British beaches - England
Often spacious and spectacular,
with fine sand, efficient access, good facilities and safety precautions (some would argue too many), but UK beaches suffer from cold water (September is best for warmer swimming), occasional pollution , generally rather coarse yellow sand, shigle or pebbles and unreliable, fast-changing weather conditions.
From mid June to mid September beach-lovers are most likely to get toasted, but it's a gamble at any time. Be prepared for anything is the bottom line; walking is always a good alternative if the weather goes wobbly as Britain's coast is lined with well-posted, picturesque trails, lovely even if it is drizzling. The lengthy South West Coast Path is particularly impressive.
Bournemouth's 7 miles of soft, well-sorted sand, and fine promenade, Dorset.
Bugbog's best UK beaches listing starts on the south west coast with Dorset, Devon and Cornwall counties due to the many spectacular beach locations, the outstanding sights and entertainments available on 'off beach' days, the plethora of awards for efficiency and cleanliness received and the warmer, drier weather due to the latitude and micro-climates.
Porthcurno beach, Cornwall.
Woolacombe Bay, Devon.
Brighton beaches, East Sussex, looking east from the pier.
Brighton's beach can hardly be described as one of Britain's best in terms of swimmability but deserves inclusion for the great walks and entertainments along both upper and lower promenades, the brash pier, the long history of the city and the easy access from London for day trippers since the one hour rail connection was completed in 1841.
Broadstairs beach, Kent
Broadstairs is a tranquil old resort town 78 miles from London and only 15 from medieval Canterbury, a place to experience old-style, traditional British beach-going, complete with donkey rides, live bands (brass bands, not the modern racket made by surly long-hairs, damn their girly looks) and fireworks in summertime. Old fashioned it is, but Broadstairs still offers fine, large beaches (Viking Bay is the big one but another six are available if space runs out) with soft sand, Blue Flag waters and an air of timeless gentility that is missing from neighbouring Ramsgate or Margate.
Bamburgh Castle beach, Northumberland.
Not exactly a great beach in terms of climate and facilities perhaps but Bamburgh beach's spectacular setting is great compensation, with not only the biggest sand castle you've ever seen behind you and a half-crown of glossy grassy dunes, but also views across to Lindisfarne, the moors of Northumberland and the medieval walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Bamburgh is near Berwick-upon-Tweed, off the A1 motorway.
Sandscale Hawes, like Bamburgh is more about staggering views on a lovely bit of dune-clustered sand than traditional fooling about in the water with the kids, but what dunes (700 acres), what bird life and what peaks in the distance!
Isles of Scilly
Higher Town Bay, St Martin's, Isles of Scilly, UK
If you don't mind a bit of travel time the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, host some of the best British beaches, especially the tiny island of St Martin's (pop. 140), its one hotel, St Martin's on the Isle and solitary pub. Get there via ferry from the biggest of the Scilly islands, St Mary's.
Another island, Tresco, not only offers more great beaches - such as Appletree Bay - but also a botanical fairyland of 20,000 exotic world plants scattered with strange statuary, in Tresco Abbey Gardens.
Getting there: Flights go to the Scillies from Land's End, Newquay, Exeter, Bristol, Southampton mostly only in summertime, check the Skybus Timetable. Ferries run from Penzance, along the Cornish coast to St Mary's from April to end of October and take 2hrs 40 minutes. Timetables.
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Watergate Bay, Newquay. Two miles of sand backed by cliffs and caves.
Porthcurno, South Cornwall. Easily accessible, it has fine white sand and is popular with families. More information and pictures above.
Pentle Bay, Isles of Scilly. Bleached white sand, emerald ocean dotted with islands and impossibly blue sky. Everything is light, bright, almost tropical in its brilliance.
Saunton Sands, North Devon. An untamed three-mile stretch of beach swept by Atlantic rollers and backed by one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK, home to many plants and butterflies.
Blackpool Sands, South Devon. Three miles from Dartmouth is this sheltered curve of fine shingle, backed by wooded hills. It's popular with families as its turquoise waters are clean and usually calm and kayaks and paddle boards are available for hire.
Studland Bay, Dorset. Four miles of pristine white sand shelving gently into Bournemouth Bay, with a backdrop of dunes and heathland. More information and pictures above.
Compton Bay, Isle of Wight. An unspoilt stretch of coast between the English Channel and the grassy downs of West Wight. Access from the clifftop car parks is by steep wooden steps.
West Wittering, Sussex. The fine, open stretch of sand, overlooking the Solent and Chichester harbour, is spotlessly clean and at low tide there are pools for paddling. Out on the water, acrobatic windsurfers sweep past, but get there early for parking.
