Updated: May 22
It was an exceptionally hot day. As we rounded the headland, our favourite little cove appeared in front of us, its beach just emerging from high tide. We paddled in and pulled the boards up the sand. Within two minutes we were swimming in clear turquoise water. There was no-one else there and it was heavenly.
The stretch coastline between Perranuthnoe and Praa Sands is a wonderful area to explore by paddle board. Easily accessible from the beaches at either end, it's both scenic and historic and what's even better is that it's just five minutes' drive from the cottages here at Middle Colenso.
Today, the estate and coastline are privately owned but during the late 18th century, Prussia Cove and the surrounding rocky inlets formed the centre of a flourishing smuggling enterprise led by the infamous Carter brothers. John, known by his childhood name of The King of Prussia, along with Harry and Charles, built slipways, roads and even defences to facilitate their illegal activities. You can still see the tracks cut through the rocks where they wheeled their contraband.
Their family were staunch Methodists and even though they were breaking the law, the brothers appeared to have their own moral code. They once broke into the excise store in Penzance to take back confiscated goods. When they discovered the break in, the revenue officers knew it must have been the work of John Carter because he was an ‘upright man’ who took only his own goods. Harry, too, was a fascinating character, who taught himself to read, wrote an account of his life and later went on to be a Methodist minister.
Prussia Cove isn't a single cove but a series of four situated between Praa Sands and Perranuthnoe: Coule's, King's Bessy's and Piskies. The largest and most accessible one, often called Prussia Cove, is actually Bessy's Cove. With its sheltered location and a pebble beach at low tide, it's a great spot for swimming. It's also home to a few small fishing boats and there's a crumbling fishermen's hut overlooking the slipway.
To the east is the main house of the estate, built in the Arts & Crafts style, and beyond that Kenneggy Sands. This long stretch of sandy beach is no longer accessible from the coast path as the path to it has been eroded but at low tide you can walk to it across the rocks from Coule's Cove and of course you can get there by paddle board.
As you head west from Bessy's Cove towards Cudden Point, the rocky spine of land protruding into the sea, you will see a wooden post with rusting metal attachments on the headland. This was the mooring for HMS Warspite, a First World War battleship that ran aground in Prussia Cove in 1947 on her way to be scrapped.
A little further beyond is Piskies Cove - a hidden gem of a place. At low tide, a small beach appears in front of the two caves that run back under the cliffs. On a sunny day, you could be forgiven for thinking you're in the Mediterranean. It's not easily accessible and is usually very quiet.
Beyond Cudden Point is Stackhouse Cove. The large crenellated building on the hill is Acton Castle, built in 1775 century by the botanist and seaweed expert John Stackhouse and designed by John Wood the Younger who is best known as the architect who created The Royal Crescent in Bath. Stackhouse appointed John Carter caretaker of Acton Castle when he was away from Cornwall so it seems unlikely he knew of his smuggling activities.
Stackhouse had a bath cut into the rocks below the castle so his wife Susannah Acton could enjoy the health benefits of bathing. The bath is filled with fresh water which enters via a hole cut into the roof of the chamber.
The entrance is an arch about one third of the way up the cliff face. A short passage leads to the bath itself. Do be careful if you're exploring. It's a bit of scramble over the rocks and it's a good idea to take a torch so you can see inside. If this doesn't appeal, have a look for the saltwater bath cut into the rocks in the cove itself.
Prussia Cove is one of our favourite places to paddle but it's difficult to get down with a board, even in a backpack. We recommend launching either at Perranuthnoe or Praa Sands, both of which are just a five-minute drive from the cottages.
Experienced paddle boarders can easily make day of it and paddle the entire stretch of coast and back. If you're new to paddle boarding or not as strong, you may prefer to cover just half of the route. It's easier to launch at Praa Sands and head west. Depending on speed, it will take around 90 minutes to get to Bessy's Cove and back.
As always, make sure you plan your trip properly. Ocean SUP-ing is inherently more hazardous than on a lake or in a river and it can be choppy Make sure you check the tide times and winds as you can quickly get into difficulties with an offshore breeze.
If you're not into paddle boarding or kayaking, you can also explore this area on foot. There's a lovely circular walk from Prussia Cove to Perranuthnoe which you can read about here https://www.middlecolensofarm.co.uk/post/in-the-footsteps-of-smugglers
Where to Eat
In Perranuthnoe, The Victoria Inn serves superior pub grub. For more casual dining, try The Cabin Beach Cafe or The Peppercorn Cafe.
The Sandbar overlooks the beach in Praa Sands and serves up a range of snacks. A walk to the other side of the village will take you to excellent Post Office Cafe and deli.