I’m writing this in the bone-chilled murky soup that is February half term. When most sensible people with means have departed UK shores for sunnier climes. Last February as we sat staring out at the whipping rain and grey skies I promised myself we wouldn’t stay at home for February half term ever again, but either we’re not sensible, or we don’t have the means, so here we are again.
Instead I’m dreaming of a sunny Easter, a basking-warm May half term and a summer holiday that feels more gently baked than monsoon lashed. Hopeful.
May, June, July and September are easily the loveliest weather months of the year here in Cornwall and I always feel sad for the droves of holidaymakers who arrive each year in August, the seasonal joker in the pack, just in time for Mother Nature to give them a damned good soaking.
February, like August, is a black sheep of the weather calendar here in Cornwall. When our mild climate seems to want to do a heavy number on us. When neither the low set crispness of winter sun, nor the sky scraping blaze of summer heat can be found with any reliability.
February aside, we love to get about and explore on the beaches. It’s one of the main reasons we moved to Cornwall in the first place. Over the last eight years, we’ve spent a lot of time seeking out the best beaches we can get to with one of our party reliant on wheels.
My son loves nothing more than a stroll along a beach, and for us to park his all-terrain wheelchair right by the water’s edge so he can feel the force of the sea with all five of his senses. And so I’d also like to share with you a few of our favourites.
All of these beaches can be reached via a step-free slipway, or run flat from the road, but you will want an all-terrain wheelchair like a Delichon Delta, a Hippcampe, Mountain Trike or an Extreme 8, particularly to get through that infuriatingly soft sink sand that every beach has at the top.
Tip: if you have a smaller wheelchair user in your party (under the age of 10), you’ll get by just fine with a second-hand Mountain Buggy XL Terrain off eBay. Ours has seen us through seven years of coastal living, all for the grand price of £100. Just make sure you buy a first-generation one with a solid metal frame and a fixed front wheel, (the later ones are crap).
So, in no particular order…
Porthmeor Beach, St Ives
Porthmeor is a joy. Its grand sweep of pinky pearl soft sand and turquoise waters can be reached via slipways at either end, with a small car park or on-road parking for those with a Blue Badge just behind the beach.
Curved westerly along the crescent of St Ives Bay, and skirting around the modern grace of the Tate St Ives, Porthmeor has soft sand, safe surf (lifeguarded in summer) and an expanse of beach to explore. When you’re peckish, the incredible Porthmeor Beach Cafe (also wheelchair accessible) will fill you up.
But if you’re visiting on a day when the westerly wind is blowing, you’ll want to head instead to…
Porthminster Beach, St Ives
Yes St Ives gets a double mention in our top five. Maybe because it is blessed with so many glorious beaches, surrounded by fantastic places to eat, but also because it is St Ives where we were when we decided we definitely needed to move to Cornwall.
It is in St Ives where we saw both our children come alive. Free from the shackles and sensory assault of city living, quiet faces sprang joy, mild temperaments turned wild, and we all felt totally ourselves. At home.
It is on Porthminster where we have sat, chilled beer in hand, while our small (now larger) people have twizzled toes in the sand, paddled in clear waters and discovered who they are.
Porthminster doesn’t have its own accessible car park, but if you are in St Ives, and you are seeking respite from the ant-tunnel cobbled streets and seagull-patrol of the harbour front, head right here. A flat slip at the easterly end of the beach will take you straight onto the sand, alongside Porthminster Beach Cafe, where in the summer you will find a welcome beach bar.
There is also an incredible restaurant, which isn’t wheelchair accessible, but if you can lift up a couple of steps they’ll help you get in and find you a great table.
Mawgan Porth beach, north coast
I mean just look, right?
Mawgan Porth is north coast Cornwall at its best. Forboding cliff faces, white tipped lines rolling in from the ocean, and acres of hard, flat golden sand.
You’d never know it from photos but Mawgan Porth is accessible from a flat sand and shingle car park at the mouth of the bay.
With no dunes to climb or steep slipway to negotiate, Mawgan Porth is one of the easiest beaches to get onto with a wheelchair. You will find a basic but welcoming pub beach cafe by the car park that has a wheelchair accessible deck overlooking the beach.
If you have a Hippocampe and want to try it out in the waves, Mawgan Porth is a great (lifeguarded) beach to do it on.
Just watch out when the tide turns, when it starts to come in it races up the sand flats super quick, so be ready to hot wheel it back up the beach.
Pentewan Sands, south coast
If you’ve had a day out at the Eden Project or the Lost Gardens of Heligan (which are both super for wheelchair access and both have Changing Places toilets) and you fancy a bit of dinner on the beach, head to Pentewan where you will find a huge flat car park and a laid back beach shack branch of Hub Box.
There’s also a camping park at Pentewan, if you’re travelling with a motorhome or tent, or if static caravans with a sea view are your thing…
Seaton & Downderry beaches, south east Cornwall
Last but very much not least, is our home beach. The twin villages of Seaton and Downderry sit on Cornwall’s ‘Costas’, and on a scorching summer day you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re somewhere in the south of Spain or the west coast of Italy.
We aren’t blessed with the golden sands of the north coast down here, but we are sheltered from the blustering Atlantic winds and on a sunny winter day, you can sunbathe.
In Seaton you will find a large, flat accessible car park nestled between the beach and the (wheelchair accessible) Country Park, giving you the choice of following the winding wooded pathways through the valley or taking the shallow slipway down onto the sand. (Also watch this space for news to come about a Changing Places toilet in Seaton, I’m hopeful it will be the first beachside Changing Places loo in Cornwall).
Lifeguarded in the summer, Seaton has a beach wheelchair for hire that you can pick up from the Seaton Beach Cafe, and when the tide’s out you can roll all the way east to Downderry, about a mile of sand and shingle that is sheltered in the curve between Hannafore Point and Rame Head.
If you make it all the way up to Downderry, head up the slipway and back through the Memorial Gardens (one small step down – at least until the wheelchair ramp is put in later this year), and you’ll get to the Inn on the Shore, where you’ll find a wheelchair accessible deck with the best sea views and a good pint of Tribute to be had.
You will also find a cosy pub overlooking the park at Seaton, and the Beach House cafe/restaurant that overlooks the beach, as well as a sensory garden and a children’s playground.
And absolutely the best sunsets on Cornwall.
On a winter’s day, you can sit under cover at the Beach Cafe or inside the pub at Downderry and wave watch.
Or pop into mine for a cuppa.
Truthfully, we still haven’t even touched the sides of what Cornwall has to offer.
If you’re coming to Cornwall this year (come rain or shine!), this is also a handy list from Cornwall Mobility, where you will find all the places where you can hire a sand wheelchair, should you need one.
Here’s to many happy beach days ahead…