It is easy to understand why Kennack Sands is one of the most popular family beaches on The Lizard. Extensive beaches, impressive cliffs, dunes and woodlands, and the opportunity for some rockpooling or summertime surfing on the waves – there is plenty to do and explore. Literary buffs among you will be interested to know that the novelist Daphne du Maurier learned to swim here in 1912, at the age of five.
View of Kennack Sands west beach
Kennack Sands is, however, more than simply a good beach to visit in the holidays. This beautiful spot, situated within The Lizard National Nature Reserve, is rich in wildlife, geology and a cultural heritage that can be enjoyed in all seasons.
|Basking Shark - Abigail Crosby||Centaurium erythraea (Common Centaury)||Red Serpentine - Pat Sargeant|
We have suggested a short walk that takes in as many of the highlights of Kennack Sands as possible. However you choose to explore the area, you should find plenty to interest you, from the remains of Second World War structures to beautiful plants to fascinating geology.
Beach: Two beaches separated by a small promontory (The Caerverracks). The western beach is the sandier of the two.
Parking: Large car park. This is closed out of season: there is some limited parking on the road into Kennack Sands
Cafe: Café and shop open in season
Toilets: Adjacent to car park
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on the west beach from Easter Sunday to 30 September, but welcome at other times of year, and on the east beach all year.
Activities: Walks, surfing (on west beach)
Kennack Sands is a fascinating site for investigating the geology of The Lizard.
The southern part of the peninsula is a complex mix of serpentinite, schist, gabbro and granite. These rocks are over 600 million years old. The serpentine rock for which The Lizard is famous is all that remains of an ancient ocean floor, into which other igneous rocks were intruded. As the earth’s tectonic plates moved, what now forms The Lizard was welded onto continental rocks in the mid-Devonian period (roughly 385 million years ago). During the Tertiary period (from about 65 million years ago), the peninsula was submerged beneath the sea, and the subsequent erosion levelled the rocks to produce the plateau we see today. This exposed marine platform is an example of an ophiolite. Take a look at The Lizard’s geological timeline, from the very beginning of the Earth’s story until the present day.
While the plateau on the more exposed west coast has the spectacular and sheer cliffs of places such as Kynance Cove, the east-facing coastline is more sheltered, with gently inclined, wooded valleys. Kennack Sands is a very good example of this.
There are only three sand dune systems (called towans in Cornwall) on The Lizard, and one of these is at Kennack Sands (the others are at Gunwalloe and Poldhu). Kennack is also a Geological Conservation Review (GCR) site (a site of national and international importance for its geological features).
At Kennack you can see the contact between serpentine and, beneath it, Kennack gneiss. You can recognise Kennack gneiss by its pinky-brown colour and marked narrow bandings. Here, there are examples of it being intruded into dykes of serpentine and gabbro, as well as outcropping on the western beach.
Kennack Gneiss - Pat Sargeant
Here is what you can find at different locations along Kennack Sands.
The outcrop of rock to your right as you come down the slipway is Kennack gneiss. Explore the cliffs to the west to find dykes of Kennack gneiss, gabbro and basalt running through the serpentine. You will also find xenoliths of serpentine in the gneiss – serpentine rocks that have been carried along as the magmatic rocks moved through the dykes.
Dyke Complex Western Cliffs - Pat Sargeant
Be careful along this section: the cliffs are not very stable and there have been occasional landslides in the past.
This beach is sandier than its eastern neighbour. At the eastern beach you will see the old anti-tank wall, dating from the Second World War. A similar wall used to run along the western beach as well, but it was removed and this has enabled natural beach processes to begin once more, allowing the natural movement of sand and pebbles with the tides.
Look for the rich red serpentine in this headland and seaward rocks. Called bastite serpentine and veined with intersecting minerals of white and green, it was especially popular with serpentine workers and their customers.
Red Serpentine - Pat Sargeant
The Towans Kennack
Towans is one of only three sand dune systems on The Lizard. The sand here is rich in calcium carbonate, and was formed as waves and currents in the sea ground up the shells of marine creatures after they died. After being deposited on the shore, the calcareous sand is then wind-blown to form the dunes.
Eastern beach and cliffs
On the eastern beach you will see pebbles of Kennack gneiss in the company of basalt, serpentine and gabbro pebbles, as well as flints. Here you will find some of the best examples of the red (bastite) serpentine. You can also find another form of serpentine – dunite – which is lighter in colour. Beneath the eastern cliff at the end of the beach you will find a large dyke of grey basalt. At the very end of the beach, the outcrop called Green Saddle is formed of serpentine.
