Best UK beaches
From surfing paradises to donkey-adorned seasides via vast, empty swathes of sand, we select some inspirational UK beaches – many within easy reach of London. To help you on your way we‘ve included public-transport travel options where possible
Camber Sands, KentBEST BEACH FOR SUNBATHING If it’s a vast, glittering beach you yearn for, you can’t find much better than this glorious two-and-a-half mile pale-blond stretch. Once a favourite for smugglers, it’s now one of the south east’s finest. There are plenty of activities – such as cricket, frisbee, buggy-surfing, horse riding, and sunbathing, of course.Camber Sands (01797 226696/www.visitrye.co.uk).
By train: Charing Cross to Rye, one hour 50 minutes. By car: M20, leave at exit 10 then follow signs to A259.
Climping Beach, West SussexClimping beach is situated to the west of Littlehampton Harbour, about ten minutes’ drive from Arundel (with its magnificent castle), the pleasantly meandering River Arun and the splendid South Downs countryside. Like most beaches with groynes (structures used to limit the sediment leaving the beach) along this part of the coast, Climping is quite a bleak-looking place, especially on dull, cloudy winter days. In summer time, though, it becomes popular with families, local dog walkers and, in the protected dune area (a Site of Special Scientific Interest), an increasing fraternity of gay sun-seekers. The beach, as with many along the south coast, is all stones at high tide. Come low tide, however, a huge expanse of dark, fine, hard-packed sand is exposed, making it an ideal spot for shallow dipping. The area around Littlehampton is also popular with kite- and wind-surfers. Hold out until dusk and you’ll witness some amazing sunsets, then mosey down Climping Street for a prime Scotch steak and home-made dessert at the Black Horse Inn. Nearby Arundel provides interest when the weather is not on your side: take a tour of the castle, the seat of the dukes of Norfolk. Alternatively, check out the myriad antique shops in the town.Getting there By train: Victoria to Littlehampton takes 1hr 40 mins. Returns from £25. By car: Exit M23 towards Crawley on the A264, then A24, A280, A27 to the A284 near Littlehampton, then the A259. Follow sign to Climping beach. Journey time: ideally just under 2hrs.Stay-over option: Derwent House (01903 726 204/www.derwent-house.co.uk) is minutes away in Climping Street.
Deal, KentThis vast shingle beach was where historians believe Julius Caesar probably first set foot on British soil. However, the man who came, saw, and conquered would – with his enthusiasm for an economy that benefited the common man – surely approve of Deal Market, held every Saturday morning and the source of many a retro bargain. Narrow winding streets lined with early Victorian buildings and shopfronts lead down to the beach, which is a mixture of the jaded and the gentrified. The pier, newly restored to its Victorian glory, lies cheek by jowl with the faded grandeur of the Deal Beach Parlour Café. Ten miles long and lying six miles away from the town are the potentially deadly Goodwin Sands – a stretch of sandbank where numerous ships have been wrecked over the centuries It was also the setting for 1917’s Battle of Dover Strait, which involved Allied forces fending off 12 German destroyer warships.Getting there
By train: London Bridge to Deal takes 2hrs.Stay-over option: The Royal Hotel (01304 375555/www.theroyalhotel.com) on Beach Street offers doubles from £100.
Dunster Beach, West SomersetPebbly and rocky in parts, sandy in others, Dunster Beach is fringed by a nature reserve and is situated in sheltered Blue Haven Bay. Safe for swimming, it is also beach-hut heaven – there are no less than 200 chalets here, some of which are available to hire. What’s more, the medieval village of Dunster, National Trust-owned Dunster Castle (01643 821 314/www.nationaltrust.org.uk) and Dunster station on the West Somerset Railway line (01643 704 996/www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk) are all within short walking distance. After a day on the beach, why not book a ‘Steam and Cream’ ticket (Fridays throughout summer) and tuck into a cream tea while you enjoy the views of the lush Exmoor countryside and coastline? Pretty idyllic, really.
