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The best, lesser-known beaches in the UK, from Scotland to Devon

The next few weeks will see huge numbers of people heading for popular beaches up and down the country — so here’s our pick of Britain’s best hideaways.

The list includes a sheltered curve of gorgeous golden sand in Wales, a tucked-away beach in Devon where there’s a chance of spotting seals and a shingle and pebble patch near Bognor Regis with enough space to enjoy a good blast of sea air.   

SCOTTISH SECLUSION

Simple pleasures: This gloriously isolated stretch of sand at Mellon Udrigle in the Highlands is backed by grassy dunes

This gloriously isolated stretch of sand at Mellon Udrigle in the Highlands is backed by grassy dunes and bookended by rocky promontories. Views of silhouetted mountains ripple along the horizon.

To reach, take a detour off the North Coast 500. From the car park, a boardwalk leads down to a beach, which is dotted with rockpools filled with crabs and starfish. If you are lucky, the only locals you will spot are the sheep grazing.

Don’t miss: There’s an abundance of wildlife in the waters here, so book an excursion with Gairloch Marine Life Centre and Cruises (two-hour tour, £30, porpoise-gairloch.co.uk).

Good to know: Just across the bay is Gruinard island, used by the military in World War II to test anthrax as a possible bioweapon.

Where to stay: The Poolewe Hotel is an old coaching inn on the shores of Loch Ewe with rooms from £105 B&B (poolewehotel.co.uk).

OFF-GRID DEVON

Keep your eyes peeled for the grey seal colony and the small waterfall at Mattiscombe Sands in Devon

Keep your eyes peeled for the grey seal colony and the small waterfall at Mattiscombe Sands in Devon

To get to Mattiscombe Sands in South Devon it’s a 25-minute walk along the South West Coast Path.Appropriately, the route sets off from Start Point. On the beach there’s a small waterfall, rocks and a chance to spot grey seals.

Don’t miss: Devour a crab sandwich from the takeaway kiosk Britannia @ The Beach in Beesands (britanniaatthebeach.co.uk).

Good to know: Leave the path at Peartree Point to have a dip in the lagoon. Keep your eyes peeled for the grey seal colony, too.

Where to stay: Rooms at the nautical-themed Cricket Inn by the beach at Beesands from £110 B&B (thecricketinn.com).

IDYLLIC NORFOLK

Bypass the flocks of visitors vying for a windbreaker spot at Great Yarmouth and head for Scratby (pictured)

Bypass the flocks of visitors vying for a windbreaker spot at Great Yarmouth and head for Scratby (pictured)

Bypass the flocks of visitors vying for a windbreaker spot at Great Yarmouth and head for Scratby, a 15-minute drive along the coast.

The wide expanse of bank-backed sand makes it blissful for a quiet sunbathe. But for those wanting a good stretch, the beach sweeps along for a pleasant few miles. 

The small village has a fish and chip shop, tearoom and stores selling seaside paraphernalia.

Don’t miss: Cool down with an ice cream in a cone from the hatch at Tastebud Tearooms in the village.

Good to know: Scratby’s neighbour, California Beach, was named in the 1840s when fisherman found coins thought to be linked to the Gold Rush.

Where to stay: The Old Hall Hotel in nearby Caister-on-Sea has homely rooms from £101 B&B (oldhallhotelcaister.co.uk).

PEMBROKESHIRE BLISS

Coast to coast: Barafundle Bay is a sheltered curve of golden sand where you'll have no problem finding a secluded spot

Coast to coast: Barafundle Bay is a sheltered curve of golden sand where you’ll have no problem finding a secluded spot

Once the private beach of the Cawdor family, Barafundle is a sheltered curve of golden sand —just reward for the 15-minute jaunt along the path from the National Trust car park at Stackpole.

Even in the height of summer, you will have no problem finding a secluded spot.

For wildlife lovers, keep your eyes peeled for fulmars and gannets cruising overhead.

Don’t miss: A 15-minute drive across the peninsula will take you to Cafe Mor, a converted fishing boat that now serves up such delights as a lobster burger (beachfood.co.uk).