Kennack Stones - Pat Sargeant
The eastern beach was once part of a marshy swamp – some 4000 years ago – and the sea would have been many miles away. Keep an eye out for peat originating from this period, especially after winter storms that wash and blow away layers of sand, revealing the peat.
You can read more about the geology of The Lizard on this site, or pick up a copy of Beneath the Skin of The Lizard, by Robin Bates and Bill Scolding, which details seven coastal walks exploring the geology of the peninsula. We have also included a glossary of geological terms.
The varied habitats at Kennack Sands – rockpools and marine communities, sand dunes, streams, scrub, with woodland and the heathlands of Goonhilly beyond – mean there is a wealth of wildlife to be found here, at any time of year. Enjoy exploring!
Western cliffs: Keep an eye out for Rock Samphire. Even out of season, its yellowish-green, fleshy stems and leaves are very distinctive. It tends to grow in crevasses and cracks on the cliffs and rocks, sometimes in great profusion. It is edible, and tastes particularly good lightly steamed with fish.
Western beach and The Caerverracks: You can find several species of seaweed in the intertidal zone (the part of the shore exposed between high and low tide), including Oarweed, Purple Laver, Tiny Redweed, and several species of Wrack – Bladder, Knotted, Channel and Spiral.
The rock pools close to Caerverracks provide different habitats, as they vary from shallow or deep and from sunny to shaded. You should find sea anenomes, including Dahlia, Beadlet and Snakelocks Anemone, as well as Blennies. Here and in the seaweed beds look for Spiny Starfish or Common Brittle Star. It is worth looking under rocks for crabs – Broad-clawed, Long-clawed Porcelain, Hairy or Hermit Crabs can all be found. If you are lucky, you might find the red Squat Lobster, but take care as it is aggressive when handled.
|Snakelocks Anemone||Dahlia Anemone|
Other marine life on the beach and rocks include Limpets, Periwinkles, Spotted and Unspotted Cowries, Topshells, Barnacles, Periwinkles and Common Mussels.
Natural England’s Charlotte Marshall enjoys rockpooling, and here the-rocky-shores-of-kennack-sands she describes a visit to Kennack Sands.
The Towans The calcium carbonate sand – rich in the fragmented shells of tiny sea creatures – attracts thousands of snails in the warmer months. Here you will find Marram Grass, Sea Bindweed and Carline Thistle. Devil’s-bit Scabious, Meadow Clary and Stinking Iris also thrive here.
Further back on the dunes and along the footpath, keep an eye out for Butcher’s Broom. Its green, spiky leaves are not really leaves at all. They are in fact flattened stems, and butchers used to gather them to use as brooms to sweep their floors and keep work surfaces clean. In autumn and through winter, Butcher’s Broom produces large, bright red berries.
Stream bridge, and eastern beach The Gwendreath stream that flows under the bridge at the back of the beach is fringed with damp-loving plants such as reeds, Yellow Flag-Iris, Purple-loosestrife and Hemlock Water-dropwort. In spring and into summer, you can look for tadpoles and frogs, while dragonflies and damselflies buzz around you. The wet marshy area behind the sea wall on the eastern beach has similar wildlife, and in drier areas you can find Sea Radish, Sea Orache and Sea Beet.
The woods behind the dunes were once dominated by Elm before Dutch Elm disease arrived. They are now full of Alder, Hazel and Sycamore. In the spring, you may find Bluebells, Wood Sorrel and orchids, and ferns beneath the shade of the trees. You can find many woodland birds here, sometimes including rarer visitors such as Goldcrests and Firecrests.
Quarry viewpoint Climb through sweet-smelling gorse and swathes of the rare Cornish Heath (which only grows on the serpentine soils) – both are at their best in July and August – to enjoy a panoramic view. A little earlier in the year, in May, the air will be sweet with Blackthorn blossoms.
Out to sea, you might spot Dolphins and Porpoises, and in the summer maybe the plankton-eating Basking Shark. The second largest fish in the world, it can often be glimpsed close inshore.
Conserving the habitats of Kennack Sands
Once upon a time, cattle would have grazed the dunes, joined by thousands of rabbits, keeping the scrub down and allowing more delicate plants to flourish. Cattle no longer graze at Kennack, and myxomatosis reduced rabbit populations, so the team caring for Kennack Sands have to use other methods, including cutting and burning scrub, as well as grazing ponies. The wonderful flora you can see now on the Towans is the result of some diligent planning and hard work over the last ten years in order to restore the fragile dune habitat. More information kennack-towans-restoration-of-a-dune .
Find out about some of the flora, birds, butterflies and moths, and other animals you can see on The Lizard.