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The 10 best UK beaches

Looking for a perfect beach in Britain? Here’s where you’ll find golden dunes, miles of coastal walks and quality fish ’n’ chips

Slapton Sands, Devon © Walter Weber

 


Windswept dunes, secluded coves, coastal castles and mountains of oysters – the settings may be exotic, but the locations are all British. In their singular obsession with the South of France and the Greek islands, British holidaymakers are quick to forget that they live on an island of their own, and that its coastline shelters some of the most attractive beaches in the world. This, then, is our personal selection of the 10 best UK beaches, in no particular order. So pack a towel, leave your passport at home, and hit the road…

 

1. Barafundle Bay beach

Just choosing one Welsh beach location is to risk insulting this country’s stunning coastline, so we’ll make it a good one. Barafundle Bay on the Pembrokeshire coast is spellbinding. You have to walk along a cliff path from nearby Stackpole Quay and through a stone archway to find it, but once you do, you’ll feel you’ve passed through some sort of mythical, mind-cleansing portal.

Where to stay

Stay at the outwardly twee, inwardly cool Stackpole Inn (01646 672 324), a 17th-century coaching inn that does great food, with rooms from £60 a night.

Getting there

By car
From Pembroke, take the B4319 south and follow signs to Stackpole village and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Drive through the village, and follow signs to Stackpole Quay and the National Trust Visitor Centre. To get to Stack Rocks, stay on the B4319 to Castlemartin and look for the car park.

By train
Pembroke station is a 20-minute drive.

By bus
The Coastal Cruiser bus runs between Pembroke, Stackpole and Broad Haven. Also try the Green Dragon dial-a-ride bus.

From London
Go from Paddington to Lamphey, five hours 30 minutes, advance return from around £80 (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk or www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk). Taxi from Lamphey to Stackpole Quay five minutes.

Bamburgh Castle © Michael Hanselmann

2. Bamburgh beach

A good beach needs some element of drama, and they don’t come much more dramatic than towering Bamburgh Castle looming from its craggy perch above the Northumberland coast. More drama is close by at Holy Island, accessed by a low-tide causeway leading to ancient Lindisfarne Priory and more deserted, golden beaches.

Where to stay

Stay at any guesthouse in Bamburgh village, or at the lovely Beach Court (01665 720 225) on the seafront in Beadnell, a few miles south along the coast. Doubles start at £119 and sea views are guaranteed from the wide, wide window seats of all three first-floor rooms.

Getting there

By car
Turn off the A1 near the village of Belford and take the B1342 east. Part of the National Cycle Network meanders through this part of the Northumbrian coast and passes through Bamburgh.

By train
Nearest major stations are at Berwick-upon-Tweed (18 miles north) and Alnmouth (18 miles south). From here change to local lines to Chathill. Taxi from Chathill to Bamburgh ten minutes.

By bus
Limited local bus services. There are links to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (0871 200 2233, www.traveline.org.uk).

From London
Go from King’s Cross to Chathill, four hours, advance return from around £130 (www.thetrainline.com).

 

3. Camber Sands beach

Hidden behind a mountain of golden dunes, Camber Sands in East Sussex is a windswept expanse of soft, sandy beach that stretches for seven miles and boasts a half-a-mile width at low tide. Come here for a sunset stroll in the surf, hide behind a windbreak, ride your horse, fly a kite, or act out your ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘ fantasy at the quieter western end of the beach.

Where to stay

Stay at The Gallivant (01797 225 057), a family-friendly boutique hotel with a great restaurant that only uses locally sourced ingredients. Rooms from £95 B&B midweek.

Getting there

By car
From Ashford (M20) take the A2070 to Brenzett. Turn on to the A259 signposted New Romney/Hythe. Turn left on to B2075, signposted Lydd, from Lydd follow signs for Camber. From Hastings/Rye, take A259 towards Hythe, then B2075 three miles east of Rye.

By train
Nearest station is Rye. Then it’s a ten-minute taxi ride to Camber.