Good to know: Pause at the entry to Barafundle and admire the remains of the castellated boundary wall, part of the original estate.

Where to stay: The four homely rooms at the Stackpole Inn are homely with warm, wooden floors, a sofa and tartan fabrics. Rooms from £75 (stackpoleinn.co.uk).

HIDDEN CORNWALL

Low tide at Porth Joke beach brings plenty of sand, crabbing in rock pools and, if you are lucky, a few local seals

Low tide at Porth Joke beach brings plenty of sand, crabbing in rock pools and, if you are lucky, a few local seals

Despite the name, Porth Joke beach is a serious contender for a horde-free getaway. From West Pentire, across the estuary from Newquay, it’s a 15-minute walk along the coastal path.

En route you will pass wild poppies, while down on the beach low tide brings plenty of sand, crabbing in rock pools and, if you are lucky, a few local seals.

Don’t miss: The Bowgie Inn serves a refreshing tipple from its benches overlooking Crantock beach (bowgie.com).

Good to know: History buffs should visit Crantock parish church, where 17th-century stocks that once held criminals are on display.

Where to stay: Wake to views of crashing waves at Lewinnick Lodge on the headland at nearby Pentire. Rooms from £199, B&B (lewinnicklodge.co.uk).

SUSSEX SOLITUDE

Blast of sea air: Climping beach is a shingle and pebble patch halfway between Littlehampton and Bognor Regis

Blast of sea air: Climping beach is a shingle and pebble patch halfway between Littlehampton and Bognor Regis

THOSE SEASIDE CERTAINTIES

  • Watching another family set up camp in your favourite spot.
  • The crunch of sand in a ham sandwich.
  • Paying over the odds for a tiny plastic spade.
  • Blond lifeguards trying to look Californian.
  • Bat-and-ball ‘rallies’ that only ever last ten seconds.
  • Racing to eat a ’99 before it melts.
  • Trapping your finger in a deckchair.
  • Buying a stick of rock.
  • Someone saying: ‘I’m sure there’s blue sky over there.’

 

Climping beach is a shingle and pebble patch halfway between Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, divided by groynes and with enough space to enjoy a good blast of sea air.

Don’t miss: Half a mile back from the road, the Oystercatcher Inn has a large garden, perfect for a sundowner (vintageinn.co.uk).

Good to know: The Climping Beach Cafe serves organic ice cream.

Where to stay: The medieval rooms at Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa have four-poster beds and roll-top baths; rooms from £245 B&B (hshotels.co.uk/bailiffscourt/rooms).

SEDUCTIVE SUFFOLK

Book a spot at the National Trust car park and it’s a ten-minute saunter to the gently sloping beach by Dunwich Heath.

It’s mostly shingle — but it’s close to RSPB Minsmere, so birdwatchers will love it.

Those staying until sunset will find the colours from the gorse and heather on the heathland offer a romantic flourish.

Don’t miss: Fish and chips at the Ship at Dunwich (shipatdunwich.co.uk).

Good to know: From now until September, the heath is a riot of floral colour. Take the National Trust loop (nationaltrust.org.uk/dunwich-heath-and-beach/trails/dunwich-heath-gorse-walk).

Where to stay: The 16 rooms at the Ship at Dunwich are cosy — from £148 B&B.

NORTHUMBER-SAND

Backed by pretty, flowering dunes and blanketed in blue skies, Cresswell Beach is perfect for a stroll or to enjoy the solitude

Backed by pretty, flowering dunes and blanketed in blue skies, Cresswell Beach is perfect for a stroll or to enjoy the solitude 

You will be hard-pushed to see a soul on Cresswell Beach, a seven-mile stretch of North Sea-smattered sand at one end of Druridge Bay.

Backed by pretty, flowering dunes and blanketed in blue skies, it’s perfect for a stroll or to enjoy the solitude.

A couple of miles down, you can tail off into the wetlands of Druridge Pools nature reserve, a former coal mine, to see otters, redshank and egrets, among other natural delights.

