To visit Kynance Cove, you might take the single track road across a wide flat landscape of Lizard heathland, with the sea a tantalising presence along the horizon; or you may come by way of footpaths above the rugged coastline or through fields of grass or scrub. Whichever way you take to get there, once you arrive, Kynance Cove never fails to impress. With its distinctive serpentine cliffs and sea stacks, rich and varied wildlife and, as the tide retreats, its sandy beaches, rock pools and caves, it is a destination that can be appreciated in all seasons.
Planning a visit
Kynance Cove is one of the most popular destinations on The Lizard Peninsula, and in July and August the car park fills up early and there may be queues along the access road. So, when planning a visit consider coming earlier or later in the day or at another time of the year. If the car park is full there are other beaches nearby, such as Kennack Sands, Coverack and Poldhu. Walking from Lizard village is an alternative but, of course, other car parks here are also busy in peak season.
Parking: There is a Pay-and-Display National Trust (NT) car park at the top of the cove. NT members park for free (please remember to scan your membership card).
Toilets: Accessible toilets and baby-changing facilities (open Easter to end of October half term) can be found in the NT car park, and in the cove behind the café (open all year).
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed on the beach 10am to 6pm from 1st July to 31st August; they are very welcome at all other times and on surrounding footpaths all year round. For more information click here. Please remember to scoop that poop.
Café: Kynance Cove Café is open March to October for light bites, ice cream and drinks, as well as souvenirs and beach-holiday essentials. Where possible they use locally sourced food and drinks. Water bottles can be filled in the café.
Activities: Walking, photography, painting and drawing, birdwatching, exploring local wildlife, geology and history, rock-pooling, swimming and paddling (with care).
Remember: please take all litter home and recycle what you can.
The serpentine rock for which The Lizard is famous was once 10km below the Earth’s surface, where it formed part of its mantle. It is believed that during a time of intense geological change a molten rock, known as peridotite, was pushed upwards to form the bed of an ancient ocean. Around 380 million years ago part of this oceanic floor was once again subject to massive internal pressures and was forced up to the surface. As the Earth’s tectonic plates moved this exposed marine plateau, or ophiolite, was forced onto continental rocks and now forms the most southerly part of the Lizard Peninsula. Today we can still trace the join where continent met continent. It runs across the Peninsula from Polurrian Cove on the west coast to Porthallow on the east. South of this line is the ‘Lizard Complex’, made up of a mix of serpentine, schist, gabbro, basalt and gneiss. This small but important geological area has intrigued geologists for hundreds of years, and continues to do so.
Kynance is a significant habitat for a number of rare native plants and wildlife species. Being part of The Lizard National Nature Reserve (NNR), with input from other wildlife and conservation bodies, has ensured the protection of this special landscape and that its conservation and management is on-going. One of the methods used by local farmers, and which you may see on your visit, is the use of cattle to graze the clifftops. This deters the encroachment of invasive vegetation and encourages biodiversity. Other measures that also help in this are winter scrub control and controlled heath burning.
Image: Ruby Red cattle grazing in the car park at Kynance Cove ©National Trust Images/John Millar
Of course, Kynance Cove is made up of a number of habitats—clifftops, heathland, rock pools, streams and scrub that each support a wealth of wildlife in all seasons. These environments have been shaped by The Lizard’s complex geology and its climate, which is generally wetter and warmer in winter than the rest of the UK. The underlying serpentine rock produces a clay-like soil that whilst low in calcium is rich in magnesium, so that lime-loving plants, such as Bloody Cranesbill, Dropwort and Spotted Cat’s-Ear are present alongside acid-loving plants, such as heather. This nutrient-poor soil is also shallow and has not been cultivated so does not support deep-rooted plants and trees. The proximity of the sea and exposure to the south westerly storms in autumn and winter cause many plant species to be low-growing or hairy.
Visit this webpage for further information regarding the history of botany on The Lizard Peninsula: http://www.the-lizard.org/index.php/a-short-history-of-botanical-discovery-on-the-lizard
Plant species found at Kynance Cove:
Autumn and Spring Squill http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/243-autumn-squill
Bloody Cranesbill http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/673-bloody-crane-s-bill
Cornish Heath http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/223-cornish-heath-a-lizard-speciality
Dyer’s Greenweed http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/378-dyer-s-greenweed
Green-winged Orchid http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/194-green-winged-orchid-out-and-about
Hairy Greenweed http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/hairy-greenweed.html
Sea Campion http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/296-sea-campion
Spotted Cats-ear http://www.seasonalwildflowers.com/spotted-cat-s-ear.html
Spring Sandwort http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/189-spring-sandwort-bravely-facing-the-elements
Thyme Broomrape http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/florasp/210-thyme-broomrape
The heathland surrounding Kynance is a good place to catch sight of interesting butterflies and birds.
