Harlyn Bay Experience

Harlyn Bay

Harlyn Bay, on the north coast of Cornwall is one of my ‘go to’ places on the planet for rest, waves and recuperation. I love the Harlyn Bay experience.

There’s something special about Harlyn and its position, sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds. When the north coast is being ravaged by storms, Harlyn produces clean, smooth surf and sometimes, around mid tide, will give you short, hollow rides that are up there with the top beach breaks around the world.

Harlyn may not ever produce the biggest waves or the crowds, but that’s the point. It’s a little gem with white sand, clear water and enough room to choose between the line-up, or at the far end of the beach, your own, meditative space.

The place has a very different feel to many of the hyped surfing spots like Polzeath, Fistral and the beaches around Bude. Harlyn knows what it is, what it wants to be and who it likes to encourage to enjoy it.

And it’s not just the surfers who love Harlyn. On one winter’s day a few years ago, I was sitting in a small line-up, quietly waiting for the next set. The others around me, nobody I knew, were doing the same. We wait, we stare at the horizon in a knowing kind of way, patiently anticipating some upcoming fun as we are joined by a choice of 6-7 waves, before the next lull sets in.

grey seal

But this moment was different, because as surfers we weren’t alone. As we waited, a huge head emerged from the water, some 10m away from us. A large bull grey seal, inquisitive and friendly. He was enormous at such close range. We stared in awe and he stared back at us, watching our reaction. He surveyed the scene, slowly turning his head to check us all out, almost questioning us to justify why we were in his playground.

Our eyes seemed to connect for minutes, but it might, in reality, have been much less than that. As the water started to drop, with the arrival of the next set of waves, he slowly and majestically lowered his head and was gone.

Ignoring the incoming waves, we all looked at each other. No words were needed. We’d just experienced one of those moments that we would never forget. A true connection with something else with which we humans share this planet. We were in his world and he knew it.

The moment was almost as if he came to check if we were respecting his beach and his water. By each of our reactions it was clear that we were.

It only remains to be said that as we were reflecting together on what has just happened, in our Harlyn Bay experience, we were hit by the biggest set of the day. Trashed by his waves and his water. Perhaps he knew and was just reminding us that the sea is not ours and if we choose to use it for work or pleasure we should always remember to respect the water and the vital ecosystem within it.