What better way to spend a decade than by touring Britain's beaches, asking visitors, 'What does the beach mean to you?'
Now author Ian Brighouse has put his findings into a new book - and of course, Cornwall has some of the best on his list... but then we are biased, and so are you it seems...

Great British Life: Great Lantic Image: Ian BrighouseGreat Lantic Image: Ian Brighouse

Great Lantic

Sitting between Polruan to the west and Polperro to the east, this magical beach is difficult to access down a steep path but it is well worth the effort. The nature here is pristine and on a fine day Lantic Bay is serene and tranquil, with clear turquoises and blues in the sea and sky. In summer the upper beach vegetation is in bloom. This side of the Fowey River estuary has wonderful sea views looking out from the high cliffs, as well as beautiful, wild beaches. It’s totally wild, unspoilt and timeless, without commercial intrusion. The geology is fascinating, with creased, folded and eroded rock formations standing proud against the relentless assault of the ocean.

What it means to us

Al – ‘It’s looking at the sea for me and looking a long distance. We have a yearning for the sea. It’s good looking out at it and seeing the horizon. You don’t often see that in a city.’

Andrew – ‘It’s one of the most exhilarating and beautiful beaches in the whole of Southern Cornwall.’

Great British Life: Kynance Cove. Image: GettyKynance Cove. Image: Getty

Kynance Cove

Kynance Cove is for many people the quintessential Cornish cove and beach. Its combination of characterful islands, serpentine-laced caves, a blowing hole and pristine beaches make this a special place. I have encountered visitors experiencing a natural ‘high’ here and it’s intoxicating. The best time to visit is on an ebb tide towards low tide when it is safe to scramble around the nooks and crannies. If you are ever fortunate, as I was once, to be the first person on this beach in the morning, you may witness the tide turn inward and your footsteps will be washed away, the beach assuming another guise as it has done throughout time.

What it means to us

Karen – ‘For me, it means peace and tranquillity. Every time the waves come in and go out, it feels as though any of my worries are just washed away. The clean sand is like the purity and the waves are the cleansing nature.’

Mark – ‘To me, this feels like the magical epicentre of Cornwall. It really is everything you’d expect and hope for in a lovely beach.’

Great British Life: Poldhu Cove Image: GettyPoldhu Cove Image: Getty

Poldhu Cove

This is a magnificent, untamed beach, facing the Atlantic on the western side of the Lizard Peninsula. Perhaps its isolated location, near to RNAS Culdrose and through the village of Gunwalloe, plus the fact that you don’t just pass by it, rather you must want to go to it, makes it such an enviable destination. On arrival Poldhu Cove has the feel of a North Coast beach. At low tide the beach is surprisingly expansive, and its flat demeanour leaves intricate swirls in the sand, such is the speed of the tidal race. The rocks by the side of the beach have been blasted and sculpted by the Atlantic, a wonder to enjoy at low tide. This is a great place to reflect in a pristine environment, surrounded by nature. There is a charm and a welcoming karma. In truth, it’s hard to pull yourself away from Poldhu Cove.

What it means to us

Pete – ‘I live on the beach, I’ve worked on the beach for thirty-five years, I’m probably addicted to the beach. If I’ve had two days away from the beach, I must get back. So, it means addiction. I’m going to try and fight it, but not too hard.’

Hayley – ‘Poldhu beach, to me, means home. The way that view just hits you as you come round the corner at the top of the hill, it takes your breath away. I grew up here in Mullion, so Poldhu holds a certain amount of nostalgia for me. To me, Poldhu means memories, good times, friends and family.’

Great British Life: Polzeath. Image: GettyPolzeath. Image: Getty


Polzeath is a popular Cornish tourist destination claiming to have the best surf in the county. At low tide there is acres of space, with nooks and crannies to hide away from the crowds, plus fine views over the sea to Pentire and Stepper Point. There’s a wonderful coastal walk from Polzeath along Greenaway to Daymer Bay, celebrated by the poet John Betjeman, who is buried at St Enedoc. The view from the higher ground at New Polzeath affords a glimpse of Greenaway, The Doom Bar and the Camel Estuary. This beach pulls visitors back every year.

What it means to us

Pauline – ‘It’s full of happy memories with the family and with my husband and it’s the highlight of the year. When we go back, I think: “We must keep this holiday spirit with us, and I must spend more time with my husband and the children.”’

Bruce – ‘When we come down, it’s as if we have never been away. The intervening months fade into the background and we are back where we belong.’

Great British Life: Porthcothan Image: GettyPorthcothan Image: Getty


Arguably the best beachcombing beach in Cornwall and home to the late well-known filmmaker, beachcomber and fisherman Nick Darke, Porthcothan is an unspoilt Atlantic beach. It attracts flotsam and jetsam from as far away as the Amazon, riding in on the Gulf Stream. On a clear day, the weather-beaten black rock stands starkly against a blue sky, an ocean scene interspersed with the vivid white of rolling waves.

What it means to us

Kate – ‘Offering immeasurable space, the beach stirs the mind, body and soul unlike any other location. The freedom it provides to run, play or just meander can be found nowhere else. The sights, smells and sounds are unique. The day’s worries are washed away like the broken shells caught in the swell. The beach gives us time to reflect, to be inspired, to enjoy.’

Chris – ‘Well, it’s everything really. It’s an ecosystem, it’s a place for recreation, and it’s treasured by the local people here. It instils a state of wonderment every time I come down – the different states of the beach, the tides, the sea. It’s always changing. The sand dune is a unique piece of ecosystem on this part of the coast, with lizards, slow worms and other kinds of insects and butterflies.’

