Cawsand (often called Cawsands) is a small, picturesque, former fishing village on the Rame Peninsula in South East Cornwall. Sometimes referred to as Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner, the peninsula is largely overlooked by the millions of holidaymakers that descend upon the county every year, making it the ideal destination for those looking to truly get away from it all. Situated just across the water from Britain’s Ocean City – Plymouth, Cawsand is right on the Devon / Cornwall border, separated by the natural boundary of the River Tamar.
Though the main waterway off of Plymouth Sound didn’t always denote the boundary between Devon and Cornwall – up until 1844, Cawsand’s neighbouring village Kingsand (directly connected) actually sat on the Devon side of the border. A nod to this historic division can still be seen today – on Garrett Street, just opposite The Halfway House Inn in Kingsand, is a house named ‘Devon|Corn’ that, prior to 1844, would have straddled the original border. Nowadays, both Cawsand and Kingsand are considered very firmly Cornish.
Cawsand itself has one beach, one café, one snack shop (think takeaway Cornish Pasties, ice cream and chips), one traditional pub and one gastropub / restaurant. But it’s hard to list Cawsand’s amenities without also mentioning what’s just ‘over the hill’ in Kingsand, given that the two villages are literally connected, with no discernible border. Kingsand hosts another three pubs, three souvenir / gift shops, more ice cream, two more beaches, a convenience store (selling essentials like bread, milk etc.) and another café. To give you an idea of distance, it is approximately a 300m walk from Cawsand Beach to Kingsand Beach.
Speaking of beaches, Cawsand Beach is probably what Cawsand is best known for these days, hosting annual events like the Gig Regatta and New Year’s Day Dip. Whilst it is certainly not the largest at approximately 100m wide, or the sandiest with a mix of shingle and sand, it is undoubtedly picturesque, and less crowded than most beaches in Cornwall. Sunseekers can lie back, relax and watch the world go by.
For those feeling a bit more active, kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUPs) can be hired, offering a whole new perspective on the picture-postcard villages. SUP lessons and guided excursions are also available to book in advance.
In 2019, The Bay Bar & Restaurant opened its bi-fold doors onto Cawsand Bay, on the site of the old Cawsand Bay Hotel, formerly The Galleon. Perched on the edge of the beach, and with outside tables & seating, it occupies an enviable position in Cawsand and offers diners a fantastic view of the bay. As with all of the pubs in Cawsand and Kingsand, The Bay does get busy, especially during school holidays, so we highly recommend booking in advance. And if you want to bag one of the highly sought-after tables outside, this is an absolute must!
During the ‘summer months’ (from Easter until the end of September) dogs are not allowed on Cawsand Beach. However, four legged friends (of the canine variety) are welcome on Girt Beach and Kingsand Beach (both in Kingsand) all year round.
For those planning a day trip to Plymouth, leave the car behind and instead board the Cawsand Ferry on Cawsand Beach. The Weston Maid (affectionately named The Red Pig by locals) is a pedestrian-only (plus dogs, bicycles & prams) passenger ferry that sails between Cawsand Beach and Plymouth’s historic Barbican daily during the ‘summer months’ – Easter until the last Sunday in October. The ferry sailing costs £5 each for adults / £2.50 for children each way and takes about 30 minutes, during which passengers can enjoy views of Cawsand & Kingsand, Fort Picklecombe, Mount Edgcumbe Estate, Drake’s Island, Plymouth Hoe and Smeaton’s Tower, before arriving at the Barbican Landing Stage. From here, a number of Plymouth’s must-see attractions are within walking distance, including The Mayflower Museum, where you can learn more about the pilgrim’s famous 1620 voyage to the new world – America, The National Marine Aquarium – the UK’s largest aquarium, and the Plymouth Gin Distillery – England’s oldest working gin distillery. The last Cawsand Ferry back from Plymouth is at 16:30, but if you miss it, the number 70A (Plymouth Citybus) bus service from Royal Parade runs until 22:50 Monday to Saturday, arriving at Cawsand Triangle at 23:53. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, the bus will only take you as far as Torpoint, with the last bus departing from Royal Parade at 18:15 and arriving at Torpoint Bus Depot at 18:57. From there, you’ll need to order a taxi to get you back to Cawsand – expect to pay £15 to £20.
