To the west of Cape Cornwall you find Priest Cove. A scenic and south-facing pebble beach that has nothing do with clergy. The name as story goes is actually a mistake. Priest's Cove was originally known as St Just Cove or Porth Ust in Cornish. This was subsequently shortened to “Por Us” Cove and when Ordnance Survey mapped the remote area for the first time, they mistakenly named it Priest’s Cove and the name stuck.
Priest’s Cove lies next to iconic Cape Cornwall, both of which were donated to the National Trust by the Heinz food company in the 1980s. Priest’s Cove - and its surrounding area - are all designated as part of the Aire Point to Carrick Du SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) on the Penwith Peninsula. It is also a part of The Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
(AONB), making Priest’s Cove a part of Cornwall’s naturally protected landscape. Cornwall AONB was designated in 1959 and covers approximately one third of Cornwall, making it the ninth largest protected landscape in the country.
Today the quaint fishing cove is well-known for its small, man-made bathing pool which has been carved out of the rocks. A National Trust run car park sits just above the cove which is also the perfect snorkelling beach, weather permitting, thanks to numerous rockpools which come to surface when the tide is out. At high tide, the beach is mostly underwater. There is a seasonal ban from taking dogs onto the cove due to the fact that Priest’s Cove is (and has been for centuries) a landing place for fishing boats and continues to be so to this day with fisherman catching lobster and mackerel out of the cove.
Priest’s Cove is rugged yet beautiful thanks to open grassy spaces which are home to wildlife like the legendary Cornish Chough
. In the winter, the Atlantic storms batter the beach and surrounding cliffs. Towering above Priest’s Cove is Cape Cornwall, an area heavily mined for copper and tin in the 1800s. Mining holds a special place in the hearts of the Cornish with some submarine mines reaching out for 2.5km under the sea, at a depth of 640m. A glimpse into the history of Cape Cornwall can be seen at the back of the beach which features fenced off tunnels leading deep, deep underground.
According to the National Trust
, Cornish tin was traded throughout Britain for approximately 4000 years which is why the area is in itself is often referred to as the Tin Coast
. In 2006, the mining landscape of Cornwall (and West Devon) became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cornwall is a region with amazing scenery and an incredible 300 miles of coastline. While there are many secret coves dotted around the area such as Gwenvor, Portheras Cove and Cot Valley Beach, Priest’s Cove is perhaps one of the most well-known thanks to its annual swimming race, a popular event which takes place in August between Priest’s Cove and the outcrop of rocks known as The Brisons
. It’s a local race, barely advertised, where swimmers head out a mile or so - 1.6km to be exact - to sea to the pair of small islands.
Priest’s Cove is one of those charming places that you can only find in Cornwall - a rugged beach surrounded rocky cliffs and the remains of what was once the heart of the mining industry, a protected coast notorious for shipwrecks and smugglers, and beaches dotted with fishermen’s sheds overgrown by wildflowers.