Wild Swimming in Cornwall

Inspired by tales of Cornish mermaids and lured by crystal clear waters, I’ve never been able to resist the urge to plunge into the sea around Cornwall. The smugglers’ coves, the tidal pools, the crashing shore breaks perfect for bodysurfing – they have beckoned me to strip off and dive in ever since I was a five-year old splashing around in the white water. And while I’ve been clocking up ocean miles in my goggles, I’ve been lucky enough to swim with seals, spot spider crabs, explore sea caves and wash up on deserted beaches.

Since the 16th century, people have flocked to the seaside to experience the health benefits of saltwater bathing. These days the Wild Swimming groups cropping up all over Cornwall – and the rest of the country – suggest that sea swimming is as popular and addictive as ever. However, you don’t need any more than the endorphin-fuelled high to prove that an invigorating dip in the ocean is good for you. Here are some of our favourite spots to take the plunge...

Treyarnon Tidal Pool

As the tide ebbs, this natural pool carved into mussel-clad rocks hemming Treyarnon beach, is the perfect place to take a dip without having to battle the surf. It’s big enough for more serious swimmers to do a few laps, whilst also making a picturesque swimming hole for the whole family. Indeed this is where my children like to rock jump, rock pool and splash around until their lips turn blue. On sunny days we flop-out on the rocks like seals to warm up before a picnic on the turf-topped cliffs, or we retreat to the Treyarnon YHA café for a heart-warming bowl of soup and other delicious food and drink.

Polly Joke

In Cornwall you’ll find plenty of wild, narrow coves where you can leap from the rocks and swim laps between the cliffs: Nanjizal, Porthcothan and Maenporth, to name just few. But our favourite is Polly Joke, wedged between Holywell Bay and Crantock on the outskirts of Newquay. A short walk from the National Trust car park, and backed only by the rolling expanse of Cubert Common, here you feel a million miles away from the lively vibe of the nearby surf capital. When the swell rolls in it’s a cracking spot for bodysurfing, and when the sea is flat it’s hard to resist diving in for a swim between cave-studded headlands.

Porthtowan Tidal Pool

When sea conditions are calm, one of Cornwall’s best wild swims for experienced swimmers is from Porthtowan to Chapel Porth – beneath towering cliffs where you can spot iconic engine houses harking back to Cornwall’s mining history. However, you don’t have to be a serious swimmer to get your ocean therapy in Porthtowan’s tidal pool, nestled at the foot of the cliffs on the north-eastern edge of the beach. Take a dip on the flooding tide to experience the ocean crashing against the wall of this secluded swimming hole, then warm up in the legendary beachside Blue Bar. If you want to avoid a steep cliff descent to reach the water, it’s possible to access the pool from the beach at low tide.

Trescore Islands, Porthcothan

Don goggles or a mask and snorkel to experience this rocky outcrop where marine life thrives. The outer islands take the brunt of the swell, creating a sheltered lagoon where you can spot spider crabs and fish, and don’t be surprised if a playful seal joins you on your ocean odyssey amongst kelp forests. On a calm day you can swim around the headland from Porthcothan to reach the islands, or follow the South West Coast Path west towards Porth Mear, and clamber down the cliffs to jump into the water.

Vault Beach, Gorran Haven

Free from any tourist trappings and a bit of a stroll from any parking, it’s little wonder that Vault Beach attracts naturists and sea swimmers looking for some peace and quiet. Sheltered by Dodman Point on Cornwall’s south coast, here the fine shingle shelves into piercing blue waters that are usually calm and hospitable to all levels of swimmers. You don’t have to bare all to enjoy a swim here, but if you haven’t experienced the thrill of swimming in the nude, this is a good place to try it. The beach is a fifteen-minute walk from the car park at Lamledra cliff – or half-a-mile along the South West Coast Path from the village of Gorran Haven.