Look out for the following: Grayling, Wall, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Heath and Dark Green Fritillary, and find further information at: http://the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/butterflies-moths/126-but-mothsp
The Cuckoo is heard here in spring, and you may be lucky enough to see migrants such Wheatears or Whimbrels who stop off on the downs as they migrate north. Summer visitors include a number of warblers, such as the Grasshopper, Sedge and Willow Warbler and, occasionally, the rare Dartford Warbler. If you are in the right place at the right time you may see over-wintering birds of prey, such as the Hen and Marsh Harrier and Merlin. Although the Chough does not breed along the coast at Kynance they often visit the clifftops and neighbouring fields to dig for invertebrates all year round. You often hear them before you see them, so listen out for their distinctive high-pitched call of ‘Cheaow’.
The name Kynance is believed to come from Porth Keynans, the Cornish for ‘ravine cove’, which is very suggestive of its setting. There were settlers at Kynance from the Middle Bronze Age, but it was during Victorian times that it became a popular destination.
Flints found in the area are evidence of hunters being present at Kynance during the Mesolithic period (15000-5000 BCE). Excavations at Kynance Gate have revealed a Middle Bronze Age settlement (1200 BCE), with remains of round houses, pavements that appear to show remains of kilns, as well as an array of finds such as flints, pottery, moulds for axe heads and decorative pebbles and stones. The site was probably abandoned around 1000-600 BCE but then reoccupied and increased in size during the Iron Age and Roman periods. There is no indication of farming in the area around the site which suggests it may have been seasonally occupied—perhaps for summer grazing. The rocky nature of the seaward side of the site would have provided good defensive protection.
Image: Kynance Gate roundhouse_GIMP. Caption: One of the roundhouses at Kynance Gate
Armadas and ship wrecks
In July 1588 the ships of the Spanish Armada were sighted from The Rill, a viewpoint just north of the cove (today part of the South West Coast Path). To warn Francis Drake and the English fleet anchored at Plymouth, beacons were lit in a chain along the south coast of Cornwall.
Much of Cornwall’s wild coastline is littered with shipwrecks and The Lizard is no exception. Wrecks at Kynance include the Henry in 1826, laden with lemons, and the Ospra in 1832, known locally as the ‘coffee wreck’. The remains of a boiler from the Maud, wrecked in 1910, is still visible at low tide in the sands of Pentreath beach.
Through the writings of scholars such as John Ray in the 17th century, the reputation of The Lizard Peninsula for its beautiful and unspoilt landscape slowly spread, but it was during Victorian times that it, like many other far-flung places in Britain, became increasingly accessible. There were improvements in the road systems as well as modes of transport, and in the 1850s the railway network was extended into Cornwall. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to visit by boat in 1846, during which the Prince and the royal children landed at Kynance. This excursion helped to popularise the cove and Albert’s interest in serpentine, as a decorative stone to rival marble, raised its status and led to a temporary boost in quarrying and the number of serpentine workshops. The poet Alfred Tennyson stayed in Cornwall whilst he was preparing to write his Arthurian poem sequence Idylls of the King. In his journal of July 1848 he describes his visits to Kynance: ‘Glorious grass-green monsters of waves. Into the caves of Asparagus Island. Sat watching wave rainbows.’
It was in the 1880s that a railway branch line was eventually opened to the nearby town of Helston. We can imagine the Victorian visitor, keen to explore for themselves a landscape often only read about in books, alighting from the train and ready to travel on to the coast by carriage, cart or even donkey. It is recorded that Victorian excursionists would walk along the double hedge footpath from Lizard village and at low tide explored the coves and interconnected caves, which they christened with quaint names such as The Ladies Bathing Pool, The Drawing Room and The Parlour. In 1903, because of the area’s popularity, the Great Western Railway ran a bus service from Helston Station to Lizard village.
Find out more about land-use and archaeology on The Lizard at: http://www.the-lizard.org/index.php/article-archives/593-the-landscape-history-and-archaeology-of-the-lizard-s-downs-and-moors .
PS Of interest for lovers of the BBC’s drama series Poldark, Kynance Cove was used (along with Porthcurno Beach) as the setting for Nampara Cove.
At low tide, the beach at Kynance Cove is an excellent place to visit and explore the sea caves and rock pools.
The beach is accessible at all times but only at low tide by way of the main footpath from the car park. There is an alternate route for use at high tide. For wheelchair users and those who might find walking down the steep path tricky there is an access path from the carpark to a viewpoint overlooking Kynance.
Image: Kynance Beach ©National Trust Images/John Millar
- Check tide times. The sandy beach is exposed as the tide goes out and many of the caves can only be explored at low tide.
- Leave rock pools as you found them. Don’t paddle or throw things in them. If you discover aquatic wildlife in pools or on the beach please leave them where they are. For more top tips click here.
- Leave pebbles where you find them and resist the temptation to take them home.
- Please do take your litter home with you and recycle what you can.
- At all times be aware of the fragile nature of cliffs and don’t sit directly underneath them.
Kynance and its surrounding area is criss-crossed by many footpaths and it is both the start and destination of many walks. Follow this link for details of a short walk from Lizard village to Kynance Cove along some of these footpaths. http://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/walksdb/659/
And this one, starting at Kynance, is a bit longer and takes in Lizard Point and its environs.
Foraging for wild food at Predannack (one mile).
National Trust walks (You will be transfered to the National Trust website)