8 Bountiful Sea Glass Beaches in Cornwall

A wonderfully simple, accessible and yet surprisingly addictive (did I mention free!?) activity continues to attract enthusiasts in Cornwall. All year round our sandy beaches are scattered with sea glass, but some boast a much richer bounty of the little translucent treasures than others, whilst their offerings also vary considerably in terms of colour, size and shape. Above, you’ll find 8 of the best sea glass hunting beaches on the Cornish coastline, showing the rewards from just an hour of beachcombing at each spot.

What is Sea Glass?

Next time you’re ambling along your favourite Cornish beach, divert your eyes down and train them on the sand or shingle around your feet. It probably won’t be long before you spot a piece. Pick it up and run your fingers over its contours.

The practice of blowing glass has been going on for over six millennia, but it wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the 19th Century that mass production of glass bottles, tableware and window panes was made possible by new moulding techniques and machinery. With mass production, however, came mass waste. Unwanted glass would be readily dumped into the sea or thrown overboard from ships. Out of sight, out of mind. Well…not forever. Dragged along the sea floor by tides and currents, some of the glass would return to shore. Here it would endure months, years or even centuries of tossing and tumbling over rocks, shingle and sand, breaking it up and smoothing it into pebble like shapes.

If you’re lucky, your piece of sea glass might have survived its turbulent ordeal just well enough for you to glean some clue about its original incarnation: Perhaps a few letters from an embossed trademark or the stem of a bottle top.

Now notice the frosted texture. Glass is created by melting together Silica (from sand), soda ash (sodium carbonate) and limestone. After as many as twenty years of exposure to salt water, the soda and lime begin to leach out of the glass, leaving tiny pits on the surface. As they escape and react with other elements, small crystals are formed in the pits, giving the frosted, or sugary appearance. Because of the time this process takes, the amount of frosting is a good indicator of the age of a piece of sea glass. It is also a good way to tell artificial sea glass from the genuine article as the effect is difficult to replicate.

Lastly, admire the colour. This is the most telling factor in determining the origin of a piece of sea glass and what serious beachcombers obsess over. Indeed, the colour can make all the difference when it comes to valuation, with the rarest colours sometimes fetching hundreds of pounds at auction. As you can probably guess, the most common colours in the UK are green, white and brown, coming from wine bottles, beer bottles and window panes. Harder to come by, but still likely finds during an hour or so of hunting, are cobalt blue (think old medicine bottles), lime green, black (very hard to spot!) and lavender.

Glass naturally has a blue-green tint to it and to turn it completely clear an additional chemical must be added to the mix. In the early 20th century this chemical was produced in Germany and so when World War II broke out Britain’s supply was cut and manufacturers were forced to use a substitute. This stand-in chemical, however, had the odd effect of of turning the glass lavender colour over time. So, if you find a piece it could well be from wartime Britain!

The rarest colours include red, orange and turquoise. Red sea glass is perhaps the most sought after due to the fact that gold oxide was traditionally added to the achieve the colour. Subsequently, it was very expensive to produce and only ever used for a few mass produced items, such as out-to-sea warning lamps. You may even be lucky enough to find a multi-coloured piece from a marble or decorative ornament. For more on the the rarity of sea glass colours globally see this handy guide.

So, if you now have an appetite for a bit more beach combing, then see above for the best sea glass hunting spots in Cornwall. I spent just an hour collecting on each beach. If you’ve got a favourite spot of your own that you’d like to share please write a comment below. Happy hunting!

5 Quick Hunting Tips

  • Beaches near old harbours are ideal places to hunt sea glass because of the amount of maritime traffic they’ve seen over the years. Peninsulas and jutting headlands that catch currents are also great places to look.
  • I love a good Cornish storm but more than anything I love to see what treasures they churn up from the sea bed and deliver onto our beaches. Once calm is restored, hit the beach!
  • With a lot of casual and professional collectors out there (yes, some people make a living from selling sea glass!), obvious spots get thoroughly combed. So why not get off the beaten beach and find your own secret hunting ground. If safe, venture into beach caves and other less obvious spots.
  • Its not easy to spot sea glass (particularly when your eyes are 6ft from the ground like mine) so don’t be afraid to get down low and have a thorough scan.
  • One of the great things about sea glass hunting is that you can happily walk the length of a long beach without even realising it. This being said, you really don’t need to cover a whole beach if you have difficulty doing so. I’ve found just as many pieces whilst sitting in one spot and sifting through the sand around me.
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This Post Has 27 Comments

    1. Josh

      Hi Linda! Thanks, that’s really useful. 🙂

  1. Johnd775

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    1. Josh

      Hi John. Not a problem – please share away 🙂

  2. Tracey Cornwell

    Great to hear of the best Cornish beaches.My daughter and I are newbies!
    Have found some nice pieces though already.Both very addicted already

    1. Josh

      Hi Tracey. That’s brilliant. Any reds? 🙂

      1. Tracey Cornwell

        No reds yet but my daughter lives in hope! And for a bottle stopper or marble pref. Both!

