Where to spot basking sharks in Cornwall

Evening view of The Rumps on the SWCP by David Carvey

By Mark Owen from the South West Coast Path

One of the best things about being out on the South West Coast Path at this time of year is the thrill of seeing a basking shark.

With adults being over 30 feet long, basking sharks are the second largest species of shark found in the world (after the whale shark), but unlike their smaller relative the Great White shark they are harmless peaceful plankton feeders. They return to Cornwall in the early part of the summer, on their journey following the plankton blooms up the west coast of Britain to Scotland. 

The best places to look for these magnificent creatures are from headlands and cliff tops, from where if you're lucky you will be able to look down on them as they slowly swim along on the surface with their vast mouths open to filter seawater for microscopic plankton. 

Below are a selection of my favourite walks, where even if you don’t manage to spot a basking shark, there’s lots else to watch out for - seals, peregrine falcons, and on the Lizard the enigmatic chough. A word of caution – don’t go too close to the cliff  edges, instead there are generally plenty of good vantage points a safe distance back from the edge.

Sennen Cove and Lands End: A 3 mile walk with spectacular views and both wildlife and historical interest. The abundance of wildflowers makes this a brilliant walk in spring, when shags and cormorants can be seen offshore and the cliffs are noisy with nesting fulmars, kittiwakes and guillemots.

Porthgwarra and Gwenapp Head: A short, one mile, walk from the remote and picturesque sandy cove of Porthgwarra up to the lookout post and towering granite cliffs of Gwennap Head. The heathland and valley at Porthgwarra is a very popular spot for birdwatching, and in summer skylarks, stonechats, linnets and wheatears are commonly seen, and often rare migrants turn up. The headland is a great spot for seeing cetaceans with dolphins often passing, and basking sharks are frequent summer visitors.

Cape Cornwall: This 5 mile walk passes through a tumbledown landscape of old mines and mills, as well as ancient forts, barrows, a fifth-century oratory and England's only cape. Starting in the old mining village of St Just - England's most westerly village - the walk joins the Coast Path at Kenidjack Castle, the site of an Iron Age fort. From here it travels on around Cape Cornwall - pop into the Coastwatch station at the end to find out about any latest wildlife sightings.

Three sides of the Lizard: A four mile walk (but easily shortened or made longer) past Britain's most southerly point. A lighthouse, life boat station, choughs, seals and unique geology make this a fascinating and beautiful stretch of coast to explore. 

Pentire Point and the Rumps: This 2½ mile walk from Polzeath visits an Iron Age promontory fort and some Bronze Age burial mounds, also featuring a famous wartime poem and a breathtaking sandy cove surrounded by gorse and woodland, with a rocky archway to a collapsed sea cave. There are spectacular views out over Padstow Bay and beyond, as well as a puffin island and volcanic pillow lavas.

You can find hundreds more walk ideas at www.southwestcoastpath.com

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