There’s a lot of coastline wrapped around this isle – over ten thousand miles of it, in fact. Factor in Britain’s astonishing variety of landscapes and you have a country whose beaches range from epic strands to tiny notches chipped from cliffs, wilderness islands to prim Edwardian resorts. Here’s ten of the best beaches in Britain – add your own to the list below.
Small but exquisitely formed, Porthcurno’s wedge of white sand, surrounded by ragged cliffs and framing a sapphire bay, creates an improbably idyllic scene. Nor is Porthcurno just a pretty face; the cliff-top Minack Theatre hosts open-air performances, while a museum celebrates the birth of transatlantic telegraphy here in 1870. Staggering beauty, culture and history all in one spot.
West Wittering, West Sussex
Keith Richards may have a beach hut here, but West Wittering excels in peace’n’quiet rather than rock’n’roll. Swish through the dunes (pictured at the top of the article) to emerge onto 55 acres of unspoilt sand that somehow swallows 10,000 visitors on sun-drenched summer bank holidays. Wind- and kitesurfers love it. So do kids, splashing in sandy pools or crabbing at low tide. Everyone else loves it, too – just dawdling or gazing out at the Channel with a cuppa. Keith’s probably doing the same.
Par Beach, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
St Martin’s seems to lie at the end of the world. Rawer and wilder than neighbour Tresco, this is an island for connoisseurs, a fertile fuzz of green fringed by sugar-white beaches that swell as the tide drops. Don’t forget your mask and snorkel: seals bob among kelp forests in the clearest bluest water in the archipelago.
Royal Ascot? No, thanks. Glyndebourne? Too noisy. In 2006, readers of Country Life magazine, the glossy bible for posh pastoral folk, named this sensational beach scalloped into the Pembrokeshire cliffs as their favourite British picnic spot. Space has a lot to do with it; the walk here from Stackpole Quay keeps crowds to a minimum and gives Barafundle the frisson of a shared secret. Shallow seas and shelter from prevailing winds also score points. But the clincher? Superlative sands that are just perfect for sand castles.
There’s no better model for sand-castle-making than the storybook silhouette of Bamburgh Castle. It rises behind the pale sand of this pristine beach, which stretches into the distance beneath a pale pure sky and extends a mile out to sea at low water. Add in the romantic outline of Holy Island at its northern end and it is a magnificent vista fit for Viking longships, one not nearly as well known as it should be. (That’s half the reason to go.)
With its pristine sands, old thatched cottages and lack of commercialism, the south Devon village of Bantham is a small timewarp, preserved from much development over the past sixty years by its staunchly protective owners, the Evans Estate. The waves are popular with surfers but the beach, with its shallow waters and wide expanse of sand, is also good for the bucket-and-spade brigade, and there are rock pools and dunes to explore.
Scarista, Harris, Western Isles
Beaches are about escapism, and Scarista on the Isle of Harris has it in buckets and spades. As if the adventure of getting to the Outer Hebrides wasn’t enough, the wide-open vistas of rolling hills and empty seascapes from this raw, elemental beach give you a walk on the wild side at the outer edge of civilization. Sparkling white sands and vivid blue water add to the appeal.
Let’s hear it for Holkham: white-gold sands (a rarity among Norfolk’s more usual shingle), shells and starfish, a fringe of aromatic pine woodland and a nature reserve teeming with saltings and water birds. Gwyneth Paltrow strode its shoreline alone in the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love, and for good reason: there’s an introspective intensity to this minimalist landscape, a romantic Turner-esque vista of empty sea and sky stung by the North Sea breeze.
A public petition in 2007 ensures that Crosby remains the permanent gallery for artist Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation; a hundred life-size iron men who stare to the open sea either side of the tide line. Some are now half-buried in sand. Others are dressed in a coat of weeds. Gormley says his work tackles themes of migration and illustrates that every landscape has a social dimension. We say it creates the most haunting beach in Britain.
Studland Bay, Dorset
Studland Bay is not as famous as the Jurassic Coast (which starts at the tip of this lovely bay as Old Harry’s Rocks) – reason enough to visit. Another is the astonishing natural beauty preserved under the aegis of the National Trust. Tramping along trails through dunes and woods behind the bay you may spy deer, while in the heath you could uniquely spot all six British reptiles. There’s a catch, of course: walking the trail means dragging yourself away from Middle Beach, with its charmingly ramshackle beach-hut café and sheltered water perfect for swimming.
Offer your own top beaches in Britain below.