Cornwall, with its stunning natural landscapes, offers a particularly alluring environment for promoting mental health and overall well-being. The rhythm of the waves, the salty sea breeze and the views that stretch along the horizon all work in harmony to offer a sense of calm and tranquillity. With endless outdoor activities including coastal walks, hiking trails and meditation retreats, Cornwall is a top destination for those seeking to shake the January blues and escape from the stresses of daily life.
"When you see water of hear water, it triggers a response in your brain that you're in the right place." - Dr Wallace Nichols
Humans have always gravitated towards water for health reasons, from the Romans and their baths to the Victorians and their beloved seaside resorts. Here in 21st century Cornwall, we turn to coastal walks, sea swimming and watersports such as stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).
And there are hard facts to explain why proximity to water is good for you, both physically and psychologically. Research has shown how the negative ions in sea air accelerate your ability to absorb oxygen, and balance your levels of serotonin, a body chemical linked with mood and stress. At the same time, the sound of the sea alters the wave patterns in the brain, lulling you into a deeply relaxed state. As a result of all this ambient goodness, you’ll be likely to sleep better at night.
If you're brave enough, engaging in cold water swimming offers an array of health benefits. Studies have shown that this invigorating practice can bolster immunity, alleviate inflammation, and enhance circulation. Over time, regular dips in chilly waters also improves mood and increases one's tolerance to stress. Boasting the largest coastline in Britain, Cornwall is the perfect destination for cold water swims with plenty of locations to choose from.
The south coast known for its calm estuaries and tranquil waters is a wild swimmer’s paradise. Nestled within a charming coastal village, Gorran Haven boasts a small sandy beach with a historic stone quay offering partial shelter, an ideal spot for a refreshing sea swim. Keep an eye out for Gorran Haven’s regular visitor dolphins and seals, usually found around the Gwineas.
Looe Beach, with its inviting golden sands, is nestled within a sheltered bay. A stroll away from Looe’s town centre, it’s an ideal spot for a sea swim followed by a visit to one of the nearby cafes or restaurants – a perfect way to warm up and unwind after your refreshing dip.
Elsewhere, the year round popular Gyllyngvase Beach, nestled in a spot sheltered from the strongest winds, provides a calm water experience, which is usually well populated by fellow cold-water swimmers and walkers along the coast so you should never feel alone.
As you travel further along the coast to West Cornwall, you’ll encounter scenic spots perfect for cold water swimming adventures. Beaches such as Praa Sands offer a beautiful mile-long stretch of fine white sand, all set within part of Cornwall's National Landscape, formally known as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This spot is easily accessible, welcoming everyone to soak in its stunning scenery.
Prussia Cove, steeping in a history of smuggling, boasts a rugged charm that is sure to ignite a sense of adventure. The best time to enjoy this spot is during high tide when the calm waters reach the shore. However, swimmers should be aware of the presence of rocks beyond the main channel.
Cornwall’s beaches are not lifeguarded all-year round, so it is important to take extra precautions if you’re planning to go swimming. We recommend bringing along a friend so you can watch out for each other. It’s also a good idea to inform someone on the shore about your swimming plans – let them know where you’ll be and when they can expect you to return. For added safety, opt for beaches that tend to be busier and make sure to familiarise yourself ahead of time of the tide schedules, currents, and any potential hazards. It’s important to understand rip currents and recognise safe entry and exit points.
For those new to cold swimming or seeking a trial run before diving into the authentic experience, tidal pools offer a safe alternative to wild swimming. On the north coast, Bude Sea Pool is a part natural, part man made pool carved into rock is completely free to use. Built in the 1930s with the aim to provide a safe swimming haven, this tidal pool is perfect for those seeking a swim sheltered from the North coast’s harsh weather conditions. It is best enjoyed at low tide when the waves crash on the beach below rather than into the pool.
Perranporth, known for its golden sands and lively surf, boasts a tidal pool nestles at the heart of the beach. Positioned on Chapel Rock, a distinctive large rock situated right in the middle of the beach, this tidal pool is hard to miss. With its easy access and calm waters, the tidal pool is perfect for families and newcomers to cold water swimming. With nearby parking, you can enjoy a winter dip without the worry of a long, cold walk to your car after the plunge.
A must-visit is the award-winning Jubilee Pool in Penzance. Overlooking the seafront with views across St Michael’s Mount, the Jubilee Pool is home to a large art deco style pool which uses filtered sea water, usually 1-2 degrees above sea temperature. The lido is popular with locals and visitors alike so ensure you book your tickets ahead of time. Please note, the Jubilee Pool is currently closed until May.
Resorts and Retreats
Many Cornish hotels and resorts are currently offering cold swim packages and specialised amenities. Perfect for those who want to dip their toes into the cold water swim trend with the comforts of civilisation close by.
The Park located in Mawgan Porth opens their outdoor swimming pool during the winter period for cold water swimming sessions at no charge. A safe space to take a dip without the sea water, and once you’re done, you can take advantage of their sauna and steam room to warm up and unwind after your swim.
For a longer wellbeing experience visit Housel Bay on the Lizard to attend their Blue Mind Retreat. Centered around learning the benefits of the Blue Mind theory, you'll be invited to engage in workshops where you'll uncover techniques to soothe your nervous system and manage emotions. Embrace cold water swims and relish in coastal strolls as part of this enriching experience.
For the thrill-seekers, Three Mile Beach at Gwithian Towans offers a cold water therapy experience along with the chance to participate in coasteering and surfing sessions with their Cold Water Retreat. Available throughout the year, this retreat allows participants to not only enjoy the exhilarating activities but also learn about the benefits of cold exposure and controlled breathing.
No matter how you try cold water swimming this winter, it's important to take precautions to ensure your safety. Begin by checking the weather and sea conditions before you set out. Always share your plans by telling someone where you're heading and when you will be returning. If possible, make your cold water swim a shared experience by bringing along a friend.
Consider bringing along a flask filled with a warm drink - we suggest hot chocolate - to warm you up after your aquatic adventure. Finally, bring warm clothing to change into and have plenty of layers on hand to add as needed.
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