turn right. Follow the sunken track to a gatepost with a waymark then follow the fence, keeping it on your left, to reach an opening in the trees in the corner of the field. Go through the opening and follow the track. Continue along the path until you reach a lane.
- Turn left onto the lane and follow it uphill until it ends at a crossroads with the main road, with a “Welcome to Looe” sign.
- Cross the road to the lane opposite with a Waylands Farm sign. Follow the lane until you reach a kissing gate ahead with a large sign for Tencreek and a Public Footpath sign alongside. Follow the right hedge through the campsite to reach a kissing gate marked with a Public Footpath sign.
- Go through the kissing gate and follow along the right hedge to reach an iron kissing gate in the far corner of the field. Go through this and follow the path parallel to the right hedge, passing to the right of the tower, to a waymarked kissing gate in the bottom-right corner. Go through the gate and follow the path down to the lane.
- Turn right onto the lane and follow it until you reach the steps for the churchyard. Bear left up the path into the churchyard, around the church and through the arch next to the church door. Keep right at the steps on the other side and follow the path to re-emerge through a gate further down the lane.
- Follow the lane downhill to return to the car park.
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3. Lansallos & Lantivet Bay, South Cornwall
Starting at Lansallos National Trust car park, this route passes through a pretty wooded valley to meet the coast path above Lansallos Cove, where you can drop down onto the sandy beach. Then it follows the coastline to just before the Udder Rock Obelisk, before turning up East Coombe. From the top of the valley, the lane into Lansallos completes the circular route.
Distance: 2.8 miles/4.5 km
Start from: National Trust car park at Lansallos sat nav, PL13 2PX
- Turn left out of the car park and follow the lane to a track beside the church with a no-through road sign and a wooden footpath signpost opposite. Turn right down the track, signposted to the Coast Path.
- Follow it to a waymark just before the gate of the Old Rectory. Bear left down the waymarked path and follow this to a footbridge on the right. Continue on the path, in the direction indicated for the Coast Path, to reach a gate at the bottom of the valley. Continue until a fork in the path
- At the fork, the walk continues to the left but Lansallos Cove beach is to the right if you want to explore that first. Follow the Coast Path, ignoring paths to the left and right to reach a gate across the path.
- Go through the gate and keep left at the fork in the path (the right-hand path leads to Parson’s Cove). Continue on the coast path until, just before a footbridge, a path departs to the left and is signposted on a piece of stone to Lansallos.
- The path to the right after the gate leads down to Parson’s Cove. Here there is little or no beach at high tide but as the tide goes out, a beach of sand and shingle is revealed with some patches of rock. The cove faces southwest and therefore gets the afternoon sun, and is quite sheltered, making it a good spot to access the water for snorkelling.
- Bear left on the path to Lansallos. Follow the path, reaching another gate in a hedge across the meadow.
- The white obelisk on the coast path near Lansallos is a daymark indicating the position of Udder Rock. Udder Rock is a pinnacle reef which breaks the surface at low tide but is fully submerged at high tide, making it particularly hazardous to shipping. The reef consists of a number of ledges and these support an array of marine life, making it a popular dive site.
- Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the stream to reach a gateway in the hedge at the top of the meadow. Go through the gateway and follow the path alongside the stream until you reach a stile at the top of a short flight of steps. Go through the gate and follow the path to a gate onto a lane.
- Turn left onto the lane. Follow it back to the church and keep right at the church to return to the car park.
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4. Trevone & Padstow, North Cornwall
Starting from the sandy surf beach at Trevone, this walk takes you along rugged coastline past arches, islands, collapsed caves and blowholes to Stepper Point. Then it heads up the Camel Estuary to reach Hawker’s Cove, which at low tide merges with Harbour Cove and St George’s Cove, to form one enormous beach which you can walk along as an alternative to the Coast Path. Afterwards it continues to the war memorial overlooking the historic Padstow harbour, and returns via Padstow and along lanes and tracks back to Trevone.
Distance: 7.4 miles/11.9 km
Start from: Trevone beach car park sat nav, PL28 8QY
- As you approach Trevone Beach, follow the lane past the beach and lifeguard hut and up the hill until you reach a flight of steps on the left with a coast path sign. Go up the steps and follow the coast path.
- Keep left on the path to reach a waymark at the end of the headland. At the waymark, bear right and follow the coast path past the Round Hole on your right until you reach a gateway in a wall.
- Go through the gateway and follow the main path across the coastal heath. Follow the path over a small headland and down into a steep ravine, over a footbridge.
- Follow the path up to the left and then down to a waymark in Treguddra gorge. Cross the stream at the bottom of Treguddra gorge. On the other side there is a choice of paths. Take either the one directly ahead to the waymark at the top of the hill, or the path to the left (which has good views of the Merope Islands), then follow the cliff path uphill.
- Where the path forks, the two paths re-join later so either will do. Continue until you reach a gate at Butter Hole. Follow the path around the edge of Butter Hole to the point where the path splits.
- Take the leftmost path and follow it around Butter Hole to a gap in the wall. Go through the gap and then keep right, along the wall. Note there is a sheer drop into a collapsed cave, known as Pepper Hole, to the left.
- Follow the path to the 40ft stone tower on Stepper Point, affectionately known as “The Pepper Pot”, which was built as a daymark – a navigation beacon for seafarers during daylight.