Botany Bay, Kent. The most northerly of Broadstairs's beaches, and perhaps the prettiest – a long crescent of sand backed by white cliffs, rock pools and safe swimming. At low tide it's possible to walk to Joss Bay, Kent's premier surfing beach.
Walberswick, Suffolk. The wooden bridge leading from the pretty village of Walberswick to the beach is busy with families heading for the ridge of dunes and this long, empty stretch of sandy beach.
Wells/Holkham, Norfolk. Rolling dunes and a vast stretch of sand, midway along the north Norfolk coast. You can find a spot here or walk east on a path through the pine woods to the more sheltered beach at Wells-next-the-Sea. In summer it's easier to park at Wells and walk the other way. But take a windbreak and watch for the incoming tide.
Bamburgh, Northumberland. Under the battlements of Bamburgh Castle, this gorgeous stretch of wild coastline offers clear seas and three miles of sands.
Formby, Lancashire. Massive dunes and views from this huge and unspoilt beach enjoyed by few humans but many red squirrels.
Sandsend, Yorkshire. Backed by grassy cliffs, where the wide sweep of Whitby beach ends, this stretch is more tranquil and attractive than its popular neighbour.
Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire. A superb strand with magnificent cliffs, island views, fossils, seals and surf. A half mile walk from the car park, but worth every step.
Rhossili beach, Gower. This 4 mile beach is foot friendly - even if the cliff path approach is not - and loved by both walkers and surfers though the Atlantic rollers are a bit brutal for the average swimmer.
Lunan Bay, East Scotland. This fantastic two-mile stretch on the Angus coast is embraced by dunes and overlooked by Red Castle, a dilapidated 12th-century fortress. Excellent for bird watching, Lunan Bay is also favoured by surfers and board riders.
Sandwood Bay (Cape Wrath), West Scotland. Sutherland's, and possibly Scotland's, best beach is a magnificent, mile-long stretch of golden sand beaten by North Atlantic rollers and backed by sinuous dunes.
Portstewart Strand, Northern Ireland. Bounded at one end by low basalt cliffs and at the other by a river, the dunes that back the two-mile-long Strand reach heights of 100ft and more, lending it an air of wildness and mystery, and the waves that crash on to the beach provide reasonable surfing.
Britain's Top 20 beaches according to the Telegraph Travel section in 2012:
Watergate Bay, Newquay
Two miles of golden sand backed by cliffs and caves, where the Atlantic swells produce reliable surf and peregrine falcons, gulls and fulmars wheel overhead. Spot strawberry anemones and crabs among the rock pools, walk along the clifftop, or book a surfing or traction kiting lesson with the excellent Extreme Academy on the beach (01637 860543; www.watergatebay.co.uk)
Porthcurno, near Land's End
Set beneath the clifftop Minack Theatre, this is arguably the county's most beautiful bay: a funnel of sand caught between lichen-encrusted granite cliffs. Easily accessible, it has fine white sand and is popular with families. It's best at low tide when you can walk to other beaches in the bay (one of which is nudist) and sit on sandbars beneath the ancient cliff fort of Treryn Dinas, surrounded by Grecian-blue water.
Isles of Scilly
Pentle Bay, Tresco
Pentle Bay induces a broad grin. You can't help it after crossing Tresco Island's lush interior and walking through sandy grass into a wall of dazzling colour: bleached white sand, emerald-and-turquoise ocean dotted with islands and impossibly blue sky. Everything is light, bright, almost tropical in its brilliance. It takes a dip in the briny – two degrees colder than the mainland – to confirm that you are still in Britain.
See www.tresco.co.uk for details of hotel and self-catering accommodation, and of Tresco Stores, a good source of picnic supplies.
Behind this untamed three-mile stretch of beach is Braunton Burrows, one of the largest sand- dune systems in Britain, and home to myriad rare plants and butterflies. Atlantic rollers sweep on to the vast sandy beach.
Three miles south-west of Dartmouth is this sheltered and peaceful crescent of fine shingle, backed by wooded hills. It's popular with families, and a great spot for swimming as its turquoise waters are clean and usually calm. You can hire kayaks and paddle boards.
Four miles of pristine white sand, which shelves gently into milky-blue waters, with a backdrop of dunes and heathland. The northern stretch, most easily reached by chain ferry, has an away-from-it-all, desert-island feel, appreciated by the naturist sunbathers at Shell Bay; the southern Knoll Beach is popular with families.
Isle of Wight
A rural and unspoilt stretch of coast caught between the English Channel and the grassy downs of West Wight. Walk south to Brook Bay at low tide and you may find ancient dinosaur tracks revealed on the foreshore, or spot fossils in the crumbling cliffs (see www.dinosaurisle.com for details of fossil walks). Access from the clifftop car parks (National Trust) is by steep wooden steps.
