We set out on an overcast day to explore more of the south west corner of Cornwall. Our aim was to find Porthchapel beach and after trekking through fields and climbing down a cliff face we found a lovely, quiet little spot on this most dramatic and exquisitely beautiful of south Cornwall beaches.
This sheltered southerly facing cove is surrounded by rugged, weathered granite cliffs and has golden sand scattered with large granite boulders that are ideal to perch on as you take in the stunning scenery.
It’s certainly not for the faint hearted with powerful waves crashing around when conditions suit, and just the clamber down the steps and rocks means it’s not a suitable destination for those with mobility issues.
How to get to Porthchapel Beach
When we first visited, we felt adventurous and took a small footpath from where we were staying, in the little village of Trethewey, to join the coast path, which at times reminded us of a scene in a horror movie, as we battled our way through fields of corn taller than all of us to reach our destination.
However, it is also easily reached from the coastal path travelling west from Porthcurno or east from Land’s End.
If you don’t want to walk too far, you can park in a small carpark next to St Levan Church and follow the path, for about 5 to 10 minutes, which winds through a wooded valley until you reach the coastal path. For anyone not staying local this is probably the best way to access Porthchapel beach and is a glorious walk in itself.
From here, it is a very steep scramble down the rocks to get to the beach so it is wise to wear sturdy footwear and not be carrying too much baggage, as you need both hands to help you climb down safely.
Once you’ve managed to negotiate the huge boulders that you clamber down on to, you’ll usually be rewarded by a practically empty beach. The fact that it is hard to access, like Nanjizal beach, means that you often only have to share it with a few people that have also made the effort to descend the steep cliffs.
At high tide, the soft white sand can almost be completely covered by the sea so it’s worth checking tide timetables before setting off.
The first time we visited the tide was coming in, which when combined with a southerly wind, produced some very dramatic waves. We sat for ages just watching the waves crash on to the beach and ricochet off the massive boulders.
Our daughters enjoyed the thrill of jumping the waves and at times running away from them, but you need to keep a close eye on little ones as there is no life guard and the waves can be extremely powerful. One little girl on the beach was swept away by a particularly strong wave and was dragged into the rocks. Luckily, she only cut her knee.
Also be careful to leave the beach before the path back to the coastal path is submerged which often happens at high tide. It can sometimes feel a bit like playing a game of chicken with the sea, moving back on the rocks while watching the tide come in. The person who is brave enough to stay on the beach the longest wins!
At low tide, more of the gorgeous, golden sand is revealed and if the water is calm it’s a beautiful place to swim. It shelves gently off so is shallow enough for children to paddle safely at the waters’s edge. If you time it right you will have plenty of time to enjoy a picnic on the soft sand before you need to retreat to the rocks.
We have witnessed some very brave people bodyboarding at Porthchapel beach on a particularly windy day when the waves were absolutely huge.
However, you would need to be a really strong swimmer and know exactly what you were doing as there are no life guards and many rocks protruding which could be lethal. An extreme sport that I don’t want to take part in but which was entertaining and at times hair raising to watch!
When you are finally ready to leave, or are forced off the beach by the encroaching tide, be careful to take the ascent slowly as it can be very slippy. If you’ve had enough beach time then return back down the path to the car park after having a quick peek at St Levan’s Well.
The Well of St Levan
St Levan’s well sits on the cliff top just above Porthchapel beach and the water from the well is still used for baptisms at the St Levan church today.
The well is named after the Celtic Saint Selevan who was born in St Buryan in the 6th century. According to legend, drinking the water from this well can cure toothache and eye disease. If you sleep in the well it would be very uncomfortable but would also greatly improve your chances of being cured!!
This little well is worth a quick visit on your way back up to the coastal path and while you pause to catch your breath there is a great view of the cove and out to sea.
If want to visit more places near by, then you might want to take the walk east to the Minack Theatre where you get some amazing views of Porthcurno Beach and Pedn Vounder as well as the iconic theatre itself.
In the other direction, the next cove you come to is Porthgwarra – a small inlet with a cobbled slipway.
Its claim to fame is that it was the location for filming the scene where Ross Poldark goes skinny dipping, in the television series Poldark! But the main attraction for me is the beautiful views and cute, little cafe that serves hot and cold drinks and a selection of snacks.
Whether you visit Porthchapel as part of your journey along the coastal path or make it the main attraction, its a beautiful hidden gem in the rugged scenery of the south Cornish coastline. It is definitely worth the effort to climb down to the beach and fully enjoy its true beauty.
Laura loves travelling across the UK and abroad. She has two children and a husband who are often her travel companions. Beach holidays, cosy cottages, treehouse adventures and brunching are just a few of her favourite ways to spend her travel time.