On England's south coast, west of Dorset and east of Cornwall is Devon, a mostly quiet, rural county embracing about 60 beaches; on both north (generally less protected, windier and with more surf) and south (quieter, calmer but still some surfing done) coasts. Here are a few favourites:
Woolacombe Bay in North Devon is a spectacular and lengthy (2.5 miles/4kms) stretch of sand with many awards for cleanliness - including the coveted Blue Flag - and a reputation for great surfing, particularly when the tide is in, but also plenty of family assets such as loads of sand, rock pools trapping interesting marine life and some quiet areas of water for toddler splashing.
Woolacombe village hosts all the essentials - surf shops, kit rental, cafés and a good selection of accommodation ranging from camping and B & Bs to holiday apartments and hotels.
When tourists are tired of beaches the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the place to go walking; the South-West Coast Path runs along the shore. In addition, north of Woolacombe are a cluster of pretty coves if somehow Woolacombe doesn't suit. Get there on the A361, 6 miles southwest of Ilfracombe.
Tunnels Beach tidal pool, Ilfracombe, north Devon
Ilfracombe offers the peculiar The Tunnels Beaches, a Victorian development where four hand-carved tunnels lead to private sheltered beaches with an adjacent large tidal, rock pool that is very popular with kids and supervised by a lifeguard.
There are plenty of other smaller rock pools too, as well as facilities such as shop, bar, play hut, café and sea kayak hire. Open 10am - 6pm April-June,Sept-Oct and 9am - 9pm July and August. Recently entry costs £1.95 per adult, £1.50 per child, free for kids under 3; family deals available.
Westward Ho! hosts a great all-round beach environment with two miles of soft beige sand, beach huts, café, toilets and lifeguards. Part of the beach is good for surfing or windsurfing, watersports kit is readily available and, as usual, the gorgeous South-West Coast Path is a great draw for hikers. Get there from Bideford via the A29 - A386 - B3236.
Salcombe and the Kingsbridge Estuary, south Devon
Salcombe is an olde-world, friendly little town dropping steeply to the yachtie harbour and scattered with both interesting little sea food restaurants and clean, sandy beaches - North Sands and South Sands beside the town and East Portlemouth across the estuary by ferry, though South Sands does not permit dogs May-September.
Salcombe is an active place - we suppose because you would be fit walking up and down that slope day in, day out - and offers sporting types sailing, scuba, sea kayak, surfing and powerboat classes and rentals.
Bantham beach, south Devon
Bantham is an attractive, thatched-roof village with an inviting bay 4 miles west of Kingsbridge (off the A379), offering a relatively un-commercial, Blue Flag beach with a few facilities in the summertime, including a lifeguard, though toilets and eating places are in the village a few hundred yards away.
The bay provides modest surf, many kid-friendly rock pools and adult-friendly coastal walks.
Blackpool Sands beach, Devon
Blackpool Sands is known for its space, family ambience and lush natural backdrop or woods and fields.
Paignton Sands offers an unusual red sand beach washed by placid, shallow waters and scattered with child-friendly activities including kayak hire and boat trips from the interesting little harbour.
Nudism: It is not illegal to strip off and do the beach thing in the nude anywhere in Britain. The problem is if someone complains...However, British Naturism lists some fine beaches in Devon where the nude life is either unofficially commonplace or officially permitted.
UK Water Quality: The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has published a Good Beach Guide. Britain has less recommended beaches this year, probably due to contamination as a result of heavy rains washing pollutants into the sea. MCS suggests that you avoid ALL beaches within 24 hours of heavy storms. Conveniently you can download a free, best-beach listing sat-nav plug-in.
High Water Quality beaches in 2009:
Devon: Ilfracombe Tunnels, Woolacombe, Putsborough Sands,
Westward Ho!, Hartland Quay.
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