Great British Life: Praa Sands Image: GettyPraa Sands Image: Getty

Praa Sands

Along with Kennack Sands, this is the preferred choice for surfers when North Coast conditions are unfavourable, since it also catches the long North Atlantic swell. Access to the beach is excellent, with parking, a short links golf course, a beach cafe, restaurants and shops all available. There are rock pools at the end of the beach, with fine views across to St Michael’s Mount and Mount’s Bay, as well as good access to the South West Coast Path. The beach is sandy and flat, ideal for a dog walk at any time of the day.

What it means to us

Stef – ‘For us, the beach means wellbeing; a time to take a breath, look to the horizon, dip a toe (or more) into the revitalising sea and spend time connecting back to nature and to ourselves.’

Gordon – ‘Today I went down to the beach and it’s like looking out towards the end of the world. It brings to me just how insignificant we really are and how magnificent everything is. When we’re feeling self-important, it brings us back to where we should be.’

Great British Life: Rock Image: Ian BrighouseRock Image: Ian Brighouse


Rock is a jewel in the North Cornwall crown. Sitting across the River Camel from popular Padstow, there’s a serene calm in the morning here before the up-market eateries and shops open. The beach by the river is backed by sand dunes, interlaced with intricate pathways. The views from the beach are breathtaking, all the way past Brae Hill to Daymer Bay beyond. At dawn, imagine the pull of tidal water with a full moon that has caused the high spring tide straight ahead of you. The sun emerges over the sand dunes directly behind you. On an exposed sand bar, you are part of a natural harmony, as you stand at the furthest magnetic pull of the tide.

What it means to us

Cat – ‘I just like to be near water. I’ve always enjoyed being by the sea.’

Katie – ‘I have been coming to this beach ever since I was a baby. It is the place where I feel most relaxed, happiest, with a sense of space, with a beautiful view, come rain or shine; there’s always something to look at and it just makes me feel very happy, for some reason. I love it.’

Great British Life: Sennen Cove. Image: GettySennen Cove. Image: Getty

Sennen Cove

Sitting at the far western end of the county, Sennen Cove features wild nature and waves as well as art and craft shops, plus a harbour with a lifeboat. Whitesand Bay, by Sennen Cove, is a fine sight on a low tide since it is one of Cornwall’s flattest and most scenic beaches. The beach arcs round to the headland and the raking backdrop is natural, primeval, and unspoilt. The sea breeze from the Atlantic is bracing and pure here at the tip of these beautiful islands. There is a sense of the sea’s power playing across the western tip of Cornwall, heady and stimulating, especially when viewed from the shelter of the harbour.

What it means to us

Liz – ‘For many years I had to commute to London every week for work. Weekends spent on Sennen beach, with the smell of ozone in the air, the soft sand underfoot, swimming in the sea on a warm day or watching the surfers who were there in all winds and weathers – this was what revived me enough to get back in the car on a Sunday night. Now I’m back here full time, I realise how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.’

John – ‘I’ve been here for a lifetime. There isn’t many of us left, from a fishing point of view. We catch mullet here from January through to February. The old-timers used to do longlining off the beach for bass. I’ve been to places around the world, but I would never leave here.’

Great British Life: Summerleaze. Image: GettySummerleaze. Image: Getty


Summerleaze is one of eight beaches in Bude, a town on Cornwall’s wild Atlantic coast. The depth of affection for Bude, plus the pride of belonging to a community is palpable around town. One highlight is the tidal sea pool, which offers safe swimming. Bude also has one of only two sea locks in the country, allowing fishing boats into the safety of the inner harbour for winter. With its own café, the beach is flat and expansive, making it a popular place to walk dogs and exercise horses. At low tide, Summerleaze beach is an enormous expanse of sand, rock and river channel. It sits head on to the Atlantic, wild and hypnotic when you are down on the waterline.

What it means to us

Jayne – ‘The beach is very important, which is why I have never moved away. I come here every day and the people you meet are wonderful. Through my life it means romances, family picnics, learning to swim, Youth Club and the Sea Pool.’

Janet – ‘It’s a balm to the soul.’

Ted – ‘To be honest, the beach means everything to me. Born and bred in Bude, it’s in my blood. My work as a lifeguard has passed from my father through me to my son. After fifty-five years, I’m still getting sand between my toes. The way of life means so much to me.’

Great British Life: Trevone Image: GettyTrevone Image: Getty


Trevone is one in a string of exquisite beaches, with Mother Ivy’s Bay, Harlyn Bay and Constantine Bay all close by. Visitors are protected by an RNLI crew who have a cabin at the top of the beach, where you’ll also find parking. For me, an early morning visit to Trevone Bay is always a treat, especially on a low spring tide. On one such occasion, I remember the black rocks by the water's edge gleaming in the corner of my eye as I scanned across to Trevose lighthouse. When I looked around at these rocks by the beach I imagined them in their topographic context, as if I dived among them. Why not visit in the summer, to enjoy some leisure time under azure skies?

What it means to us

Catherine – ‘When I walk onto this beach, it just makes my soul sing. Whenever I think of Trevone, I just think of happy, happy thoughts. Whatever the weather, we always get enjoyment out of this beach.’

Ali – ‘Exhilarating, energising, salty sea air, waves crashing or gently lapping the beach, lying on the beach, digging your toes into the sand, or letting the sugar sand cascade through your fingers, standing on the smoothed rocks in bare feet hunting for creatures in the rock pools, spotting seals below the Round Hole, the sun dancing on your eyelashes as it sets into the sea, the feeling that Trevone has been there forever, and will be in the future, and I am so happy to have shared my life with such a wonderful place.’

The British Beach Guide by Ian Brighouse is available from the Whittles Publishing website, as well as all good bookshops and online retailers, priced at £18.99.