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A guide to rockpooling in Cornwall

Along the rugged and spectacular coasts of Cornwall, there are miniature underwater worlds that are only exposed when the tides go out. These rock pools are teeming with marine life and are just waiting to be explored by budding naturalists and parents alike.

So, when you are down in the county and staying at one of the holiday parks in Cornwall, you need to remember to pack some wellies to go rockpooling with as well as your bucket and spade.

Rockpooling can provide hours of entertainment and in this guide, we take you through what a rock pool is, what wildlife you can find in them, some of the best locations to visit and expert tips.

What is a rock pool?

What is a rock pool

Rock pools, also known as tide pools, are rocky pools that are filled with seawater during high tides and at low tides exist as separate pools. These pools are usually home to unique marine animals that come in all shapes and sizes.

What wildlife can you find in rock pools in the UK?

Wildlife in rock pools in Cornwall

Despite the constantly changing environment of rock pools with varying water temperatures, salinity, oxygen levels as well as exposure to the midday sun, huge waves and strong currents, there are lots of marine life that live here.

Heather Buttivant, the creator of Cornish Rock Pools, a resource where you can find out everything you need to know about rock pools in Cornwall, told us about some of the animals she usually finds.

“Even in the smallest pools, you can find sea snails, colourful anemones, sponges, prawns and hermit crabs. Look out for small starfish with short arms called ‘cushion stars’.

“On a sunny day, there is nothing better than sitting by a pool watching the young shannies. These curious little fish prop themselves on their fins and will come to the edge of the pool to look at you. They have big eyes, toothy grins and can change colour to suit their surroundings.”

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall’s Learning Officer, Sophie Stanley-Butcher, spoke to us about some of the rock pool fish and other animals you can find at the beaches around Falmouth.

“As the tide goes out, Falmouth’s coastline rock pools come to life teeming with different creatures. Look closely and you will see a range of species including fish, crabs, starfish, and anemones. Amongst the rocks, you may spot the brilliant red eyes of a velvet swimming crab. Their body is covered in short hairs which gives these crabs their soft, velvety appearance but don’t be fooled, these crabs are feisty, and you’d be wise to stay away from their claws!”

Wildlife in rock pools in Cornwall

  • Shannies
  • Sea snails
  • Sea anemones
  • Sponges
  • Prawns
  • Hermit crabs
  • Other tiny shore crabs
  • Velvet swimming crab
  • Cushion stars (a type of starfish)
  • Blennies and gobies (tiny fish that hide behind seaweed)
  • Limpets and barnacles
  • Red, green and brown seaweeds

Where are the best beaches with rock pools in Cornwall?

Best beaches in Cornwall with rock pools

With the longest coastline in Great Britain (over 1,000km), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Cornwall has a plethora of beaches that are home to rockpools and an abundance of marine wildlife. With so much choice, it can be difficult to choose a beach to go rockpooling at, so we’ve looked to make it easier for you by highlighting some great ones that you can visit.

Hannafore Beach, West Looe

Hannafore Beach, which is under a 10-minute drive from our Tencreek holiday park, has some of the best rock pools in Cornwall. In fact, at low tide, there are more rock pools than you could ever imagine and there is a whole host of wildlife that you and your family can find living in them. The rock pools have a concrete path that gives you safe access to the pools and with its café, accessible toilets and nearby parking, you can easily spend the whole day exploring here.

Castle Beach, Falmouth

There aren’t huge amounts of sand here, but when it is low tide there are lots of rock pools that you can discover. The beach is the perfect spot to go rockpooling and the beach shop sells all the buckets and equipment you need to go on a rock pool safari.

Treyarnon Bay, Padstow

This wide-open bay has huge rock pools that are revealed when it is low tide and this is why everyone with a passion for rockpooling recommends the beach as one of the best to visit in Cornwall. These rock pools are home to a variety of sea creatures, but on top of this, you can go surfing, swimming or visit the shop and pick up a souvenir.

Duckpool Beach, close to Bude

This beach is dramatically located on the north coast of Cornwall and is surrounded by high cliffs. Once you’ve walked over the pebbles to the far end of the beach there are a number of rock pools where marine life such as large crabs live. The beach is perfect for going rockpooling, but it isn’t suitable for swimming as there are no lifeguards based here.

Talland Bay, Looe

There are two beaches at Talland Bay, which is located midway between Looe and Polperro. The beach to the west is a sandy beach that is not only perfect for swimming but at low tide, there are lots of rock pools that can be explored and wildlife to find. To the east, there is a beach that is less sandy but has small coves and natural tidal pools that you can swim in.

Porthmeor Beach, St. Ives

Situated in the shadow of the Tate St. Ives Gallery, this beach is popular with surfers and swimmers alike. It is also a popular destination for people who like to explore the many rock pools.

