Best British Beaches
The coastline of Great Britain is both convoluted and varied. Comprising a number of islands both big and small Britain has a surprisingly long coastline. One estimate puts the length of the British coast at nearly 20,000 miles (around 30,000km). This is much larger than many countries far bigger than the UK, for example four times that of France and twice that of Spain.
As we know, where there is coast there is usually beach and the UK does not disappoint in this respect. A rough figure puts the number of beaches in the UK at around 3,000, ranging from tiny fishing coves to wide, open expanses of sand.
Although notorious for its fickle climate I don’t really think it is stretching it to describe the British Isles as a beachgoer’s paradise. Here I have chosen just ten beaches from this vast array of choices. For every one I have chosen there are 50 contenders. What I have tried to do is take a representative sample of the different beaches across the country and then thrown in a bit of my own personal bias! I haven’t numbered the list and the order they appear in is purely coincidental.
Porthcurno Beach, Cornwall
Geographically one of the first beaches in the UK I thought Porthcurno beach in West Cornwall was an appropriate starting point. There is no disputing the beaches inherent natural charms; white sand composed of crushed sea shells, towering granite cliffs forming a natural amphitheatre and uniquely turquoise seas. Whilst not quite on the beaten track Porthcurno is still easily accessible and features a large car park and summer lifeguard service.
One of the best views of the beach is from the cliff top next to the Minnack Theatre. This spectacular outdoor theatre was the work of one woman, Rowena Cade, and is the most dramatic setting for any play.
Rhossili Bay, South Wales
Located on the stunning Gower Peninsula, Rhossili Bay is the jewel in the crown of what is already a beautiful area. Jutting out into the ocean at the end of the Gower Rhossili comprises of around 4 miles of golden sand which pick up the full force of any Atlantic swells. As such it is a popular spot with surfers.
At the southern end of the beach is the Worm's Head, an impressive, long snaking section of cliffs which is joined to the mainland at low tide. The beach and coast here are all owned by the National Trust and there are plenty of facilities including a car park and places to eat. Access is via quite a steep path down the cliff so Rhossili may not be ideal for everyone.
West Wittering, West Sussex
The Blue Flag award received by West Wittering beach tells us this is a great family beach. This award not only guarantees excellent water quality, it means there are abundant facilities for everyone. Situated on the edge of the rolling hills of the South Downs the beach here is backed by expanses of neatly mowed grass - ideal if you don’t like the feel of sand between your toes! The beach itself is gently sloping with safe bathing and great views to Chichester Harbour and the Isle of Wight.
West Wittering is a very popular beach but the big expanse of sand means that a quick walk should ensure you a spot to but down your towel. There’s plenty to do here too; good for windsurfing and kite-surfing, there is also an abundance of wildlife to spot.
Holkham Beach, Norfolk
This gloriously unspoilt beach is located next to the attractive coastal town of Wells-Next-The-Sea. Part of the Holkham Estate, the beach is a huge stretch of sand reaching for nearly 4 miles. It has a wonderfully wild feel, partly because it is actually part of one of the largest nature reserves in England and also because it backs onto pine woodland. On higher tides a shallow dip to the rear of the beach fills with water creating an interesting lagoon effect.
At the southern end of the beach, close to the main access there are several beach huts that just add to the charm of this great beach.
Portstewart Strand, Northern Ireland
Possibly the best beach in Northern Ireland, or at least that’s what I’m implying by listing it here! With two miles of golden sand backing onto a network of sand dunes and the town of Portstewart within easy walking distance, what more could you ask for. Well, a Blue Flag award just to confirm this is a beach with everything you need. This is an ideal family beach; plenty of space to run around along with lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
The Strand is owned by the Naational Trust and under this protection the wildlife has flourished. The dunes support an array of wild flowers and bug-life along with any number of different birds. Clean water is not only a boon for surfers but also attracts a variety of sea-life including seals and dolphins.
Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Scotland
Many people would laugh if you tried to compare a beach in the very north of Scotland to a Caribbean island. This comparison has been made of Luskentyre on more than one occasion. In fact another Hebridean beach was used by the Thailand tourist board to promote their beaches a few years back!
With crystal clear azure waters and fine, white sand the scene might not appear to distant from the holiday brochure image of a tropical island. A dip of toe into the frigid Atlantic waters should be enough to remind most they are in fact in the Outer Hebrides, along with the lack of palm trees and the backdrop of mountains.
Shell Bay, Studland, Dorset
Studland in Dorset is another wild and wonderful stretch of coast, although whilst feeling remote it is in fact just across the harbour from the busy port town of Poole. Shell Bay is the beach on the eastern tip of Studland and it looks out over the mouth of the harbour. Looking out from the beach you’ll see boats of every shape and size from cross channel ferries to small fishing boats. It is also from here that you can catch the ferry across to the super posh haven of Sandbanks just across the harbour mouth.
Shell Bay itself is a lovely sandy beach backed by a network of low sand dunes. These are a nature reserve and the whole area is managed by the National Trust. Talking of things natural Shell Bay is also popular with naturists so be warned! If (understandably) this isn’t your cup of tea then try the equally lovely Knoll Beach next door.
Bamburgh Castle Beach, Northumberland
As the name would suggest this is a beach with a castle. It’s a pretty big castle dating back to the 5th century in places but that is really just a bonus. This is a great family beach set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on the wild Northumbrian coast. The views are great in directions with the Farne Islands just off the coast and Lindisfarne just up the coast.
The beach at Bamburgh stretches on for over three miles so crowding is never going to be an issue. There is always a feeling of the wilderness along this stretch of coast, even in the height of summer. Backed by high sand dunes and rock pools scattered along its length Bamburgh is a great beach to take the kids to.
Filey Beach, Yorkshire
On first inspection Filey has all the hallmarks of a throwback to the heyday of the Great British seaside holiday, and to some extent this is the case. However, whereas the seaside town has become synonymous with decline and faded grandeur, Filey is still as popular as ever. A handsome, well maintained Edwardian sea front overlooking a sweeping bay have set this town in good stead.
Filey’s town beach is no disappointment either; a huge sandy beach seemingly without end extends from Filey Brigg. There are plenty of references to the old seaside holiday with donkey rides, a promenade and beach huts. The beach itself features a children’s paddling pool and the water quality has been rated excellent by the Marine Conservation society.
Woolacombe Beach, North Devon
Just pipping neighbouring Croyde beach is Woolacombe, a two and a half mile stretch of golden sand in North Devon’s AONB. Whilst Croyde may be more popular with the surfing hipsters it doesn't offer the same level of facilities as Woolacombe beach and is not quite on the same scale. Both beaches have great surf with Woolacombe being just that bit better for the beginning surfer. This is catered for by surf hire and surf schools run from the beach.
Woolacombe has been a consistent winner of the Blue Flag award over the years and this is testament to not only its cleanliness but the great facilities. There are cafes, accommodation, pubs, toilets, disabled access.. the list goes on. Whilst it gets busy here during the summer months it is progressively quieter as you head towards Putsborough Sands at the far end. There are plenty of rock pools at the Woolacombe end of the beach and most of the length of the beach backs onto sand dunes all of which provide plenty of safe fun for kids.
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