A hedonistic honeypot in summer, the grand dame of tourist beaches shows a more subtle and seductive side come the shoulder season. Gone are the lifeguards and their loudspeakers, absent are the windbreakers and baking hoards. At low tide in winter Fistral is silvered by watery light on a breath-taking expanse of sand populated more by gulls and crabs than people. Whether beginning at the chic development at North Fitsral or the precipitous steps at South, the beach offers much to the winter adventurer and, as the restrictions on our four legged friends on Fistral are lifted from October – Easter, the dog walker.
With impressive cliffs cascading into rocky pools from Pentire Point to Towan Head the opportunities for foraging are ample. A walk at shoreline will confirm why this is one of the UK’s premier surfing beaches – most likely you’ll have to shout to make yourself heard as you marvel at the neoprene encased surfers braving the waves even in the coldest of temperatures. Even if you don’t enter the water yourself, you can experience a taste of the adrenaline vicariously – and then leave them to their extreme form of exhilaration as you retreat to one of the beach’s eateries for your hot chocolate reward
The options here are plentiful: first up a little café nestled in the cliff face at South Fistral. Open for lunch and coffee Wednesday – Sunday every month except January the views from Bodhi’s deck are stunning and there’s a good chance of spotting dolphins from this lofty vantage point. If you’re at North Fistral stop in at Quiksilver UK HQ for a coffee or, if you want to work up an appetite, follow the cliff path around to the Huer’s hut on Towan headland.
A vestige of Newquay’s pilchard industry the little white hut was once a lookout for the Huer who would watch for the lucrative shoals to arrive in the bay and then call (or give ‘hue and cry’) towards the town by shouting ’Hevva, hevva’ (from the old Cornish word “Hesva” – meaning shoal). The hut now offers shelter from wintery winds, as well as panoramic views of the famous Cribber reef break, back around to Newquay harbour and along to Watergate bay – on a crisp winter’s day you can see as far as Constantine. Backtrack to the imposing splendour of The Headland Hotel for a mean cream tea, and more views of the indefatigable sets marching in to Fistral bay.
From the well known to the well hidden.
The Roseland peninsula is, in my mind, a characterful treasure trove of the best of Cornwall. A sequence working fishing villages at the end of twisty high-hedged lanes, coves in which kelpies frolic, as well as whimsical creeks to explore if you’ve the sails – and all within a short drive from Truro – this unassuming peninsula has quietly become one of the must visit destinations in the county.
Although the South West coast path will lead you to many of the Roseland’s beauty spots, and pretty much guarantee rosy cheeks and a healthy glow, as beaches go my pick for winter is Porthcurnick. This wonderful winter’s day out offers a sense of the real character of Cornwall devoid of either gaudy or mundane main streets, and full of sea, sand and simple pleasures.
My suggestion is to park in the ample car park at the edge of Porthscatho, which overlooks Gerrans Bay. Peppered with whitewashed cottages this village is a good place to stock up on a warm pasty if you’re here in the heart of winter. So supplied, take Coastal path in a north easterly direction to the tiny Porthcurnick beach which – in contrast to its northern cousins – is bordered by snow-white cliffs and splendid isolation. You cannot drive to this beach – and thank goodness for that. There’s a lovely feeling of mystery and exclusivity preserved in this tranquil cove because of it – keep your eyes peeled for the many seals that live along this edge of coast…you might even spot a mermaid.
Depending on when you arrive, Porthcurnick has even more to offer the off-season adventurer – should you need it. From March – October the aptly named Hidden Hut sits back from the beach providing tasty respite to both serious trekkers and sedate strollers. It has fast become a destination venue featuring in The Times’ ‘30 sexiest places to eat in Britain’ and on ITV1’s series ‘Cornwall’ with Caroline Quentin. With local pleasing events like Soup Sundays and pop-up feasts this should definitely be on a gourmet’s go to list.
Although not a beach at all, if like me you find the picturesque Roseland moreish it would be churlish to miss St Mawes – the water sport enthusiast’s mecca on the south coast. Unlike the retiring hut on Porthcurnick, you cannot fail to miss the town’s rather imposing equivalent.
Opening at weekends only from November to March, St Mawes Castle is one of Henry VIII’s coastal artillery fortresses, built between 1539 and 1545 to counter an invasion threat from Catholic France. Peace not war prevails here now though through breathtaking views across to Falmouth and Pendennis Castle. You can continue your exploration of the south coast by boat on the legendary St Mawes ferry, which sails to Falmouth passing the ramparts of the castle 364 days a year.