Here’s my own personal list of some of my favourite campsites on the South West, North Coast. They are all within easy distance of great beginner – intermediate surf spots. The list starts right down in the depths of Cornwall and works its way up to the North coast of Devon.
Although there are many campsites by surf spots all along the coast, I have only included sites that aren’t going to break the bank, have a relaxed feel and (ideally) allow open fires. No heated swimming pools or arcades type sites on the list.
For surf spots the aim is to provide a brief over view rather than going into details about best wind conditions tides etc. These can all be found in the usual places (wave finder book, magic seaweed etc)
This is all just my own personal opinion – a beginners beach on a small day can quickly turn into an advanced beach on a windy/ big swell so always make sure you swim/surf at a lifeguarded beach.
Where? – Sennen
Campsite – First and last Inn
Surf spots – Sennen Cove / Gwynver
The first and Last Inn goes on the old 28 day rule so it is only open from the 5th of August to the 2nd of September. Don’t expect much for facilities, there is a tap and some portable loos. However, what you do get is a campsite really close to the surf (couple of miles) a big flat field and a great pub with excellent ales and even better bands right on the doorstep. When I was last there it was an absolute bargain at only £5 per tent so well worth a trip.
Sennen is a great beach with crystal clear water, when small its a reasonably good beach for beginners but given a bit of size and power it can get a little bit fierce and with some moderate rips. Great pubs right on the doorstep, cafes surf shop etc. Good little spot.
Round the corner you get Gwynver. Although for some reason Fistral seems to get all the accolades for being the most consistent surf destination on the West Coast I will happily nail my colours to the mast and say that when all hope seems lost and everything is looking flat you are far more likely to get surf at Gwynver than any other beach on the North coast.
Unfortunately this isn’t right on the sea but a couple of miles away. There are 5 or 6 campsites closer to Gwithian beach than this one but they are all the large touring park places. Reasonably basic but in a really beautiful location with Tehidy country park on the doorstep
This a really relaxing campsite and in low season at £12 per night it is great value. The owners are lovely, really friendly and helpful. It’s a fairly small site but even at peak season it never feels crowded.
A great place to relax and take things slowly.
Gwithian is a huge expanse of beautiful white sandy beach. It is a beach that offers something for everyone depending on the size of the swell. On a small gutless day it is absolutely great for beginners as there is so much room here you can easily find a spot all to yourself. It has life guards all along the beach and the further south you head toward Gwithian the smaller the wave so on a manageable day you can almost select the size of wave you want based on your ability. As it is such a huge beach there is rarely great competition for waves so I have always found it a very friendly atmosphere in the water.
When the swell picks up it is definitely more of an intermediate spot as low tide especially can produce barrelling waves with some nasty rips that might cause a few problems. A bigger wave can usually be found towards the north end of the beach.
Where? – St Merryn
Campsite – Carnevas
Surf Spots – Constantine, Treyanon, Harlyn
I was a little reluctant to include this campsite on the list as being a big touring park it doesn’t really fit the mandate. However, it has made it because I really love this part of Cornwall, for surfing and for the general relaxed feel and beauty of the place. Although there are many campsites around St Merryn none of the other ones come even close to fitting the brief and are very expensive. So basically until somebody opens up a nice little farm campsite this one is staying on the list (my friend also works here so perhaps I am a little biased)
Away from the main site and all the touring units etc what this campsite does have however have is a massive camping field which is so big you will nearly always find a spot to yourself. It also has very decent showers and a friendly atmosphere. The Tredrea Inn within a half a mile walk which as some good beer, a nice beer garden and often has some great live music. Another few hundred metres there is Porthcothan bay. Not very consistent for surfing and unlikely to be working in the summer but a really beautiful beach with stunning cliff top walks. Great for a bbq and late night / early morning swim.
You have tonnes of options within a small drive away such as water gate bay etc but on the doorstep by the far the most consistent is Constantine (which also happened to be Margaret Thatcher’s favourite walking spot so if that doesn’t sell it to you I don’t know what will) Really beautiful bay, parking’s a little tricky, its free right next to the beach (which is a little un heard of in Cornwall) but there isn’t a great deal of it but there are other options if you don’t mind a walk. Beach break in the centre and reef either side so a really good set up for varied abilities. Can produce a powerful steep wave so intermediate spot when big.
There is an old fashioned coffee cart that parks up by the beach which does some nectar coffee so definitely worth stopping at
Where? – Bude
Campsite – Penhalt farm.