- From “The Pepper Pot”, follow the path alongside the wall on the right, to the end of the wall. Bear right through the gap at the bottom and follow the path. Keep left to stay on the coast path and continue up the estuary until you reach Hawker’s Cove.
- Go through the kissing gate into a parking area. Follow the track from the other side until you reach some steps on the left. Go down the steps and follow the path past the cottages to emerge back on the lane.
- Turn left onto the lane and follow it to the coast path sign on the bend. At the sign, turn left onto a narrow path. Follow the coast path down to a stile at Harbour Cove. Cross the stile, continue past the waymark where the stream emerges on the beach, keep right along the fence and follow the path through some bushes until you reach a couple of steps leading onto a track.
- Turn left onto the track and cross over the double wooden walkway. Follow the path towards the dunes to where a path leads onto the beach.
- You have a choice of routes at low tide, either along the beach or – the only option at high tide – along the dunes. Along the dunes: follow the path to a fork at a large tree; keep left here and follow the path over the dunes and round Gun Point to the wooded valley at St George’s Cove. If you go via the beach: continue around the headland, past Gun Point and turn right to head inland between the trees, up the middle of the valley, then turn left where the path ends.
- From St George’s Cove, continue up the estuary, along the coast path, to the War Memorial. Go past the Memorial to the gate on the other side. Follow the left (lower) path into Padstow, to the quayside. Follow the edge of the harbour until you reach The Chough Bakery.
- Turn right to pass along the right-hand side of it in the direction signposted to Prideaux Place. At the end of the alley, head to the right of Padstow Institute, in the direction signposted to Prideaux Place. Follow Duke Street until you reach a junction.
- At the junction keep left, following Church Street past St Petroc’s church on your left until you reach a junction on your right (Tregirls Lane). Continue on the main road past Tregirls Lane until you reach another junction on the right. Turn right, passing in front of the entrance to Prideaux Place, and follow the lane until you reach a barn on the right.
- Opposite the barn, take the footpath to the left, over a stile and bear right along the path passing beside the telegraph pole to a stile on the opposite side of the field.
- Cross the stile and head diagonally across the field towards the middle of the buildings to reach another stile. Cross the stile and turn right onto the lane. Then turn immediately left onto the track next to the farm shop and follow it to a fork just past the car park.
- Just past the car park, take the track that leads off to the right. Follow this until it forks, then take the right fork and follow the track until it eventually emerges onto a lane. Turn left and follow it back down to the beach.
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5. Port Isaac & Port Gaverne, North Cornwall
Starting from the cliff-top car park in the historic fishing village of Port Isaac, the highlights of this walk include spectacular coastal, harbour and rural views, lots of hills, a sandy dog-friendly beach at Port Gaverne (low tide), and plenty of quirky shops, pubs and restaurants in Port Isaac for you to refuel in afterwards.
Distance: 3.3 miles/5.3 km
Start from: Port Isaac car park, sat nav, PL29 3AB
- From the car park at Port Isaac, turn left and head down the hill to Port Gaverne to a junction with a lane on the right with a public footpath sign.
- Turn right down the lane with the public footpath sign, next to the old pilchard cellars, and follow it until it ends beside a footpath sign for Trewetha.
- At the end of the lane, continue ahead past the houses and follow the path ahead as you pass through a gap and reach a waymark on the right. At the waymark, turn right and follow the path that climbs up the hill. Follow it to emerge in the corner of a field, then cross to the waymark on the fence ahead.
- Cross the stile, then follow the path until you reach another stile. Cross the stile, and the one opposite, and continue along the hedge until you reach a stile onto the road. Turn left along the lane.
- Follow it around the bend past Trewetha Farm until you reach a junction to the right, just past Trewetha cottage. Turn right onto the lane marked with the public footpath sign, and follow it to the end.
- At the end of the lane, take the path ahead and follow it down into the valley to a footbridge over the stream. Cross the footbridge and turn right. Follow the path to a junction by a signpost.
- At the signpost, turn left towards Tresungers; follow the path to a waymark. The path to the right leads to what was once Port Isaac Mill. Turn sharply right at the waymark and follow the path along the left hedge until you reach a lane.
- Bear left along the lane until you reach a stile on the right, just before a waymark. Cross it and follow the left hedge and fence to a kissing gate. Go through the gate onto the lane. Turn left and follow the lane a short distance until you reach a track on the right signposted to the coast path.
- Turn right down the track and follow the right hedge to a pair of gateways in the corner of the field. Go through the gateway on the left and bear left in line with the end of the headland, until you cross the brow of the hill, then head for a gap in the right hedge. Go through the gap and follow the scrub on your left until you reach the coast path.
- Turn right and follow the coast path towards Port Isaac until you reach a gap in the hedge next to a waymark. Follow the path down into Port Isaac, where it emerges onto a lane. Bear left onto the lane and follow it downhill (past Doc Martin’s house) to a junction at the bottom of the hill.
- Turn left and follow the main road past the Mote House and the Golden Lion. Continue up the hill past the Old School until you reach Cliff Cottage. Turn left down the coast path, just past Cliff Cottage, and follow it around the headland to the car park overlooking Port Gaverne.