A January Dune Walk in Cornwall

Pip Cook

Arriving in haste at eight o’clock on the dunes at Penhale, Cornwall, I had just missed the dawn sky, its ephemeral drama faded, bar a strip of lit cloud on the horizon. It had been replaced by a blank, grey sky, spitting rain and an insistent breeze. Despite a number of cars parked at the dune entrance, there was barely a passer-by - only two dog walkers sighted- and as I walked seawards, the landscape felt wild and the solitude, a comfort. I have always loved terrain whose treasures need to be sought out by careful looking and even on a grey January day, there are plenty of wildlife finds on the sand dunes.

The night’s burrowers have left their traces: the mounds of sandy soil excavated by moles and the smaller foothills of minotaur beetles, next to their finger-width tunnels extending a metre or more down into the sand. Amongst the wind-pruned scrub, there are blackbirds, robins and small flocks of timid redwings, flying up at the least disturbance. At the base of this hawthorn and blackthorn are entrances, which have been moulded by the repeated passage of rabbits and badgers, the thorny thickets providing a perfect fortress of defense.

Pip blog penhale 1

Bleak dune slacks ripple, filled by winter rain; wind-blown, they are punctuated by the brown stalks of last year’s water mint. By the edges, magpies and carrion crows search opportunistically, pecking and plucking at the wet ground.

As I continue westward, the sea’s roar begins to make itself heard and a flock of small birds sweeps and twitters overhead, too quickly for identification. The ground is littered with the tiny white shells of those dainty molluscs, pointed snails. There is a peep from a nearby meadow pipit keeping a safe distance on the ground, its pink legs scurrying in short bursts as it feeds on invertebrates living in the short, rabbit-grazed grass.

Against the grey sky, the winter colours of the dunes are vibrant: the golden sand and silvery slacks set against a backdrop of dun grass and bronzed stems of summer’s foliage.

I may have missed the dawn light but I am restored by being outdoors and observing nature going about its business. As always, a walk in the dunes has replenished my drive to protect this special habitat and to keep it rich in wildlife.


A view over a grassy sand dune with a patch of bare sand and a grey winter sky

About the Author

Pip Cook
Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Pip is a project support apprentice working for Cornwall Wildlife Trust on the Dynamic Dunescapes project. She lives in Perranporth near one of our fabulous dune sites, Penhale. She is loving the opportunity to be involved in protecting and restoring the sand dunes and learning lots about the fascinating plants and creatures that live in them. Also an artist, the dunes are also providing plenty of inspiration for future work. If you would like to see any of Pip’s work, go to her Instagram page.