Cornish caves

Date Posted: 21 Jun 2024

By Natasha Harding

With its rich history, dramatic coastline and mythical tales, you’d expect Cornwall to have some world-renowned caves – and it doesn’t disappoint. Many are a result of long-term erosion, or from when the miners extracted tin and copper in years gone by. And some come with their own tall stories that have been handed down through generations.

Tom Wildblood who runs Koru Kayaking said: “On the North Coast, huge caves and archways were carved out during the mining era.”
“One notably is called Gadger Arch, which has two arches leading into one – and is a pretty spectacular sight.”
“Meanwhile on the Helford River there are smaller sea caves where the sand stone has worn away with the tides leaving the harder slate caves.”

Here, Natasha Harding recommends some of the caves that are worth a visit during your holiday.

Green Island, St Agnes


Hetty Wildblood of Koru Kayaking said: “There are so many incredible caves to explore in Cornwall and it’s often easier to do so on the water.”
“In between the coastline between St Agnes and Perranporth, you’ll find an archway, just past Green Island.”
“An oystercatcher nests there and will sometimes dive bomb you as you paddle your kayak into the cave.”
“Further along, there is a walled cavern called The Prison, which was named by the miners who couldn’t swim and when the tide came up, their only option of getting out was to climb up a ladder to the top of the cavern.”

Carnglaze caverns, Bodmin


The caverns are on the edge of Bodmin Moor and were originally a quarry before miners started digging underground which created three large caverns. Carnglaze was Cornwall’s only slate mine and played a huge part in the industrial revolution as the slate was used throughout the county and beyond. These days the site is a family tourist attraction which takes you 60m below ground. It’s an incredible piece of history to visit and offers an insight into Cornwall’s rich heritage. Also, on the site there is evidence of tin and copper mines but they’re not accessible due to safety concerns.

As you’d expect the caverns have incredible acoustics and they hold regular concerts there.

Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel


Just below the remains of Tintagel Castle, you’ll find Merlin’s Cave. Legend has it that Merlin, a wise magician, spent a lot of his life in the caves. When baby Arthur was born, Merlin advised he should be raised secretly to protect him from harm, because the details of his conception were a cause for concern.

English Heritage believe that Tintagel Castle is the supposed conception place of Arthur, not his birthplace as people often believe! Folklore suggests that Merlin was King Arthur’s mentor and guide while he was a young lad. Although the cave can be explored at low tide, it does fill with seawater during the high tide, meaning care should be taken when visiting.

It’s worth the effort though as the beach and surrounding coastline are breathtaking.

Kynance Cove


With its white sand, dark red and green serpentine rock, Kynance Cove is a stunning site – and understandably one of the most photographed places in Kernow. People often walk the three miles from The Lizard down to Kynance Cove which is relatively easy, despite the rocks.

As always in Cornwall, the beach changes depending on the tide. At low tide a series of coves and interconnected caves are revealed – names include Ladies Bathing Pool and the Drawing Room. One rock is named after Prince Albert who visited with his children in 1846.

The beach gets incredibly busy during peak times, so if you’re planning a trip get there early so you are able to enjoy those wonderful views in peace.

Holywell Cave


Holywell Bay, near Newquay, is a beautiful sandy beach – but there is so much more to it than that. At low tide, Holywell Cave, which is also called St Cuthbert’s Cave, can be found under the southern cliffs of Kelsey Head.

For hundreds of years, pilgrims and the sick would visit in order to drink from the natural spring – which apparently tastes like cereal milk – as it was believed to have healing properties, possibly because of the high mineral content.

The cave is washed out every day when the tide comes in and is a pretty spectacular site. If you visit, keep an eye on tide times, and ensure that you wear sturdy shoes.

Crantock Caves


The caves are found on Crantock Beach and although they are lovely to look at, they are also home to a fascinating snippet of Cornish folklore.

There is a small cave called Piper’s Hole where you’ll find carvings of a woman’s face, a horse as well as the following verse;
Mar not my face but let me be
Secure in this lone cavern by the sea
Let the wild waves around me roar
Kissing my lips for evermore

According to stories passed down over time, at the beginning of the 20th century, a woman was riding her horse along the beach and didn’t realise that the tide was coming in, which resulted in her being swept away with her horse.

The woman’s lover, Joseph Prater, was devastated and spent his days searching the beach desperate to find her. Some say, she wrote the verse as a warning to other beach users.

Piper’s Hole


On the island of Tresco, one of the Scilly Isles, you’ll find Piper’s Hole – which is connected via an underground passage to Piper’s Hole, St Mary’s. It’s at the bottom of Tregarthen Hill at the north east of the island.

Once you’ve scrambled over the rocks, the cave opens up to a small underground lake – and at the end is a small gravel beach. In day’s gone by it was a well known smuggler’s haunt – and was mined for tin in the 17th century. There are many legends about the deep sea cave, with one, stating that it was home to a mermaid. These days it’s a busy tourist attraction with many people visiting every year.

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