Two go wild in Cornwall

Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce discuss the trials and tribulations of writing a guide to the county’s wild swimming spots during a global pandemic.

When Matt Newbury and Sophie Pierce began to research their new swimming guide, no-one had heard of social distancing. Then came the summer of overcrowded beaches and littered swimming spots. Here they explain how they tackled these issues and share one of their “long walks in” to a series of dips.

While anyone who produces a new book is bound to be immensely proud to see it in print and hold it in their hand for the first time, Wild Swimming Walks: Cornwall is extra special for us. Not only is it a book that at one point we weren’t sure we would be able to finish researching, it’s also something good to have come out of 2020. A reminder of lovely people and stunning locations and why we love walking and wild swimming so much. 

There are 28 circular walks in this follow-up to Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor, all of which needed to be researched and photographed. The images in these books are really important, showing the unadulterated joy of wild swimming against some stunning backdrops. 

When we started work on the book back in September 2019, none of us had even heard of the term ‘social distancing’. A staggering 21 people joined us on a walk through Daphne du Maurier country from Readymoney Cove to Polridmouth and back.  And on another occasion, on a walk from the mythical waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, down through Rocky Valley and onto Bossiney Haven, almost 30 people joined us.  At that time, we could never have dreamt that in just a few short months the whole of the UK would be locked down, or that the number of people we could meet up with in outdoor settings following that, would be limited to six people or fewer.

Credit: Vanessa Bua

“We deliberately took several swims out if they were from delicate river banks or in quarries where too many people might have a negative impact on the local wildlife. We also removed some spots at the request of locals.”

During the first lockdown, we had to put the book completely on hold and do our research virtually. Like many people, we stuck to discrete local swims as part of our daily exercise. As time progressed and helped by some rather amazing weather, something wonderful began to happen. More and more people started going outdoors and reconnecting with nature. Which is obviously a really positive thing – but only if people do it responsibly.

On 1 June 2020, the Outdoor Swimming Society decided to take down the swim map at wildswim.com “in support of local communities being overwhelmed during lockdown.” As the rules relaxed, we began to tentatively restart our research in very small socially distanced groups. We were more aware than ever that we needed to tread carefully with our new book. We are always very diligent when it comes to which swim spots to include, especially in terms of their environmental impact. With this in mind, we deliberately took several swims out if they were from delicate river banks or in quarries where too many people might have a negative impact on the local wildlife.  We also removed some spots at the request of locals, who wanted to preserve some of their very special places from becoming overrun.

Most importantly, all of our swims involve a walk first and the more isolated a swim spot is, the quieter it tends to be. A perfect example was St Ives over the summer. The main town beaches were packed, but when we walked a few miles over to Porth Kidney Sands, we had huge expanses of beach to ourselves. As we head towards another busy summer of staycations, we should remember that Cornwall does have 400 miles of coastline and over 300 beaches. So if people can just spread out a bit more, we will be just fine. 

Credit: Matt Newbury.

And don’t forget, the joy of the experience is not just about the swim, but about the beauty and adventure you experience on the way. It is such a pleasure to walk through our breath taking countryside to find these special places, and getting there on foot enlarges and enriches the whole experience.  How much more fun is it to hike over cliffs or moorland to find that special spot, than driving up, getting out of the car, swimming, and going home! 

We personally think it is fantastic that more people are getting out in the open than ever before, reconnecting with nature and learning how to respect it. Especially as walking and swimming are so good for both your physical and mental health. It’s something that we chat about in a lot of detail in our introduction to the book, where we have also updated our Wild Swimmers Code, so we can all pledge to protect the environment we all hold so precious.  

The book has been a real community effort, with local swimmers in Cornwall welcoming us with open arms and generously sharing their knowledge. We’ve been so touched by their support, and have made new friends as well as hearing some fascinating stories and being shown some wonderful places.  

The book features swim walks right across the country, including coves, caves, estuaries, rivers and lakes. Locations include everywhere from Prussia Cove, Portreath and Nanjizal, to Cotehele, Frenchman’s Creek and Carn Marth Quarry, to name a few. The book also celebrates Cornwall’s beauty, character, natural history, customs, traditions and social history, making it something that can be enjoyed by the fireside or in a warm bath, while planning your summer adventures. 

It was a mad dash to get to the finish line in terms of visiting and photographing many of these beautiful locations, but we somehow managed it. We are extremely proud of the book and see it very much as our love letter to Cornwall. From a personal point of view, the book is a beautiful reminder that 2020 wasn’t a complete disaster. We were lucky enough to enjoy some amazing wild swimming adventures in some stunning locations and with some really special people. We really hope you enjoy the book and we can’t wait to get back out having more adventures (and cake) with people as soon as we safely can.  

Mullion Figure of Eight

A magnificent walk along the stunning cliffs of the Lizard Peninsula with three swim spots including a fascinating exploration from the charming harbour of Mullion Cove. The walk is best done in calm conditions; avoid a day with strong westerly or south westerly winds as the sea will be too rough for anything but swimming very near the shore. 

The walk starts at Poldhu Cove, a beautiful U-shaped inlet, and heads south along the cliffs to Polurrian Cove, a bit of a gem which is usually very quiet as there is no car park. Here it is great fun to swim out along the right-hand side of the beach and out to Polbream Point where there are lots of rock inlets to explore.  The route continues inland and through the Lizard Nature Reserve before looping back to the coast, with great views of Mullion Island.  From here the walk continues along spectacular Mullion Cliff down to Mullion Cove, where there is a small historic harbour.  The stone jetty here is a great place for cliff-jumping, and we enthusiastically joined the local youth in this activity when we visited! 

The little harbour is a great place to swim out from and explore. Swimming to the right, you will find a rock island called Scovarn, which you can swim around. If you head to the left you will find a large cave, and then, rather excitingly, a tunnel which leads back to the harbour.

The little harbour is a great place to swim out from and explore.  Swimming to the right, you will find a rock island called Scovarn, which you can swim around. If you head to the left you will find a large cave, and then, rather excitingly, a tunnel which leads back to the harbour. You can surprise any friends who’ve stayed on the beach by popping up behind them! 

From Mullion Cove it’s a lovely walk by via country lanes and fields to Poldhu Cove where you’ll probably want a final refreshing dip. 

  • Buy Wild Swimming Walks: Cornwall here
Credit: Wild Swimming Walks