Just west of Padstow, the little village of Harlyn Bay sits on the edge of a lovely stretch of golden sands in the shadow of the dramatic headland of Trevose Head to the northwest, the site for the commanding ‘Trinity House’ lighthouse, situated at the northwest extremity of the head, and built in 1847 to guide ships trading in the Bristol Channel.
Access the beach from the southeast corner of Harlyn village, and follow the stream that flows to the beach. There is a fascinating and hidden history beneath your feet on the beach here, with the discovery in the 1900’s that this is the site of an iron age cemetery, and below that a 5000BC Burial ground, where over 200 crouched skeletons (including three sacrificial offerings) were unearthed, the bodies buried with frogs and mice which were thought to be good luck talismans.
The old fishing cellars are a reminder of the days when Harlyn Bay was a successful Pilchard Seine (a Seine being a huge cotton mesh fishing net). The cellars, now private holiday accommodation, are where pilchards were processed in the heyday of the industry in the 1700’s, by a family run business catching, salting and packing pilchards for export to Italy. When a shipment of pilchards returned unsold from overseas, the business owner refused to donate these to the impoverished pilchard harvesters, and the Latin motto carved into the granite lintel of the old fish cellars stands as an ironic reminder of the plight of those workers - ‘Dulcis Lucri Odor’, translated as ‘Sweet is the smell of riches’.
A major draw to staying in this location is the fact that you are right on the beach, where you can take a pleasant evening stroll and watch the surfers, or for those wanting a more energetic arrive early and hire a surfboard or body board for an hour and join the locals playing in the waves.
If you want a bit of instruction The Harlyn Surf School - one of the best on the North Cornwall coast is based here and you can get a quick lesson in surfing, go kayaking or even try the latest Cornish beach craze - stand up paddleboarding.
Harlyn is a great introduction to Cornish beach life, but if you would prefer a break from the mighty ocean, not far inland is the village of St Merryn with public houses, restaurants, bakery, post office, and newsagent - quite a coup in this part of Cornwall.