Getting there By car: Take M4 to J20 and join M5. Leave M5 at J23 and pick up A39 towards Minehead. Follow A39 to Dunster, then follow signs to Dunster Beach.Stay-over option: The Old Priory (01643 821540/www.theoldpriory-dunster.co.uk) is a medieval gem of a hotel in lovely Dunster, with a gorgeous walled garden adjoining St George’s Church. Doubles £80 per room first night; £75 thereafter. For Dunster Beach Chalets book through private owners on the following numbers: 01643 821296/ 01934 814396/01643 821693/www.dunsterbeach.com. Also try Kelly Saunder’s luxury chalet, £265 per week during July and August (www.kellyschalet.co.uk).Dungeness
Dungeness, KentYou don’t head to Dungeness for a pretty view – if you want that, visit nearby Rye for fetching vistas and afternoon tea. Dungeness is like Rye’s brooding, solitary cousin; a bleak promontory of flint shingle that wasn’t even there a few thousand years ago. There’s a unique kind of light here, somehow emphasised by the low but distinct hum emanating from the enormous nuclear power station nearby, something which only adds to the weird atmosphere. Never overrun, it’s unlikely you would have seen a single soul before Derek Jarman put the place on the map with the sculptural garden he wrote about in ‘The Garden’. The shingle here undulates in peaks and troughs and, where water is trapped at the top of the ridges, an extensive variety of plant life thrives.How to get there By train: Charing Cross or London Bridge to Rye with one change at Ashford takes 1hr 45 mins. Stay-over option: Jeake’s House (01797 222828/www.jeakeshouse.com) is a charming little hotel in Rye which, back in the seventeenth century, was used as a wool store. Doubles from £50 per person per night sharing.
Dymchurch, KentThe lesser-known neighbour of Dungeness, this scattered village on the edge of Romney Marsh has little of its Spartan solitude. Instead, this village is the location of a glorious wide sandy beach which hosts a variety of traditional summer pastimes including donkey rides and sandcastle-building competitions. While you’re here be sure to take a ride on the world’s tiniest public railway. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway opened in 1927 and is purported to be the smallest gauge (that’s width between the tracks) at just 15 inches. Getting there By train: Victoria to Folkestone takes 2hrs with one change at Ashford. Catch a bus to Hythe where you can join the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway – which takes you to on to Dymchurch.Stay-over option: The Dolly Plum Guest House (01303 874558/www.dollyplumguesthouse.co.uk) in Burmarsh Rd offers double bedrooms from £60.
Frinton-on-Sea, EssexFrinton-on-Sea was just a hamlet until 1893, when a developer bought up most of the land with a view to developing an exclusive seaside resort. As a result, the town is almost frighteningly idyllic – pubs inside the city walls were outlawed until the opening of the Lock and Barrel in 2000, which caused the biggest scandal in the town since the first chippy, Nice Fish and Chips, opened eight years previously. The conservative attitude means Frinton’s beach has no traditional seaside traits; no shops selling buckets, spades and lilos, no merry-go-round, no ice-cream van. It does have more than a mile of sandy beach, though, which is lined by a promenade and several hundred beach huts. Getting there
By train: Stratford to Frinton-on-Sea with one change at Thorpe-le-Soken takes 1hr 30 mins. By car: Come off the M25 at junction 28, following the A12 past Chelmsford. At Colchester, take the A120 towards Ramsey, and at the roundabout at Horsley Cross, take the fourth exit on to the B1035. Turn left on to Colchester Road (B1033) and follow signs to Frinton.Stay-over option: Accommodation choices in Frinton are quite limited, but if you want to look out onto the sea, try the Rock Hotel (01255 677 194/www.therockhotel.co.uk). Double with breakfast costs £110 per night.
Gwithian Towans, CornwallAbout 20 minutes’ drive north of St Ives, Gwithian beach, or towans, is this three-and-a-half-mile expanse of golden beach and sand dunes. Make sure you walk around the headland to Godrevy Lighthouse, inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel ‘To the Lighthouse’.Getting there By car: Leave M25 at J12 and join M3. Exit at J8 for A303 until you reach Newton. Pick up A30 towards Penzance. When you reach Hayle, join the B3301 to Gwithian.Stay-over option: Calize Country House (01736 753 268/www.calize.co.uk) was built in the 1870s for Lord Hocking. Now it’s a comfortable hotel with great views towards Godrevy Lighthouse. From £40 per person, per night including breakfast.
