Not only is Porthcurno one of Britain’s most gorgeous sandy beaches, it played its part in the war effort by being the centre for submarine telegraph cable communication. Throw in the Minack Theatre and amazing views from the cliffs, and it really should be top of anyone’s Cornwall itinerary.
Located 3 miles from Land’s End – the British mainland’s most westerly point – it’s well worth the trek to get here. Many visitors leave the over-rated Land’s End disappointed, but there’s no chance of that at the criminally lesser known Porthcurno.
With a name deriving from the Cornish “Porth Kernow” (meaning Port of Cornwall), its V-shaped beach has the wow-factor. The whole valley is classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and there’s enough to do here for a whole day.
A bit of history
From 1870 – 1970, Porthcurno was the nerve centre of British telegraph cable communication, and is sometimes referred to as the home of the Victorian internet. Cables extended from the beach, under the sea to British colonies all around the world. It played a vital part in WWII as coded messages were relayed from abroad back to Britain.
The Germans were well aware of this and Porthcurno came under regular attack, explaining the lookout posts and gun emplacements which dot the cliffs.
Cables can still be seen to this day protruding from the sand – visitors are told to be careful.
I can imagine the beach getting packed in summer, but when I visited in late December there was just a handful of families enjoying a post-Christmas stroll on the amazingly soft golden sands, and a lone surfer braving the huge waves crashing onto the shore.
A bit of culture
The Minack Theatre high up on the cliffs on the right hand side of the beach is known as Cornwall’s theatre under the stars, and has been named by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top 10 open air experiences.
You can watch a Shakespeare play there or something more contemporary like George’s Marvellous Medicine in Spring and Summer, or you can do as I did and pay £4 to enter the theatre and gardens and wander around in awe at this beautiful setting.
It may look a bit like a Roman amphitheatre, but it started its life in the 1920s as a back garden hobby of legendary local resident, Rowena Cade. There’s a free customer car park, so it makes sense to park here rather than the pricey pay-and-display car park by the beach.
If you fancy something a little more strenuous than walking on the beach, you could take the South West Coastal Path in the opposite direction to the Minack Theatre. This steep and muddy path will take you to one of the WWII gun posts high on the cliffs.
Further along the path is the white stone pyramid visible from the beach which marks the spot where the original cable house was located – this was replaced with the one on the beach photographed above. From here you get magnificent views of the valley and the rocky promontory known as Logan Rock.
I didn’t make it as far as Logan Rock – a hailstorm moved in from the Atlantic and I had to make a hasty retreat to the car park. I had chance for one last stroll on my new favourite beach, before getting back on the road north.
To get there, take the A30 past Penzance towards Land’s End and follow signs to Porthcurno down an unclassified road for the last couple of miles.
You can get there on public transport – trains stop at Penzance nine miles away, and from there bus number 1A takes you to Porthcurno’s beach-front car park in 40 minutes. See timetable here.