Miranda, the creator of St Ives By The Sea, a site that covers all things St Ives, told us that she often goes rockpooling at Porthmeor Beach.

“Rock pooling is one of our favourite activities to do as a family. We live in St Ives and love to walk down to Porthmeor Beach on a sunny day to potter around the rock pools at low tide. We also like to go to the rock pools at Godrevy, Mousehole (by the aptly named Rockpool Cafe) and Marazion.

“Our best ever find was a tiny octopus which we found in the rock pools by the walkway to St Michael’s Mount at Marazion.”

Expert tips for rockpooling

Children searching for wildlife whilst rockpooling

Rockpooling is a fun and interesting activity that you should definitely try when you are on holiday in Cornwall, but if it is your first time then there are some things you need to consider before you go out with your family. Here are some expert tips to take on board when exploring Cornwall’s rock pools.

Do your research

One of the first things you should do if you have never been rockpooling before is to do some research and find out about the wildlife you may come across and how you can keep safe.

Sophie Stanley-Butcher from the National Maritime Museum Cornwall told us about how they have some expert advice about keeping safe and lots of other information.

She said: “When rockpooling for the first time it is important to be prepared, our online trail is a great place to find expert advice. Before you head out, watch the videos to find out where to go, what to bring and how to keep safe. You can also learn more about the creatures you will find and how to take care of them.”

Check the tide times

The best time to go rockpooling is a few hours before low tide as this will give you a lot of time to explore the rock pools and get to the ones closest to the sea at very low tide as this is often where the best marine life lives.

Heather Buttivant, who is also the author of books such as Beach Explorer: 50 Things to See and Discover and Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides, said: “For a relaxed rockpooling session, arrive at the beach a couple of hours before low water so that you don’t risk being caught out by the rising tide. Steer clear of cliffs as rock falls can happen at any time and stay away from surging waves. Wellies or sturdy beach shoes are essential on slippery rocks.”

Useful equipment for rockpooling

You don’t need any equipment to go rockpooling, but Miranda, the blogger behind St Ives By The Sea, told us about some non-essential equipment you could take with you when exploring Cornwall’s rock pools.

“The lovely thing about rockpooling is that it is free. You really don’t need anything other than a pair of sharp eyes, a bendy back and lots of enthusiasm. We used to take nets with us, but after going on a guided rockpooling event we realised that nets can damage things and scare creatures away. The best thing to use to look under rocks and behind weeds is your own hands.

“Other useful, but non-essential equipment is:

  • a clear bucket or Tupperware partially filled with seawater and a few bits of seaweed. You can place your finds in it for a short while to look at them more closely. You must put them back where you found them, and don’t leave them in direct sunlight.
  • a magnifying glass. Looking at the smaller things through this is super interesting!
  • an underwater viewer. You can buy a ready-made one or make your own out of a clear plastic drinks bottle.
  • a waterproof camera. My 10-year-old has one of these and it takes the most amazing photos under the water.

“And of course, it is wise to wear sunscreen, a hat and some non-slip beach shoes.”

Heather Buttivant also said that there is not any need to buy special equipment if you want to go rockpooling as you can just use your hands.: “Sit quietly by a pool and you’ll be surprised by how much you can see without disturbing the wildlife. Nets harm delicate animals, but a clean margarine tub is perfect for scooping up any small creatures you want to look at. Keep plenty of seawater in your tub and make sure you leave the creatures, seaweed and rocks exactly as you found them.”

Join a rock pool ramble

Rock pool rambles are organised events that allow you to join experts as you explore different rock pools and they inform you of all the things you need to know and what to do when you find a crab or a fish in a rock pool.

Sophie Stanley-Butcher spoke to us about a rockpooling event that the National Maritime Museum Cornwall is involved in: “This May half term join us at the Museum to discover mini monsters and curious creatures. Experts from The Rock Pool Project will be on hand with their mobile rock pool to help you uncover more about the sea life in our Cornish waters. Put your creative skills to the test in Make & Take by designing your own rock pool and search the museum for cuddly crabs to earn your prize.

Heather Buttivant agrees that joining an organised tour of rock pools is the perfect way for first-timers to learn about the wildlife that lives in rock pools. She said: “For the very best rockpooling experience, join a Looe Marine Conservation Group rock pool ramble. The expert volunteers will teach you how to look after the wildlife and share amazing facts about rock pool wildlife. Cornwall Wildlife Trust and other marine groups around Cornwall also run events.”

Here at Dolphin Holidays, we offer cheap caravan holidays in Cornwall and when you are down here on holiday one of the most popular activities you can do at the beach is rockpooling. Our guide has shared information about the wildlife you can see in rock pools, the best beaches for rock pools in Cornwall and some expert tips you should consider when rockpooling. To read more articles and guides like this, check out our blog section.

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