Joss Bay, KentSituated close to Broadstairs, Joss Bay attracts a younger crowd. It’s considered to be one of the best surfing beaches within easy reach of London, thanks to it getting some sort of decent groundswell. The bay area, nestled below low chalk cliffs, is therefore hugely popular in summer but experts say the best surf is to be had from late August through winter until April. There’s a surf school located here (www.jossbay.co.uk) and real ale pub The Captain Digby is located nearby if you’re more appreciative of hops than rips. The beach itself is located below the huge North Foreland lighthouse, the very last one in the UK to become automated – as late as November 1998.Getting there By train: Victoria to Broadstairs takes 1hr 45 mins. From Broadstairs it is only a short taxi ride to Joss Bay. Stay-over option Burrow House B&B (01843 601817/www.burrowhouse.com) in Granville Road has double rooms from £85 per person, but be aware the minimum booking is two nights during peak seasons.
Manorbier Beach, PembrokeshirePerched on the clifftops above the beach, the eleventh-century Manorbier Castle (01834 871 394/www.manorbiercastle.co.uk) provided the setting for the BBC’s version of CS Lewis’s classic children’s book, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ in the 1980s and, more recently, the 2003 film based on Dodie Smith’s novel ‘I Capture the Castle’. Getting there
By car: Follow M4 until just past Swansea. Take A48 towards Cross Hands, then A40 to St Clears, then A478 to Tenby. Pass through Tenby, pick up the A4139 towards Pembroke. At Penally, turn left onto B4585 and follow signs to Manorbier.Stay-over option: Castle Cottages (01834 871 559/www.castlecottages.co.uk) offers picturesque cottages with expansive views of the sea.
Pegwell Bay, KentDuring the 1970s Pegwell Bay was a much noisier place. This was where the hovercraft once took passengers on many a stomach-convulsing trip across the Channel. The hovercraft packed up in the mid-’80s thanks to rising oil prices and all that remains is a concrete ramp being slowly choked by weeds. The return of a peaceful atmosphere at this small inlet near Ramsgate is good news for thousands of wading birds, and birds of prey such as the merlin, which are attracted to the foreshore and mudflats. Getting there
By train: Victoria to Ramsgate (one mile from the beach) takes 1hr 45 mins. Stay-over option: Pegwell Bay Hotel (01843 599590/www.pegwellbayhotel.co.uk) on Pegwell Road offers doubles from £75.
Pevensey Bay, East SussexThis fishing village near Eastbourne possesses its own shingle beach which has a rather violent history. It was here that William the Conqueror landed in 1066. Nearby Pevensey Castle was built on the site where William’s men camped and was used for military purposes as recently as World War II. During the Napoleonic Wars a string of squat looking forts known as Martello Towers were built along this stretch of coastline. Pevensey Bay has also been a source of inspiration: JWM Turner painted it and Rudyard Kipling described it as ‘England’s Gate’ in ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’. Getting there By train: Victoria to Pevensey Bay takes 2hrs. Returns from £34.50. Stay-over option: Bay Hotel (01323 768 645/www.bayhoteleastbourne.co.uk) on Eastbourne Rd, offers doubles from £60.
Poole, DorsetWith its wonderfully clean sweeping golden beaches, Poole is well worth a family day trip. It’s been a bustling port since the Middle Ages, and was particularly prosperous during the Georgian era. To soak up the ancient atmosphere, follow the signposted Cockle Trail, a one-hour walk around the old town, passing the huge Poole pottery warehouse. Don’t forget to take a boat trip to the pretty National Trust-owned Brownsea Island – always a magical treat for the kids.Getting thereBy train: Waterloo to Poole, two hours.
By car: M3, M27 then follow signs.