Back in Cawsand, and just a stone’s throw from the beach, you’ll discover Cawsand Square. The square is where most big occasions, such as New Year’s Eve and the Black Prince Parade (celebrated on the Early May Bank Holiday) will conclude, often accommodating (read: squishing in) hundreds of people. The historic drinking fountain in the middle of the square, erected by Caroline Countess of Mount Edgcumbe in 1871, is flanked by The Shop in the Square and The Cross Keys Inn.
The Shop in the Square is open daily and serves Cornish Pasties, fish & chips, pizza, cream teas (jam before cream people), hot & cold drinks, ice cream and a selection of snacks. Whilst there is a small outside space with a couple of benches and a bistro table, it is primarily a takeaway affair and, like all quintessentially British seaside resorts, you’ll often see people perched on walls, kerbs or on the beach nursing a big bagful of chips!
For those that prefer to eat their chips from a plate, The Cross Keys Inn (formerly The Smugglers Inn) serves food at lunchtime and in the evening, whilst offering a good selection of beers (lager and real ales), wines, spirits, soft drinks and bar snacks all day. In the off-season, the kitchen is open at lunchtime from 12:00 to 14:00 (14:30 on Sundays) and in the evening from 19:00 to 21:00. During the summer season, food times are extended, but again, booking in advance is highly recommended. The Cross Keys has outdoor seating by the old drinking fountain and a couple of benches in front of the pub. Whilst there’s no direct view of the bay here, what the square lacks in vista, it more than makes up for in sunshine – this is one of the best sun traps in the village. And if you happen to be in Cawsand on a sunny Sunday afternoon, The Cross Keys Inn has live music every week from 16:30 – not to be missed!
When moving on from Cawsand Square, you have three main routes to choose from, but there’s no wrong choice here.
If you decide to head south on foot, you can join the South West Coast Path from Piers Lane and take a stroll through Penlee Woods to Penlee Point, a distance of around 1 mile. Along the way, you’ll discover historic landmarks and relics of times gone by, like Pier Cellars. Built on the site of an Elizabethan Pilchard Harbour, the decommissioned 19th Century Brennan Torpedo Station is still used by the Royal Navy to this day as part of its recruit training programme based at HMS Raleigh. Queen Adelaide's Grotto (sometimes referred to as Penlee Grotto) is another hidden gem. It was built circa 1826 for a royal visit from Queen Adelaide, King William IV’s wife. It sits atop Penlee Point and offers panoramic views across Plymouth Sound and the English Channel – we highly recommend taking a picnic and stopping a while.
Those that are able can carry on along the Rame Head Heritage Coast along the South West Coast Path for around another 1.6 miles to Rame Head, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The headland juts out from the peninsula at its most south westerly point and provides the perfect, clifftop vantage point for some stunning 360-degree scenes, including views of the historic Eddystone Lighthouse. Rame Head’s most prominent (man-made) feature is St Michael’s Chapel. Thought to be built on the site of an earlier Iron Age Fort, the exact date of construction of the current Rame Head Chapel is unknown, but with records showing that it was licensed for Mass in 1397, it is certainly over 600 years old. Over the last 6 centuries, the chapel and Rame Head itself have been steeped in history – in the 16th century, Plymouth paid for watchmen to be stationed here to alert the Navy if they spotted the Spanish Armada approaching. And during both World Wars, the headland was armed with anti-submarine guns. These days, Rame Head is home to the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) and a family of wild Dartmoor ponies, neither of which mind visitors, but don’t need feeding. That being said, we’re sure the NCI Volunteers wouldn’t say no to a biscuit now and again!
Back in Cawsand Square, heading west along St Andrew’s Place and on to Forder Lane, Rame Head can also be reached by car. And, if you head just a bit further around the coast, you will discover one of Cornwall’s best kept secrets – Whitsand Bay. With over 3 miles of beautiful, unspoilt, white sandy beaches, clifftop cafés & beachside cafés, sunken wrecks, surfing and fine dining, ‘Whitsands’ (as it is known locally) is simply spectacular. There are four main beaches at Whitsand Bay – Tregonhawke Beach, Sharrow Beach, Freathy Beach and Tregantle Beach, all of which are dog friendly all year round.
