Multi-coloured cliffs beetle down over breezy Compton Bay, much-loved haunt of the Isle of Wight’s surf (kite- and -board) dudes. The waves pound upon the sand, churning up milky froth and spitting salty spray up into your face. Watch the surfers from a height up on the cliff top, where the Tennyson Trail laces its way along the coastline.
It’s rarely the weather for a sunbathe and swim here but this enormous beach on the wild Northumberland coast is the perfect place for a brisk morning walk with the dog. Brooding Bamburgh Castle, dating from Norman times, overlooks the golden sands, forming a marvellous, moody backdrop.
8. Rhossili Beach, Wales
Wales has plenty of incredible beaches, and Rhossili Beach is certainly one of them. As the westernmost beach along the Gower peninsula, its brutish waves and powerful Atlantic swells are not for the faint-hearted – so it’s understandable you’ll find surfers rather than swimmers here. Be warned that the path down to the beach is very steep.
You could walk for miles here and not see a soul (most likely in the winter, of course). Massive and golden, Beadnell Beach on the Northumberland coast is a wind-swept beauty that’s perfect for windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and surfing. Diving is also popular, as there are many shipwrecks in the local waters.
10. Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon
Bigbury-on-Sea on the South Devon coast is a particularly child-friendly beach, with shallow waters and clean sand as well as numerous rock pools to examine – so bring your fishing net, plastic bucket and unshakeable enthusiasm for marine beasties. When the tide is out, wander out to Burgh Island and stop off for a pint in the Pilchard Inn.
11. Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire
The UK’s most visited tourist attraction, Blackpool Pleasure Beach features in this list because of its unfailing and cherished legacy. The beach’s sand and water are admittedly not the cleanest (a major clean-up is underway), but it’s the backdrop of frenetic resort town and scream-filled theme park dating back 100 years that provide the charm.
Certainly no stranger to the "Best Beach" awards, cute little Barafundle takes a small bay-shaped chunk out of the inimitable Pembrokeshire Coast. It’s a walk from the car park but its pristine sands and crystal clear waters really are worth the trip; ramp up the temperature gauge a bit and you might well mistake it for the Caribbean…
13. Longsands, Tynemouth
Connected by metro to the centre of Newcastle, Longsands makes an easy and invigorating escape from the city. The sea might be perpetually chilly but hardy surfers still flock here in their droves, which explains the number of surf schools, pro-surf events and rental shops in town.
14. Sandwood Bay, Scotland
Boldly facing the icy North Atlantic blasts on Scotland's northwestern coast, Sandwood Bay certainly makes for a brisk beach trip. But with its lovely pinkish sand that undulates into soft dunes, and views over to remarkably weathered sea stacks, it really is a magnificent sight.
15. West Wittering, Sussex
A long-time favourite among the UK’s beach-going folk – hence the privately owned beach huts that are quickly snapped up should they come up for sale – West Wittering earns its Blue Flag status with flying colours. The water and sands are impeccably clean, while facilities (café, watersports clubs) are tip-top.
Wide and wild, with a pretty mix of sand and rocks, Whitesands Bay curves round close to St David’s head. It’s a top spot for surfing, and makes up a portion of the famous Pembrokeshire Coast Path. On a sunny day, the sea turns a deep and mesmerizing sapphire blue.
17. Studland Bay, Dorset
Those who like to strip down to their birthday suit will enjoy Studland Bay in Purbeck – it’s the most popular naturist beach in the UK. National Trust-protected, the beach is a golden strip of sand, from which you can admire views of Old Harry Rocks chalk formations and the nearby Isle of Wight.
18. Kynance Cove, Cornwall
A magnificent chink in the Cornish coastline north of Lizard Point, Kynance Cove has been hugely popular since Victorian times; Alfred Lord Tennyson was a regular visitor. The rocks round here are coloured green and red, polished smooth by the endless waves.
Two miles of blonde sand lapped by fresh, clean seawater, Portstewart Strand in County Londonderry is (understandably) one of Northern Ireland's top visitor attractions. The dunes are home to butterflies and rare wild flowers, while the sand is usually populated with bucket-and-spade-toting children, Frisbee-throwers and picnickers.
A relatively unvisited spot along Scotland’s western coast, Achnahaird Beach is a simple swathe of cream-coloured sand punctured with mollusc-encrusted rocks and little rock pools inhabited by scuttling crabs and anemones. Views from the beach of nearby mountains, including Stac Polly, are breathtaking – depending on the weather, of course.