Minack Theatre, Porthcurno (image © Heloise Bergman)
Porthcurno, CornwallWelcome to paradise – or as close as it can get to a dreamy beach idyll in the UK. It’s overlooked by the Minack Theatre, an open-air venue created in 1929 by Rowena Wade when searching for a fittingly dramatic space in which to stage Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The Minack Theatre & Visitor Centre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6JU (01736 810 181/www.minack.com).Getting there By car: Take the M3 to junction 8 and then the A303, which becomes the A30. At Drift, turn left onto the B3283, and then take the B3315, both signposted to Porthcurno.Stay-over option: Boscean Country Hotel (01736 788 748/www.bosceancountryhotel.co.uk) is an attractive detached house in pretty St Just, about seven miles from Porthcurno. Doubles start at £75 per room including breakfast.
St Margaret’s at Cliffe Bay, KentOnly 21 miles separate St Margaret’s at Cliffe Bay from France, so it’s hardly surprising that this was where a mid-nineteenth-century attempt to build a channel tunnel began. Set into the white cliffs of Dover, the bay’s also home to the award-winning Coastguard restaurant.
By train: London Bridge to Martin Mill takes 1hr 50 mins. Returns from £21.10. It’s two miles from the station, though.
Stay-over option: Wallet’s Court Country House Hotel (01304 852 424/www.wallettscourthotel.com) in Westcliffe, Dover, has rooms from £129 per night for a double.
'Kids: has anyone seen grandad?' (image © Heloise Bergman)
Sandwich Bay, KentNot surprisingly, this particularly pretty chunk of the Kent coastline is part of a nature reserve: in 2003 someone spotted the southern emerald damselfly here, only the second time that has happened in the UK, ever. Shockingly, though, it all remains reasonably undiscovered. Sandwich Bay is part of a private estate, so expect to be charged £3-£5 per car to get in. The beach is big, long, sandy and flat – at low tide, the sea is sometimes so far out that you can’t see it; at other times the shallows seem to go on for miles. There are no facilities at all near this beach, which makes it feel very secluded and romantic.Getting there
By train: Charing Cross to Ramsgate takes 1hr 45 mins. Returns from £25.90. Sandwich is seven miles from the station, so you’ll need a taxi. By car: At junction 7 of the M2, take the A2 south, following signs to Canterbury. At Barham, turn left onto the B2046, and follow it until it joins the A257. Follow signs to Sandwich.Stay-over option: Molland House (01304 814210/www.mollandhouse.co.uk) is a gorgeous sixteenth-century manor house about three miles out of Sandwich. From £35-£50 per person per night.
Sandymouth Beach, CornwallOn a dark, stormy day with a big swell and a full tide, Sandymouth can be a formidable place. The sea looks ferocious and the looming cliffs make you feel small and insignificant by comparison. Yet on a sunny, still day it’s nothing of the sort. The sea becomes as flat as a mill pond and the waters roll back at low tide to reveal a wide sandy beach where once there appeared to be nothing but uncomfortable shingle. Be sure to take a picnic as, blissfully, there’s not much here in the way of convenient food supplies – but it’s worth leaving room for a clotted cream ice-cream at the little café next to the National Trust car park.Getting there By car: Take M4 to J20 and join M5. Leave M5 at J27 pick up A361 towards Barnstaple. At Portmore, join the A39 towards Bideford. Follow A39 to Kilkhampton, turn right to Stibb. Drive through Stibb and shortly afterwards turn left to Sandymouth.Stay-over option: Bude is only about seven miles from Sandy Mouth and the Camelot Hotel (0800 7812536/www.camelot-hotel.co.uk) in Downs Way is a pretty, gabled hotel offering good food and hospitality. Double rooms per night start at £118 including breakfast (£168 if you want to include a hearty dinner).
Sennen Cove, CornwallSennen Surfing Centre is located directly on the beach and, as well as surf lessons for beginners (opt for as little as two-and-a-half hours of tuition or as much as five days), you can also sign up for other local activities. Overlooking Sennen Cove, The Beach restaurant serves everything from hearty English breakfasts to posh nosh, including superb fresh seafood. Sennen Surfing Centre, Sennen Cove, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 7BT(01736 871 227/01736 871 561/ www.sennensurfingcentre.com).The Beach Restaurant, Sennen Cove, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 7BT (01736 871 191/www.thebeachrestaurant.com).Getting there By car: Leave M25 at J12 and join M3. Exit at J8 for A303, follow until you reach Newton. Pick up A30 towards Penzance. Continue on the A30 through Penzance to Crows-An-Wra. Turn right onto Cove Road, signposted Sennen Cove. Follow this road until you reach Cove Hill and then Sennen Cove.Stay-over option: The Old Success Inn (01736 871 232/www.oldsuccess.com) is a seventeenth-century fisherman’s inn overlooking Whitesands Bay. Doubles from £44 per person per night including breakfast.
