I would never have found the tidal pool at Porthtowan, or even set off looking for it, without Kate Rew’s ‘Wild Swim’ book. The pool isn’t sign posted and there’s no mention of it on any of the beach maps by the car park or at the edge of the sand. I set off up the cliff path to the right of the beach, just like the book says. It’s precariously close to the edge, a muddy track between ankle high grassbanks, and I’m not sure I’ve got the right path. I’m literally about to turn back when I see steps descending down. A few paces more and I can see the pool, flat and green at the bottom of the stone staircase in front of me. Congratulating myself and starting to get shivery with anticipation, I head down. The sun has gone by this time and the air is lightly misted with sea spray and the coming cloud of early evening. The pool lies glittering beneath a shelf of rock. And then the steps run out!
Tumbling rock falls down to the pool, big boulders at its edge, but up here it’s sliced diagonally, with very little purchase for hands or feet. I look at it and moan. It’s so close. I’ve been wanting to visit this pool since I first saw it in the pages of ‘Wild Swim’ back in 2014. And now I’m here and I can’t quite get there. And so I try.
I sit down so it feels less vertiginous, spider my way forward and down. But then there’s a point where there’s no more rock. It drops down to the level of the pool, but the drop from my overhang is at least as tall as I am, and I don’t think I can jump, let alone get back up after. To the other side there is a more gradual sloping, but the stone is smooth and sharp and I don’t have grip-heavy shoes on. I test it, one foot and my eyes seeking out any purchase. I swear a bit and tell myself I’m fine over and over. And then I decide that actually, I don’t want to die. I’m being an idiot, crabbing backwards down a rock face. I want to swim, I drove a long way, but my heart is thudding and I really don’t want to break a leg, or worse. I haul myself up and go back up the stupid, treacherous stairs.
Plan B. It might not be what the book said, but I’ve assessed the situation and it’s the only other thing that feels safe. Going round by the beach, clambering over the big, flat, barnacle covered boulders and reaching the pool that way. Technically a longer, further distance, but closer to sea level. The tide is very far out and not due back in for a while and I know I have time. I wouldn’t have attempted this if there was any chance of getting cut off by the tide.
It takes a bit of scrambling but I get there. I’m hot from the exertion although the sun is long gone, and the cool water is a relief. It’s a milky green, especially at the base of the cliff where it takes on an almost ethereal glow. And it’s clean and flat, sheltered from the raging surf Cornwall is so known for. The rocks at the bottom are silky with wet green strands of moss and weed, shiny like hair. It’s not deep and I can stand at all points. There’s a small cave, just a tiny overhang of rock at one side. The wall that runs parallel to the sea comes to my waist when I pull myself out of the water to stand behind it. The water is much lower and a ledge runs inside the outer wall, softened like the rocks with the green carpeting. On the horizon the sky is peachy and the sun is beginning to set behind streaky clouds.
I see no one here. The pool is completely hidden from the beach. You would have to aim for it to get here. I’m so glad I made the effort.
On the clamber back to the beach, the tide still firmly out, I watch the sun twinkle orange through a gap in the cloud. The colours are reflected back at me from the wet sand in the distance and my edges are glowing, defined by the recent clarity of the water.
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