The most beautiful cove in England. Joint winner Senior Center Forum Contest, March 2020.
I have seen a fair bit of England. I have stood on its westernmost point, Land's End, its southernmost, Lizard Point, and visited its most northerly town, Berwick-upon-Tweed. I have also been within a few miles of its easternmost point, Lowestoft Ness. Within these extremes there are few areas that I have not seen at one time or another and I could sing you the praises of the open skies of Norfolk, the green dales of Derbyshire, the moorland heights of Yorkshire and the glories of Northumberland, encompassing all the variety that is England in just one county. How could I ever forget the lush fertility of the Midlands of my birth or the lonely sandspit between sea and estuary that is Spurn Head, the landscape of white stone that is York Minster or the idyllic dream that is Devon's forest-lined rivers in summer?
But there is one place that is best loved of all, a humble cove on the coast of Cornwall, a place still so little known and difficult to reach that it is not subject to the development that has ruined so many other beautiful beaches in England. I speak of Kynance.
We found Kynance Cove on our first holiday in Cornwall back in the early eighties. To reach it, you have to drive down a narrow and bumpy road that heads off into seeming nothingness from the main road. Follow this track and you will eventually come to a car park that is no more than a field in which the grass is kept short by vehicles coming and going. At the far end of the field a pathway disappears into a gorge between two headlands.
The path is gravelly and steep, slippery enough to start you sliding if not enough care is taken. As you descend and the sides of the gorge become higher, clumps of wild flowers hint at the magical world that awaits. Near the edge of a sheer cliff, the path turns abruptly to the right to continue its descent and now you can see the cove below, a crescent of white sand, strewn with great rocks that create separate and secret alcoves where the waves rush in to meet the shore. A flat headland cups the cove in its hand and is surmounted by a little grey-roofed building, the only sign of civilization in all that vista.
Now the path becomes a twisting, clambering route between and over great rocks that have fallen from the cliffs and, finally, there is one long slide down a smooth-faced boulder to land on sand shadowed by the dark rock wall above. Trudge through the damp sand between more fallen rocks and you arrive at last at Kynance, the most beautiful cove in all England.
That first time, we did the usual British seaside things, finding a spot not too populated to spread our towels, digging in the sand with our bare feet and splashing in the wavelets at the water's edge. We swam too, daring the numbing cold of the North Atlantic, noting the limpid clear quality of the water and that rarity on a British beach, the absence of a wind to freeze the skin of any escapee from the sea.
But it was no more than you will find in many Cornish coves. We did not know yet how special a place it is. In time we became bored and climbed the slopes behind to buy ice creams in the building on the headland. From there the land rises slowly to a skyline one assumes is the edge of a cliff dropping into the sea. Short grass covers this slope, a green lawn inviting a stroll up to the edge.
We did that and arrived at the top of the cliff. There was no sea below, however. Instead, a spit of sand reached out from the base of the cliff to join the mainland to an island just offshore. And there were people on the sands! I reasoned that there must be some way down from the cliff. We walked the length of it but found nothing but sheer, smooth cliff face - that spit of sand was cut off from all directions, by the sea on both sides, the cliff at this end and the island at the other.
Later that day we found the secret. When the tide goes out it uncovers a sandy route around the headland from the main beach to the hidden one beyond. We splashed through the shallows early and, turning the corner of the cliff, found the true Kynance Cove.
The sand rises from there to a low ridge, then descends to the water on the other side. There it is more sheltered and almost without waves, so that you can see how clear and clean is the water. Tiny sand eels wriggle in darting schools across the white, sandy bottom, and a great, black, monolithic rock guards the entrance to the cove. Farther out, beyond the shore, a jumbled mass of rocks fallen from the cliffs has created a playground for the strong swimmer. In one part there is a deep, square pool with rocks towering around and this has become the place for the bravest to dive headlong into the water from the heights above. To the right, the cliff face over which we had peered is hollowed out into caves, some tunneling through from the beach to the water beyond. And the walls of the cliff and caves are deep reds and greens, smooth and soapy to the touch, a rock called serpentine.
On the other side rises the island, Asparagus Island we were to learn, a slope upwards of stone and grass that ends with a great boiling chasm between the land and offshore rocks. At one end, a massive slab of the island has broken off, leaving a narrow slot through which the sea gurgles and hisses.
There is something magical about the place, apart from its natural beauty. I think it's that feeling of being isolated from the world when the tide is high. Only when storms drive huge breakers in from the Atlantic is the sandspit completely covered (I have seen it like that too) and, if you time the tides correctly and rise very early in the morning, it is possible to splash through to the far beach while the world still sleeps. We did that once and had the place to ourselves the entire morning. Part of the pleasure is in seeing people appear on the headland to gaze down at you, wondering how you got there.
If I have a dream of a perfect holiday, it would be of Kynance. I have seen tropical beaches and climbed mountains, visited game reserves in Africa and revelled in the vast skies of America's prairie, but, in the end, the place that would soothe my soul in a way the others could not reach is that humble little cove in my native land. The ocean may be cold and the weather not always bright but it is, in a way beyond my comprehension, forever England.
Just before I left for America, I visited Kynance for the last time and the first in many years. To my surprise it has hardly changed at all. There were, perhaps, a few more people on the beach and the tide was low, so the sandspit was crowded, but no buildings have been added, the pathway is still just as steep and dangerous, the water remains the clearest I have seen on a British seashore.
It must be its inaccessibility that has kept it so unspoiled. Long may it remain that way.
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