Walton-on-the-Naze, EssexAccessed by an ancient branch line from Frinton-on-Sea, Walton-on-the-Naze (derived from ‘naes’ – Old English for 'nose') is a somnambulant corner of Essex that time seems to have bypassed. The pier contains some charmingly outmoded fairground rides and a permanent cluster of hip flask-clutching fishermen. The beach below is wide, sandy and almost always quiet. The nearby headland is dominated by the Naze tower. Built in 1721, the tower was meant to be a marking point for ships making their way to nearby Harwich harbour.Getting there
By train: Liverpool Street to Walton-on-the-Naze with one change at Frinton-at-Sea takes 1hr 30 mins. Stay-over option: Regency House Bed and Breakfast (01255 676300/www.regency-house.co.uk) on The Parade has rooms for £25 per person per night.
West Mersea Beach, EssexAccessible by ‘the Strood’, the locals’ name for the causeway that links Mersea to the mainland during low tide, Mersea Island is the most easterly inhabited island in the UK. A bit sandy, a bit pebbly, with lots of shells, West Mersea Beach has everything a good beach should: huts, shops, a jetty for crabbing, and an all-important grassy picnic area to prevent sand creeping into those sandwiches. You'll also find the West Mersea Oyster Bar (01206 381600), one of the best in the country. The town itself has a strong sense of community, and many of its inhabitants are very keen on their watersports: West Mersea Yacht Club hosts its annual Regatta, ‘Mersea Week’, in August. Getting there By train: Liverpool Street to Colchester takes 50 mins. By car: Exit the M25 at junction 28 and get onto the M12. On the roundabout at Chelmsford, take the second exit onto the A414, following signs to Maldon. At Maldon roundabout, take the first exit onto the B1026, following signs to Salcott and West Mersea.Stay-over option: Mersea has a glut of caravan parks, but if you’re not a fan, try the island’s only hotel, The Victory (01206 382 907) on Coast Road, from £60 for a double, with breakfast.
West Wittering, SussexAs well as being voted Britain’s best family beach last year (by the folk at Country Life magazine), West Wittering is also, somewhat incongruously, home to the world’s most rock-and-roll beach hut, belonging to Keith Richards whose home is in the village adjoining this mile of golden sands. This beach is popular with windsurfers and is capable of drawing up to 15,000 visitors on a summer’s Sunday. We suggest confining your visit to midweek when you can stroll among the sandy pools that form when the tide goes out and explore the beach’s adjoining salt marsh and superlative crabbing pool. Getting there By train: Victoria to Chichester takes 1hr 45 mins. A taxi on to West Wittering Beach costs around £12.Stay-over option The Beach House (01243 514 800/www.beachhse.co.uk) on Rockwood Road offers doubles from £75.
Widemouth Bay, CornwallJust south of Bude, this wide, sandy beach has acres of space for family games of rounders or cricket and a beach break (where the wave breaks on the sand) that is perfect for beginner surfers but will also challenge the better ones when conditions are right. There’s surfboard- and wetsuit-hire in the car park, as well as a small, friendly café. At low tide, there is also a multitude of rock pools to explore, so don’t forget to bring your fishing net and bucket. Getting there By car: Take M4 to J20 and join M5. Leave M5 at J27 pick up A361 towards Barnstaple. At Portmore, join the A39 towards Bideford. Follow A39 to Thorne Cross, then follow signs to Widemouth Bay.Stay-over option: As mentioned above, the Bay View Inn (01288 361 273/www.bayviewinn.co.uk) is, appropriately enough, right on the bay, just two miles south of Bude. Doubles from £45 per person, per night including breakfast.
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