Daisy Andrews March 31 2021

Many popular British beaches can be summarised in a word during summer – busy.

Cloudless mornings begin with the rush to grab a spot before the crowds descend, scrambling to get to the car laden with the various essential items – suncream, towel, hat, frisbee, picnic – the list is endless and at least one is always forgotten.

Recently, I’ve grown to prioritise differently when heading out for the day. Instead of going straight to the beach with the best ice cream van and the highest TripAdvisor reviews, I find myself seeking the tranquillity of quiet beaches.

When planning this blog I started by reminiscing with my family and asking questions like “where was that little cove where we used to build dams and go fishing for mackerel? Just down the road from that lovely cream tea place?” I found them very reluctant to share the precise locations, as they still live there and visit these beaches daily. Quite rightly, they want to keep the best local secrets exactly that – a secret!

That being said, I’m going to give you a few recommendations to get you started on discovering the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall. Much quieter than their neighbouring tourist hotspots, they are great places to get away from the crowds.

Just a note – many of these sites are accessed by rocky paths or are a reasonable distance from the nearest car park, hence their reduced visitor numbers. Accessible Countryside for Everyone (ACE) has information about accessible beaches in Devon and Cornwall for visitors with mobility issues.


Cot Valley Beach

Otherwise known as Porth Nanven, Cot Valley Beach is a sheltered little cove close to St Just, on the Penwith Peninsula at the western tip of Cornwall.

The valley itself is green and lush with sub-tropical plants, running alongside a stream down to the sea. The beach is largely made up of smooth boulders earning it a local nickname of ‘Dinosaur Egg Beach’, but some glistening sand emerges at low tide.

If you’re brave enough to face the waves, the surrounding rocky headlands have caves to explore too!

You can visit Cot Valley by car, and there are a couple of parking spaces at the end of the road before a rocky path leading to the beach.


Meadowsfoot (Mothecombe) beach

On the edge of the Erme Estuary in south Devon, this vast sandy beach is owned by the Flete Estate and only became open to the public daily in 2017. Due to this, it remains quiet and overlooked by many visitors despite being within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

There is a car park 500m away from the beach, with a café serving fresh seafood in the summer season.


Pentire Steps

With nearby Bedruthan Steps claiming the limelight, Pentire Steps beach remains a less frequented but equally lovely spot. At low tide it can be accessed by a strip of sand connecting the two beaches alongside Diggory’s Island, but at high tide, the beach disappears and the cove is only accessible via a cliff scramble. This makes it a treasure which can only be enjoyed briefly each day, and never too busy.

When walking the South West Coast Path there is a viewpoint with spectacular views of Pentire Steps shortly after leaving Porthcothan.


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This one is guaranteed to be a highlight of your holiday photo album. With its remarkable narrow rock arch (named ‘The Song of the Sea’) towering above crystal clear blue water, Nanjizal is surprisingly quiet for such a unique location.

It’s a great place for exploring rock pools due to its sheltered water, and shy seals are known to make appearances too.

Part of the reason that this beach is such a well-kept secret is that it isn’t easy to find! If you’re walking the Padstow to Penzance section of the South West Coast Path you’ll find it between Sennen Cove and Porthcurno. The nearest car parks are 2km in either direction, at Land’s End and Porthgwarra.


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Broadsands Beach

Confusingly, Devon boasts two beautiful beaches called Broadsands. The first is in Paignton and is well known as a large sandy beach popular with families.

The second is a less accessible, more secluded beach near Combe Martin. It’s often listed as one of the UK’s best swimming beaches, but due to the steep access path it remains relatively unspoilt by tourists.

While it may take a knee-tiring 200 steps to reach, the breathtaking views are worth the effort. The beach is pebble rather than sand, and with dramatic rock formations and caves alongside steep cliffs, it’s not hard to imagine yourself in smuggling pirate country here.


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Bosahan Cove

Approached through a sheltered, leafy forest – the trail down to Bosahan Cove feels as though it is lifted straight from Daphne Du Marier’s Rebecca (although interestingly, while the novel itself is based in Cornwall, the beach scenes in the recent Netflix adaptation were filmed in Hartland Quay in Devon).

This quiet beach is about a mile from the nearest car park, in the Bosahan Estate on the Helford Estuary. It’s a lovely spot for swimming, with views across the estuary towards Porth Saxon.

You can access Bosahan Cove from the coast path, or alternatively for a small admission charge during the summer season, you can visit the estate and walk down through the beautiful gardens to the beach.


The Tunnels Beaches

The Tunnels Beaches at Ilfracombe are a little different to the others on this list. The coastline in this area of Devon is largely rocky rather than sandy, and in the 1820s it was decided that this was an ideal spot for a Victorian swimming pool to be hand-carved out of the rocks.

The rugged beaches and tidal pool are accessed via tunnels through the cliffs, and are a fascinating insight into the history of this small seaside resort. They took 2 years to complete, and there are still marks visible on the tunnel walls from the pickaxes!

There is an admission fee for visiting the Tunnels Beaches, making them one of the quieter spots to relax. The South West Coast Path passes through Ilfracombe in the Minehead to Westward Ho! section, and this could be the perfect place for a well-deserved rest after a long walk.


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While it’s hardly a secret anymore, Porthgwarra earns its place on this list by being a beach you could stumble upon by accident and find yourself completely spellbound.

In a small village near Lands End lies a tiny fishing cove, once bustling and now peacefully watched over by seabirds on the surrounding heather-clad cliffs. Like many Cornish locations, it was a local secret until it found fame as a filming location for Poldark.

It has a car park and seasonal café within easy reach, and you’ll find the beach just a mile along from the famous open-air Minack Theatre.


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Speke’s Mill Mouth

With a shingle beach and powerful waves, Speke’s Mill Mouth in north Devon is refreshingly different to the busier sandy beaches frequented by the crowds.

While it is admittedly not a place for sunbathing or swimming, instead it offers dramatic scenery from the hanging valleys of Hartland Quay. Here, the cliffs have been eroded by the sea until the streams above fall away to form beautiful waterfalls.

The Speke’s Mill Mouth waterfall is a perfect example, cascading 30m to the rocks below. It can be accessed by parking at Hartland Quay and walking along the coast path.


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Portheras Cove

For many years Portheras Cove was considered a dangerous beach, as the wreck of a cargo ship offshore lead to metal being washed up in the sandy cove. However, it’s well known locally that this was all cleared away in 2004 making it now a safe and secluded spot.

It’s a great beach for spotting marine life, with seals regularly greeting beachgoers, pods of dolphins occasionally seen from the cliffs above, and even rare sightings of basking sharks!

Picnic provisions can be picked up in the neighbouring village Pendeen (I highly recommend a Cornish pasty for a day at the beach), and there is a small car park nearby from which Portheras can be accessed by a steep winding path.

A short walk west from the beach along the coast path brings you to Pendeen lighthouse, with panoramic views.

These are just a few of the many secluded beaches and coves on this beautiful stretch of British coastline which are quietly waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

If you are keen to discover some of these hidden gems, check out our self-drive and walking holidays in Devon & Cornwall!

Daisy Andrews
P.S. While enjoying these tranquil beauty spots, please remember their value to the local community and treat them with respect. They are there to be shared and appreciated by everyone!

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