By bus
Regular service from Rye to Camber/Lydd (08702 433 711, www.stagecoachbus.com).

 

Cley-next-the-Sea © John Beniston

 4. Cley-next-the-Sea beach

On the north coast of Norfolk, a few miles east of Holkham, are Blakeney and Cley-next-the-Sea, connected by a three-mile sand-and-shingle spit. From here venture out to observe the seals at Blakeney Point, and windswept marshes, sea and sand as far as the eye can see.

Where to stay

Stay at the Cley Windmill (01263 740 209), where lovely high-rise rooms are accessed by ladders and filled with colourful rugs, offering a welcome change from those muted boutiquey tones. Rooms start at £159 a night.

Getting there

Go from Liverpool St to Sheringham, three hours 15 minutes, advance return from £18 (www.nationalexpresseastanglia.com). Taxi from Sheringham to Cley-next-the-Sea 15 minutes.

 

5. Littlehampton beach

With not one but two fabulous beach cafés designed by leading British architects – the West Beach Café by Asif Khan and the undulating, sculptural East Beach Café by Thomas Heatherwick – Littlehampton is fast becoming a foodie haven. Once you’ve eaten your fill of the excellent fish and chips at the former or more sophisticated dishes at the latter, you can enjoy one of the south coast’s quietest beaches. Head out of town to explore Rick Mather’s much-lauded new Towner Gallery in nearby Eastbourne.

Where to stay

Stay at the small, very pretty Slindon Campsite (01243 814 387), set in the orchards of the National Trust-owned Slindon Estate between Arundel and Chichester. It offers beautiful views across the coastal plain of West Sussex and will set you back from just £5 a night.

Getting there

Go from Victoria to Littlehampton, one hour 40 minutes, advance return from £28 (www.southernrailway.com).

 

6. Lundy Island beach

The Landmark Trust owns this three-mile-long slab of granite in the middle of the Bristol Channel, so there are no hotels, no fish-and-chip shops and definitely no kiss-me-quick hats. Instead, there’s a pub, a shop, miles of coastal walks, wild cliffs for climbers, a marine reserve for diving fans and wildlife galore both on- and off-shore, including silka deer, Lundy ponies, Soay sheep, dolphins, seals and basking sharks.

Where to stay

Stay in one of the Landmark Trust’s 23 characterful self-catering options on the island, which include a lighthouse, a castle or, for loners, a converted pigsty that sleeps one (01628 825 925, www.landmarktrust.org.uk)

Getting there

Go from Paddington to Barnstaple, four hours, advance return from around £40 (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk). Taxi from Barnstaple to Bideford 20 minutes. Ferry from Bideford to Lundy two hours (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday in summer; also Wednesday in August), period return £64 for adults. Helicopter services also available.

Luskentyre beach, at the furthest reaches of the Outer Hebrides © Les Ellingham

 

7.  Luskentyre beach

Not many beaches in Britain boast proper white sand, but Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris does, and it’s shot through with rivulets of seawater that sparkle in a hundred hues of blue and bright white light. Framed by the hills of the Outer Hebrides, the elements combine to create arguably Britain’s most beautiful views and a topography that goes back three billion years.

Where to stay

Stay at the Neolithic-inspired Blue Reef Cottages (01859 550 370) if you fancy spending a week gazing at the stars from your own private sauna and Jacuzzi. Prices start from £1,100 per week for a cottage that sleeps two.

Getting there

By car
Travel to Skye, embark at Uig and take the ferry.

By ferry
The ferry runs from Uig to Tarbert. Then you’ll need to take a taxi from Tarbert to Luskentyre (15 minutes). Caledonian MacBrayne runs the crossing from Uig to Tarbert (1 hour 30 minutes), also the sailing from Ullapool to Stornoway on Lewis (2 hours 45 minutes), which is connected to Harris (0800 066 5000).