The first thing you’ll notice when you turn onto Military Road, the main road that hugs the cliffside from Polhawn Fort (a stunning wedding venue) to Tregantle Fort (an operational Ministry Of Defence installation), is just how high above the secluded beaches you are, approximately 360 feet. And herein lies one of the main reasons the beaches of Whitsand Bay have remained largely undiscovered – accessing them is challenging. There is no vehicular access to the beaches, except for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Lifeguards, the MOD and emergency services. It is therefore only possible to access the beaches on foot down stony, uneven paths from the cliff top. And bear in mind that you must also make the more difficult reverse journey back up the cliff path – something that most little ones will find challenging, especially after expending lots of energy on the beach. Parents – be prepared to carry more on the way back up than you did on the way down! However, if you are willing and able, the reward is well worth it.
Tregonhawke, the closest of Whitsand Bay’s main beaches to Cawsand, is the best served in terms of facilities. Here you’ll find a surf school and a café on the beach, but no car park or toilets. The nearest parking is at Freathy Car Park, which is just under a mile further along Military Road at Sharrow Point. It’s free during the off-season and between 17:00 to 09:00 and pay & display in the peak season when a stay of up to 4 hours will cost you £4.50. There is a daily lifeguard service from 10:00 – 18:00 from May until September. As with all of the beaches at Whitsand Bay, only swim when lifeguards are on duty and between the flags, and ensure you know the tide times – strong currents and riptides are not uncommon and at high tide the long stretches of sand are reduced to isolated coves with no access back up the cliff.
Freathy Beach has no facilities other than the Freathy Car Park at the top of the cliff and a daily lifeguard service from 10:00 – 18:00 from July until September.
Similarly, Sharrow Beach has no facilities other than the Freathy Car Park at the top of the cliff and a daily lifeguard service from 10:00 – 18:00 from May until September.
Tregantle Beach has no facilities other than Tregantle Car Park on the main road, the B3247, which is about a 3 minute walk from the top of the cliff path. Tregantle Car Park is closed during the off-season between 1st November to 31st March. During the peak season, parking is free between 17:00 to 09:00 and pay & display at all other times – expect to pay £4.90 for a stay of up to 4 hours. There is a daily lifeguard service from 10:00 – 18:00 from July until September and a weekend & bank holiday lifeguard service that starts from May (same times).
Back in Cawsand Square, the final of our three routes takes us up the hill on to Garrett Street, a narrow road that connects Cawsand to Kingsand. Along the way, there are a number of things to look out for.
Before turning left at the top of the steepest part of the hill, take a moment to look over the wall back across Cawsand Beach. And for the photographers amongst you, don’t miss the obligatory shot towards Penlee Point through the circular aperture of one of the cottage gates.
Next, keep an eye on your left as you carry on along Garrett Street for the shell of a former Cawsand pub, The Old Ship Inn, that burnt down in 2013. The pub, one of the oldest in Cawsand, was built in the 18th century and played host to some very famous visitors, such as Admiral Lord Nelson and Gracie Fields to name but two. After sitting derelict for around 6 years, in recent times, thanks to the work of a local non-profit, The Peninsula Trust, investment from local people and a government grant, the building is now under community ownership. There are plans to resurrect The Old Ship Inn, recreating the bar area of the original pub, as well as using the site to provide affordable housing for locals, a café, village information and heritage centre.
Shortly after passing Cawsand Congregational Hall keep looking right as, for the first time, there is a break in the row of historic clifftop cottages and you can catch your first glimpse of Kingsand and its unmistakable Clock Tower, along with Girt Beach and Kingsand Beach. The stepped path here leads down to a public slipway.
As you now start to descend the hill towards Kingsand, don’t miss The Old Bakery on your left. This quaint, dog friendly café serves everything you’d expect (breakfast, lunch, cream teas, cakes etc.), but it is also a sourdough bakehouse and even offers takeaway artisan pizzas one or two evenings a month, depending on the season. For those with a culinary inclination, The Old Bakery also offers sourdough bread making classes once a month.
And that is our last significant stop on the Cawsand side of the border. As you turn the final corner on Garrett Street, you will see Ship Shape and Panache dead ahead and The Halfway House Inn to the left. But before you explore everything that Kingsand has to offer, keep an eye to the right for that infamous marker that around 175 years ago would have signalled your crossing of the border into Devon, leaving Cornwall and Cawsand with it behind…
(Bon voyage in Cornish)