It's a long, narrow and often traffic-choked road to the Witterings from Chichester, but that's what gives this Sussex beach its remote feel. The fine, open stretch of sand, overlooking the Solent and Chichester harbour, is spotlessly clean and at low tide there are pools for paddling. Out on the water, acrobatic windsurfers sweep past. From the far western end, you can cross a narrow ridge to East Head, a lovely and remote sand-dune spit at the mouth of the harbour. Get there early to avoid the queues and bag a parking spot.
Stay at one of the many properties available throughwww.holidaylettings.co.uk/west-wittering.
Eat at the well-run beach café, which serves a range of snacks and sandwiches.
This is the most northerly of Broadstairs's beaches, and perhaps the prettiest – a 660ft curve of sand backed by white cliffs, with chalk stacks, rock pools and safe swimming. At low tide you can walk to Joss Bay, Kent's best surf beach.
The wooden bridge leading from the picturesque village of Walberswick to the beach is always crammed with children clutching crabbing lines and plastic buckets. Clamber over the ridge of dunes into the magical light of the Suffolk coast and you'll understand why so many artists are drawn to paint this long and empty stretch of sandy beach.
You don't know the meaning of "big sky" until you cross the wooden boards through the dunes and tip out on to this vast stretch of sand, midway along the north Norfolk coast. You can lay out your beach towels here or walk east on a path through the pine woods to the slightly more sheltered beach at neighbouring Wells-next-the-Sea. In high summer it's easier to park at Wells and walk the other way. In any case, take a windbreak – and watch out for the caprices of the incoming tide.
Set against a backdrop of grassy cliffs, where the wide sweep of beach from Whitby ends, this stretch is quieter and prettier than its famous neighbour. Children play in the little becks that flow across the sand and ducks waddle across the green in charming Sandsend village. This is a great place for fossil hunting at low tide.
Overlooked by Bamburgh Castle, this beautiful stretch of wild coastline offers clear seas and huge sands that stretch to Seahouses, three miles away. On a clear day you can see out to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands.
Stay at St Cuthbert's House (01665 780456;www.stcuthbertshouse.com), an elegant 200-year-old former chapel in North Sunderland near Seahouses.
East coast of Scotland
This magnificent two-mile strand on the unheralded Angus coastline is backed by dunes and overlooked by Red Castle, a crumbling 12th-century fortress. Its pink sandstone hues match the colour of the low red cliffs and curious rock formations on the beach below. This is a great place for birdwatching, and is popular with surfers and riders. Some swear the sands have a rosy tint; certainly the shore glitters after a storm, when semiprecious stones such as agate and jasper can be found. Take care when swimming as there are strong currents.
West Coast of Scotland
Sandwood Bay, Cape Wrath, Sutherland
Sutherland's, and arguably Scotland's, best beach is Sandwood Bay: a glorious, mile-long stretch of sparkling sand that is pounded by North Atlantic rollers and backed by undulating dunes. The beach, which is owned and managed by the John Muir Trust, is popular with intrepid types – there's a hike of four and a half miles from Blairmore.
Luskentyre, Outer Hebrides
Hidden at the end of a winding road on the wild north-west coast of the Isle of Harris, this long stretch of brilliant sand is washed by shallow, startlingly azure water. Farther out are the steel-grey rollers more often associated with Scotland, studded with empty, windswept islands.
The monumental dunes here are classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and from their tops there are views of the Cumbrian mountains – and even Blackpool Tower on a clear day. Footpaths lead through the pinewoods behind to a red squirrel reserve (this is one of the last outposts in Britain), and on the vast expanse of beach you can sometimes spot prehistoric human and animal footprints. The sunsets are spectacular.
A magnificent beach on the Causeway Coast, bounded at one end by low basalt cliffs and at the other by the River Bann. The dunes that back the two-mile-long Strand reach heights of 100ft and more, lending it an air of wildness and mystery, and the waves that crash on to the beach provide reasonable surfing. In neighbouring Portrush you can marvel at sea-sculpted shapes in limestone cliffs on White Rocks beach – the Cathedral Cave, the Lion's Paw, the Wishing Arch.
There is a half-mile walk from the car park to this magnificent National Trust-managed beach, but it's worth it for the crystal-clear water and dramatic sandstone cliffs, the views of outlying islands, and for the fossils, rock pools, seals, surf and space.
The Worm's Head promontory marks the beginning of this four-mile stretch of golden sand. Set at the western tip of the peninsula, it bears the full might of Atlantic swells, and is popular with surfers, walkers and paragliders. Access is tricky, involving a walk down the cliff path. Look out for the hull of the Helvetia, wrecked on the beach in 1887. There can be strong undertows when the surf is high.
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