By bus
There are several buses a day on South Harris (Hebridean Transport, 01851 705 050). These drop people on the A859 at the Luskentyre turn-off, then you have to walk. Rosamol is less than three miles away; other sands are far closer.

By air
Lewis and Harris actually form a single land mass, so it is possible to fly to Stornoway on Lewis, then go south to Luskentyre without recourse to ferries. Several airports provide regular services to Stornoway; the travel pages of the Western Isles Council provide a good summary of carriers.

From London
Go from Euston to Fort William sleeper train, 13 hours 30 minutes, advance return from around £70 (www.scotrail.co.uk). Coach from Fort William to Uig, three hours 35 minutes, return from around £36 (www.citylink.co.uk).

 

8. Priory Bay beach

The Isle of Wight has some classic beaches, and one of the nicest is also one of the most secluded. Priory Bay near Seaview, on the eastern side of the island, is unspoilt and accessed via the Priory Bay hotel that backs on to it; there’s an oyster bar from which to enjoy the views.

Where to stay

Stay where you can explore the 70-acre estate of the sumptuous Priory Bay Hotel (01983 613 146). Take advantage of the packages on the website for a stay in the hotel proper, or save money by sharing a self-catering cottage with friends.

Getting there

From London
Go from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour, one hour 30 minutes, off-peak return from £39.50 (www.southwesttrains.co.uk). Ferry to Fishbourne (www.wightlink.co.uk), 40 minutes, from £19.40. Taxi to Priory Bay 15 minutes.

 
9. St Ives beach

It looks as old as the hills that rise steeply from it, but this ageing hipsters’ town in western Cornwall still has what it takes: two terrific art galleries, picturesque cobbled streets, pubs that serve scrumpy strong enough to make you fall over after a pint and of course one of the loveliest bays in Britain.

 

St Ives Bay at sunset© Britta Jaschinski

St Ives Bay at sunset© Britta Jaschinski

Where to stay

Stay at the Primrose Valley Hotel (01736 794 939) on Porthminster Beach, where airy, bright rooms (doubles from £80 in low season) all have modern furniture, good art and, best of all, sparkling sea views.

Getting there

By car
When you are driving south in Cornwall, come off the A30 at the Loggans Moor (Hayle) exit. For Godrevy and Gwithian, turn right at the first mini roundabout and follow the B3301. For Hayle Towans, head over the mini roundabout, through the traffic lights, and turn right by the recreation grounds (signposted Phillack and the Beaches).

By bus
The Truro-St Ives service stops at Hayle (08712 002 233, www.firstgroup.com).

From London
Go from Paddington to St Ives, five hours 15 minutes, advance return from £62 (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk).

 

Slapton Sands beach © antb/Shutterstock.com

10. Slapton Sands beach

Actually not sandy, but still a beach worth spending a few days exploring, especially if you’re looking for some solitude on the pretty but packed-to-the-gills Devon coast. Caught between the fast-encroaching sea on one side and a freshwater lake on the other, the vulnerable, three-mile-long shingle bar is distinguished by its calm beauty and relative peace; catch it while you can.

Where to stay

Stay at the Seabreeze (01548 580 697), from £90 a night, where you can hear the sea stroking the shingle from rustic blue-and-white-painted rooms that will make you think you’re on an Italian island – though outbursts of ‘Mamma Mia!’ are likely to offend the smoothie-sipping guests at the smart terrace café outside.

Getting there

By car
Slapton Sands is on the A379 between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth.

By train
Slapton is not near any rail stations. Totnes is the closest, but you must take the 111 bus to Dartmouth, and then catch another bus from there (see below). Taxi from Totnes to Slapton Sands 20 minutes.

By bus
First Western National’s 93 bus runs between Plymouth, Kingsbridge, Slapton and Dartmouth (there is one service per hour, 0871 200 2233, www.firstgroup.com; Traveline, same phone, www.traveline.org.uk).

From London
Go from Paddington to Totnes, two hours 50 minutes, advance return from around £46 (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk).

 



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