Carnota, dolphin spotting on the Coast of Death

Our first sight of Carnota’s majestic sweep of sparkling golden sand was breathtaking. High in the hills above the ocean, the panoramic views were little short of spectacular. Even for Galicia, which has more than a few magnificent beaches, Carnota is epic in its size and beauty. It was early morning, and the sea mist that has probably contributed to the name of this coastline, was rolling off the water. It was a dreamlike scene. We set off down the winding mountain road, keen to feel sand between our toes.

We didn’t have enough time on this trip to truly explore the Costa da Morte, to give it its Galician name, and this day trip from Cambados was for research purposes. We’ll definitely be coming back. It’s utterly beguiling. Our satnav had taken us on a strange inland diversion, guiding us through the forested hills behind Carnota to the Mirador Paxareiras. We’d passed through more of Galicia’s lush countryside before we came to the stunning finale of our journey.

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Punta Lariño lighthouse, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

On a sunny day and under a blue sky, the moniker of the ‘Coast of Death’ might seem a little overwrought. To fully understand how it gained such infamy, I guess you’d need to see it during one of its frequent storms. The Atlantic is an unforgiving ocean, and this coast has a treacherous reputation for good reason. Thousands of ships have been lost along this coastline, driven onto hidden rocks by fierce storms. Not all shipwrecks were caused by storms, however.

This is a region of myth, legend and folklore, and stories tell of ships being lured onto the rocks by locals. One peculiar story tells of torches attached to the horns of cows to confuse unsuspecting sailors and lead them to their death. Small boats would launch from shore and scavenge cargo from the wrecks. Even when not lured to their terrible fate, shipwrecks could expect little from those on shore. One, the Priam, had its entire cargo of gold and silver watches stolen.

Many of the ships that were wrecked along this coastline were British, and it was the British who first coined the name, Coast of Death. This was later picked up by Spanish media in Madrid. The name stuck. Our thoughts were as far from such terrible deeds as you can get as we walked through the low dunes behind Carnota beach, it was simply magnificent. On the beach, the last wisps of sea mist were rolling across the sand as the sun broke through the haze.

Carnota beach is 7km long, and we strolled for an hour before cooling off in the waves and resting on the sand. It’s fair to say the waters of the Atlantic are not warm, but they are exhilarating. Waves here can be large and powerful, as one crashed into me I swear I saw fish swimming through it. Bizarrely, we’d come completely unprepared for a day at the beach, not even towels. After a couple of hours enjoying a largely empty beach we headed south.

Dolphins, Playa de Lariño, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Dolphins, Playa de Lariño, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Playa de Lariño, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Carnota, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

Playa de Lariño, Costa da Morte, Galicia, Spain

We were going to Muros for lunch, but first we stopped off at Larino Beach, this proved a wise choice. As we lay on the sand gazing out to sea, a Bottlenose dolphin pod started to frolic in the water. They put on an acrobatic show: leaping, spinning and enjoying themselves in front of awestruck people on the beach. It’s a reminder of the diversity of this coastline, which has four types of dolphin, porpoise, orcas and sightings of five types of whale.

The Coast of Death is very much alive.