Looking down from the cliffs at Porthcurno on a sunny day you’d swear that you were in the Mediterranean or some tropical paradise. Porthcurno Beach in the west of Cornwall has won many awards. The white sand beach and turquoise sea in the sheltered bay look absolutely stunning.
As well as the amazing beach, Porthcurno has three curious attractions. First, the Minack Theatre sitting high on the cliff edge, second, the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy and third, a secret World War II bunker.
The village also boasts a pub, accommodation, post office, toilets, cafes, and a bus link to Land’s End and Penzanance.
OS Explorer 102 Map. The Explorer 102 Ordnance Survey Map covers this part of Cornwall. The map displays the area of Land’s End, Penzance, St Ives and the South West Coast Path. With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Explorer Map is available in both the standard paper version and weatherproof ‘Active’ version.
Getting to Porthcurno
The car park at Porthcurno is private and there is a charge for parking. During the summer and bank holidays, the car park can get very busy and it fills up quickly. If the car park is full there is nowhere else to park. So if you’re visiting in summer I’d suggest getting there early to avoid disappointment or use the bus service from Land’s End or Penzance.
Porthcurno is 10 miles from Penzance, use postcode TR19 6JX to get to the car park. The Beach and Museum of Submarine Telegraphy are a short walk from the car park. The Minack Theatre has its own car park TR19 6JU for pre-booked visitors only. You can also reach the theatre from the beach via a series of steps up the cliffside.
Please note if you are driving from Penzance your Sat Nav will direct you via the B3283 through the village of St. Buryan. This road has narrow sections that often get blocked in summer, leading to long delays. An alternative option is to keep on the A30 through Sennen, then straight onto Trevescan (don’t follow satnav) and then follow the brown tourist signs for Porthcurno and The Minack Theatre. This route is essential for any large vehicle and anybody not comfortable with negotiating narrow Cornish roads.
High cliffs on either side shelter the picturesque southeast-facing beach. It is steeply shelving especially towards high tide, which means that the waves can be particularly powerful with a strong backwash.
The beach is very popular with families. One side of the beach has a stream which is fun for kids to play in. This often forms a big pool which is great for paddling. Lifeguards patrol the beach from the middle of May until nearly the end of September, always remember to swim between the flags. Dogs are welcome on the beach, except between 10 am and 6 pm in July and August.
From the car park, it is only a short walk down to the beach. There is a cafe across the road from the car park and public toilets.
The white sand is actually made from seashells that have been pounded into the fine sand by the sea. This is partly the reason the sea has such a beautiful colour.
If you want to climb to the clifftop for some incredible coastal views, there are steps on the right-hand side of the beach leading up to the Minack Theatre. Even if you don’t visit the theatre, the views are worth the climb. From the clifftop, the granite cliffs, the remarkable quality of the light and clear sea combine to give some amazing views. Look out for marine life as well, if you are lucky you might see some dolphins.
There is a strange little house-like structure in the cliff-side next to the Minack Theatre Path. This is the work of Rowena Cade the creator of the Minack Theatre. It was built as an oversize playhouse for her nieces and nephews. The door and window have been filled in now though.
Pedn Vounder is the neighbouring beach and this only is accessible at low tide. When it is low tide the sand stretches all the way around, and it’s easy to walk between the two coves. Check the tide times before you go. You need to be careful not to get cut off or stranded here. The cliff access to this beach is difficult and dangerous with sudden and unguarded steep drops and a near-vertical climb down the cliff face to get onto the beach. Also, be aware there is no lifeguard cover on this beach.
Cliffs are changing all the time. Falls and landslides can happen at any time and without warning. Please stay well back from the cliff edge when walking along coast paths, and stay away from the undercliff on beaches.
Porthcurno is not just well-known for its beach. The Minack Theatre on the clifftop west of the village is famous all around the world. The amazing open-air venue enjoys superb views over Porthcurno Bay and as far away as the Lizard. It’s an amazing place built by a woman who laterally decided to carve out a theatre at the bottom of her garden. You would be forgiven for thinking that the ancient Greeks had made it. As you look around it’s hard to believe that it used to be just a gully full of gorse and heather.
The theatre is open to visitors during the daytime. There is an on-site café and sub-tropical gardens, based on the original cliff garden that Rowena Cade created in the 1930s. Colourful salt-tolerant succulents populate the gardens and add a touch of colour all year round.
In the evening live performances take over, these are given by a variety of theatrical companies between May and September. They frequently sell out, so advance booking is essential. For ticket information visit www.minack.com.
The Exhibition Centre tells the story of the Minack Theatre. This incredible story starts with the first performance in 1932 on a simple grass terrace to the modern-day, which now has a 17 week summer season held in the fully equipped 750 seat theatre. The Theatre was the inspiration and life’s work of Rowena Cade.
The theatre has a live webcam.
Museum of Submarine Telegraphy
Porcurtho (PK in telegraphic code) was once a very important place. It used to be the centre of world communication. Telegraph cables from here were buried under the beach and laid beneath the sea to a number of places around the world. These included India, Newfoundland, France, Spain, and Gibraltar. Effectively Porthcurno was the gateway to the Empire. Before the submarine cable was laid a message to India would take about 6 weeks to deliver, a telegraphic message cut that time to 9 minutes.
The museum tells the fascinating story of the telegraph station. It is located just up from the beach near the main car park. Inside it is full of mahogany and brass instruments, photographs and etchings, which give a sense of the pioneering work the marine engineers undertook. Cables today are fibre-optic and buried under the sea bed by a submersible vessel. The museum has a model of one of these.
At the start of WWII Porthcurno was a critical communications hub with 14 cables, carrying about 70% of all communications. So the decision was taken to build tunnels and bunkers into the cliffs and move all critical operations underground. Most of the museum’s displays are in these underground bunkers.
Walks from Porthcurno
There are excellent walks in either direction along the South West Coast Path. Westwards to PorthGwarra and Land’s End or eastwards to Logan’s Rock and Mousehole. Heading west are Porthchapel, a wedge of secluded smooth white sand and Porthgwarra where a tunnel has been bored through a large boulder to give access to the rocky shore. Further west is the stunning sandy beach at Nanjizal.
If you decide to head east you pass a white pyramid that marks the spot where the first undersea telegraph cable was landed in 1870. A little further east is the headland of Treryn Dinas. As well as Logan’s Rock this used to be the site of an Iron Age cliff castle. Earthworks including a ditch and bank are still visible. At Penberth there are more sandy beaches and an unspoilt fishing cove belonging to the National Trust. Past that the Tater Du Lighthouse, which sits at the bottom of the cliffs. You can climb down to the lighthouse on some steep steps cut into the slope.
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