Our guide to rock pooling
Our guide to rock pooling
When the tide is low there’s nothing quite like delving into rock pools for a healthy glug of traditional family fun with a side helping of eco learning. Clamber over rocks, pull up your sleeves and see what you can find. Here’s where to go, what to do and what to look out for.
Grab a bucket and you’re good to go. Rock pooling is gloriously simple and fuss-free. It’s also worth throwing on some shoes that you don’t mind getting wet to protect your feet while scrambling over rocks and to avoid slipping on seaweed. Rock pools are where Crocs get fashionable!
You might be tempted to take a fishing rod but they are generally discouraged as they can disrupt sensitive ecosystems - it’s much better to scoop your finds up in a bucket or to pick them up carefully.
Where to go
Beaches with fairly low yet rugged rocks are the best for rock pooling as they’re nice and accessible for little legs and there are plenty of pools to fill with sea water. Luckily for us, there are lots of beaches with just the right conditions not far from Heligan and Pentewan…
With its lovely sandy beach and high cliffs, Pentewan Beach is fantastic for rock pooling. As the tide recedes, the rock pools are exposed leaving behind a wealth of sea-life within them. There's also a handy identification board near the Hubbox to help you identify your sea treasures.
Enjoying a good spot in St Austell Bay between Mevagissey and Charlestown, this lovely sand and shingle beach is sheltered from the winds by high cliffs. Families love Porthpean beach for its shallow waters and rock pools that are teaming with life. You’ll also find useful facilities here such as toilets and a café, as well as kayaking hire should you fancy taking your marine exploration oceanside.
Gorran Haven Beach
As the name of the village implies, haven means a place of shelter and at this beach you’ll find a safe sandy shoreline and a calm sea protected by the impressive 400-ft high Dodman Point peninsula. The rock pools here are small but perfectly formed.
You’ll find this National Trust beach just north of Portscatho on the beautiful Roseland Peninsula. With all the ingredients for a great family-friendly beach, its edges are strewn with rock pools covered with striking multi-coloured seaweed.
Sitting in front of Caerhays Castle, the position of Porthluney Cove is as impressive as its features. At low tide, you will find its west side awash with rock pools and there’s also a great little café, gorgeous golden sand and plenty of room for beach games.
And further afield in Cornwall but well worth the journey…
Castle Beach, Falmouth
This narrow little beach on Falmouth seafront is super accessible and for its size boasts extensive rocks that are revealed even when the tide has barely started to retreat. Families pour here for its safe conditions which coupled with all the must-have facilities make it a top rock pooling spot.
Treyarnon Bay, near Padstow
Huge expanses of golden sand here are flanked by vast rocky areas that are home to umpteen rock pools. There’s even a natural sea pool for those wanting to take their rock pooling to the extreme.
Part of a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area, Polzeath Beach is renowned for its marine wildlife that can be found clinging to the rocks and hiding amongst the crevices. Popular with everyone from surfers to families, Polzeath Beach is well loved for its central location and everything-thought-of facilities.
What to look out for
You’ve got the right tools and are in the right place but what do you look out for? Well, in Cornwall’s rock pools you can expect to find a whole underworld of marine life lurking beneath…
Start by using your eyes to see what’s swimming about. You might see small fish such as a goby, butterfish or if you’re lucky a blenny, with its distinctive red eyes and red tentacles. Or perhaps your rock pool is home to a long and thin pipefish? There’s also a chance you’ll spot prawns but blink and you’ll miss them as they’re super quick and so transparent that you can see all their internal organs.
What’s that lurking at the bottom of the rock pool? It could be a beautiful starfish or (not so beautiful) sea slug, or is it a sea anemone that looks like colourful, underwater blooms?
You’ll have to do a bit of work to find these ones as they’re most at home hidden under a rock or tucked away behind a blanket of seaweed. Move carefully and you might just tempt a sea squirt or sea sponge to say hello and was that a crab scuttling out of view?
Don’t forget to check the rocks too and take note of the limpets, mussels and dogwhelk clinging to the side waiting for the tide to cover them.
When rock pooling ALWAYS remember that you are delving into a fragile habitat. It is a special place that should be left as it was found. Follow the Seashore Code to make sure you act responsibly and do your bit to care for the beach.
- Leave live animals and seaweeds where you find them
- Always replace overturned rocks – they are someone’s home
- Take your litter home with you or put it in a bin
- Take only photos, leave only footprints
- Be careful on the shore at all times; check the tides and keep away from the cliffs
- Report anything unusual washed up on the beach or spotted offshore
Keep an eye on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust website for details of regular Rockpool Safaris which offer a great chance to explore the secret lives of crabs, fish and other marine creatures with an expert in tow.