  3. Gail Payne

    Lovely to find this! I’m over in Penzance from Scilly for a couple of days, i’m going to head to Marazion tomorrow for a sea-glass wreckie! Might have to weigh my bags first that I’ve already filled up with shopping and I’m only allowed 15kg on the plane! I’ll have to where layers with lots of pockets…

    1. Josh

      Hi Gail. Oh great lucky you – its a very nice day for a sea glass hunt – wish I was out there! I hope you find some beauties on Marazion beach! I don’t think I’ve got a single pocket on any coat that doesn’t have at least a piece of sea glass in it.

  4. Michelle Hill

    How do you get down to Falmouth Harbour or which part do you go too? I’ve never see any beaches in the harbour just over the other side starting at Castle Beach.

  5. Jo

    Great post. I’m heading to Cornwall in the summer and looking forward to some seaglass hunting. Thanks for the helpful list of locations.

  6. Josh

    Great Jo. It’s such a nice relaxing way to spend summer days on the beach.

  7. Marjon van Aken

    I’m new to seaglass,that’s to say on my vacation in Paignton in 2016 I heard of it first time.
    I found quite a bit in less then an hour on the beach of Looe.
    Many pieces are Minty Green,some dark Green..a few Brown and lots of White.
    one piece Is Orange but it’s too small to do anything with iy so I’ll just look at it.
    Thanks for the good tips.
    I hope I can get to any of those beaches but I can’t drive and by public transport most places are hard to get to

    1. Josh

      Brilliant Marjon! Let us know how you get on next time you visit! We found the biggest blue piece (probably from an old medicine bottle) last week – really pleased with it.

  8. Helen

    Just wanted to thank you for this post. Just had a week in Cornwall and wanted to look for seaglass. Sennen Harbour was great and we filled our pockets and even found the odd red and turquoise bit.
    Porthscatho also had lots of very smooth seaglass. Thanks again because without this list we’d have not known where to look

  9. Josh

    Hi Helen. I’m really happy to hear that. You found red pieces! Wow! We’d better get down to Sennen again. We were hunting on Portscatho last week and found some lovely bits. Please do let us know what you find on your next visit!

  10. Terry

    Down in Cornwall for a few days and we found that Carlyon Bay near St Austel is brilliant. The sand is quite weird so I did some Googling. It’s mostly made up of gravelly quartz. Up until the 1830s the beach did not exist. It was formed from the waste, washed down the Sandy River, from tin and china clay workings upstream. This gives you a clue – stuff naturally washes up here. The bay is currently the subject of a stalled development scheme so looks pretty scruffy but is OK if you ignore the construction crap towards the rear of the beach. There is a large, free car park with steps or a closed-to-traffic road leading down to the beach. Although it was a sunny May day, the beach was virtually deserted – just some joggers and local lads tomb-stoning off an island of rock.

    Mid-way along the beach, a river about 6″ deep and 10′ across flows down the beach. My wife and I walked the length of the beach at the high water mark (about 3 hours after high-tide), returning further up the beach. The best pickings are where you see areas of gravelly deposits on the sand. We collected around 2kg of sea glass and about the same of sea pottery. I imagine it would be brilliant after a good storm.

  11. Karen

    Really interesting blog! Found a couple of tiny bits in st Mawes a few weeks ago. Any thoughts on north Devon/Somerset beaches?

  12. Julie barber

    Such an intersting blog. I am new to sea glass. Always been a keen shell collector
    Live in norfolk but on a break on whitsand bay with my doggie. Can you revommend a spot ok for canine glass collectors.

  13. Josh

    Hi Karen. Have a look at Thurlestone Sands and Bovisands Bay, both in Devon. I haven’t been to them myself yet but rumour is they’re great spots! Josh

  14. Shirley Rawson

    I’m a regular at Pentewan and find loads there. It’s a lovely beach and divided by the White River which moves up and down the beach mysteriously! There’s rich pickings on both beaches but the larger beach belongs to a holiday company. You can park there but you have to pay for parking but if you go into the village there’s free parking although it gets very busy in the summer. It’s my happy place!

  15. Gillian Smith

    We went to Port Isaac Harbour yesterday and sat on the beach most of the day waiting for the “Fisherman’s Friends” charity concert. The children were so excited at the amount of sea glass they came across. They are going to make a 3D picture when we get home.

  16. Jo

    Hi there, thanks for sharing this information. Can you tell me which of these beaches are best for smooth seaglass? We often find beaches have chipped glass, which isn’t so good for making jewellery.

  17. Josh

    Hi Jo. Good question. We find the harbour beaches (Sennen and Falmouth) tend to have larger and less smooth pieces. Our finds on Marazion beach are almost always nice and smooth. Josh

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