Surf Spots – Quite a few although the best for beginners is Widemouth
Penhalt farm campsite is in a stunning location overlooking the sea only a mile from Widemouth bay. It is on a working farm and offer 8 acres of camping so usually find a spot to yourself apart from in peak season. Unfortunately no open fires to protect the grass but chimeneas are fine (we think – we have always got away with having one)
There are quite a few beaches in and around Bude. However, the best for beginners is almost certainly Widemouth as this offers a mile long stretch of lifeguarded beach. Their are however a few rocky hazards to look out for but between the lifeguarded flags there will be no problems.
Another intermediate / advanced option is Duckpool beach. This is a really striking, off the beaten track cove that is definitely worth taking a look at. At low tide it joins up with Sandy mouth and North cott and there are some really striking rock formations. Great for exploring with a snorkel on a flat day.
I have read a couple of books stating it is a beginners beach but this certainly isn’t the case as there can be some nasty rocks and some even nastier rips that can take you out behind the cliffs and leave you no way of paddling in. There are a whole host of less well known spots all along this stretch of coast but probably the most consistent are the the more well known Widemouth and Crooklets.
Where? – Westward Ho!
Campsite – Westacott farm
Surf Spots – Westward Ho!
This site is literally on my doorstep as we are based in Northam which nearly joins onto Westward ho!
Absolutely wonderful site and a real gem to have so close. Views extend over to Lundy Island and there are some great walks down to green cliff shoreline (pebble beach) The thatch inn in Abbotsham is also a nice circular walk and is a classic Devon pub, dogs in the bar, fires in the winter and a nice beer garden for the summer (you also have the pig on the hill nearby)
The campsite offers fire pits with seating which is a really nice touch, they have great local devon produce sold in the shop and to top if all off the owners are incredibly friendly. Just a really nice site all round.
Westward ho! Its self is almost unrecognisable from as little as 5 years ago. The arcades have mostly all gone, the front has been revamped and the arcades have all been replaced by cafes bars and restaurants and food is all wonderful. 50’s style Tea on the green has quietly been making a name for itself as one of the best cafe’s in Devon along with Morans Thai restaurant.
Definitely the best beach for beginners or long boarders on the list, Westward ho! offers miles of golden sand, a gentle relaxed wave and friendly locals. For long boarders, small waves on a low tide can go for miles. Although most days it is a great beginner’s beach but given a decent amount of power and a mid to high tide it can produce a reasonable wave. Like Saunton because it has such a large tidal range on big days, and at low tide, getting out back can be a real struggle so it is best to wait for the tide to come in for a much easier paddle out. There are various peaks all along the beach, due to the estuary there can be rips and these become much more noticeable on big swells.
Lifeguards at two different sections of the beach and surf hire/shop at Westward ho! end. Really lovely beach all round.
Where? – Woolacombe
Campsite – Little Roadway farm
Surfing – Woolacombe
When most people go to North Devon Invariably they will end up in Croyde. I would however recommend Woolacombe over Croyde especially in peak season. Croyde isn’t a big beach and I have never seen crowds like it outside of London. It is a great surfing destination but certainly not for beginners and even for advanced during busy times of the year you will have to fight for every inch of water. On a weekday in the middle of winter I can certainly recommend it but in summer, no. There is of course the much more beginner friendly Saunton over the corner but camping nearby isn’t really possible except in Croyde, parking is shockingly expensive peak season and the one road around it gets clogged with traffic.
Little roadway farm campsite is in a tucked away position in Woolacombe but within easy walk of the town and also within walk to Woolacombe beach. It doesn’t have the stunning views of say ovis farm or Westacott or the nice little touches such as the communal fire pits but it’s a good sized campsite, has good facilities and a whole host of animals kicking about the place from pigs to alpacas. We sometimes come here with a big group of friends and always feel welcome.
Best to probably walk from the campsite as parking in the summer can be problematic. By far the best parking is however the parking Marine drive which is the long car park at the back of the sand dunes which stretches a good portion of Woolacombe beach. From here it’s easier to access the quieter bits of the beach, its normally a good price and it’s also a good place to stop and have a BBQ and still have your van nearby.
On small days its a great beginners beach as it offers a huge stretch of golden sand and very few rocks. It also doesn’t get nearly as crowded as Croyde/Saunton and you can nearly always find a quieter bit to yourself.
On bigger/powerful swells it can produce a hollow wave that breaks close to the beach so best for intermediates + when the swell picks up.
Thanks for reading! Please take a look at the rest of the site for other campsite recommendations and everything you would ever want to know about canvas tents.