Don’t miss: The food at roadside Drift Cafe is great for a picnic. You can pick up wraps, ice creams and milkshakes (thedriftcafe.co.uk/wp/).

Good to know: For watersports minus the surf, hire a canoe or paddleboard at Ladyburn Lake in the nature reserve (from £15, coquetshorebase.org.uk).

Where to stay: There are 12 rooms in the quiet lodge behind the The Portland hotel in Ashington from £70 B&B (theportlandashington.com).

QUIET KENT

West Beach is a short walk west from Whistable. There are no shops, so come prepared with plenty of provisions

West Beach is a short walk west from Whistable. There are no shops, so come prepared with plenty of provisions

A short walk west from Whitstable, the sand and shingle at West Beach is what the Kentish seaside town was like before the daytrippers came en masse: blissfully empty.

There’s a smattering of beach huts at one end but, otherwise, this stretch, as far as Seasalter, is like the open road.

There are no shops, so come prepared with plenty of provisions.

Don’t miss: The one exception is the West Beach Bar & Tearoom in the caravan park behind the beach (westbeachwhitstable.business.site).

Good to know: Call ahead for drinks in the garden at the popular Sportsman in Seasalter (01227 273370, thesportsmanseasalter.co.uk).

Where to stay: In Whitstable Harbour, the Hotel Continental has whitewashed rooms from £70 B&B (hotelcontinental.co.uk).

DORSET DELIGHT

Hotspots: Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, is a large, pebbly curve of Jurassic Coast reached from the village of Tyneham

Hotspots: Worbarrow Bay, Dorset, is a large, pebbly curve of Jurassic Coast reached from the village of Tyneham

Not far from the famous Lulworth Cove, Worbarrow Bay is a large, pebbly curve of Jurassic Coast reached from the village of Tyneham via a walk through ancient woodland that was an army base during World War II.

The downs are still used as a firing range by the Army these days and there is no access on some days, so check before you set off.

Don’t miss: The Scott Arms in nearby Kingston has weekend barbecues (thescottarms.com).

Good to know: The area is rich in fossils; dinosaur footprints can be found in the cliffs of the Worbarrow Tout promontory at one end of the beach.

Where to stay: 16th-century Castle Inn in West Lulworth has 12 plush rooms from £100 B&B (castleinnlulworth.co.uk).    

A bucket and spade is all we crave!   

By Ysenda Maxtone Graham 

We can get quite defensive about our favourite beach. Each of us has our own particular image of what a beach should be like — often derived from the one we used to visit as children.

Was it a north Cornish beach with crashing Atlantic surf, or a gentler south Cornish cove, a vast stretch of Norfolk coast, or a pebbly Kentish beach, a bracing Scottish shoreline, or an entertainment-filled Blackpool one?

We don’t like it when other people dare to criticise ‘our’ kind of beach or suggest that ‘their’ one further down the coast is better.

After months of lockdown, most of us are desperate to go back to the coast and breathe in lungfuls of healthy British sea air. The Covid-19 epidemic has taught us to appreciate the beauty of our own country. Many of us will decide it’s safest to stay in the UK this summer and rediscover our love of beaches in all their mad variety.

Rockpooling is a fantastic activity for kids

Rockpooling is a fantastic activity for kids 

None of us lives far from the coast; the most inland village in Britain, according to Ordnance Survey, is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire, only 70 miles from the sea.

We’re aching for that sublime moment of arrival at our beloved place, when the shoes start filling with dry sand and become ridiculously unwearable, and you take them off and feel your bare feet sink into the water for the first tingling touch.

We like to ‘know the ropes’ when we travel, hence our propensity to go back to the same beach year after year. And not only that but to go back to the same spot on the beach we’ve been going to for 40 or more years, and where our parents or grandparents went before us.

Our list today of lesser-known beaches might jolt us out of this repeat habit and remind us not to get too set in our ways. Or it could be the start of a tradition that will descend through generations.

You’ll need some strong members of the party because some of these beaches are a brisk short walk from the car and it’s no good arriving with nothing but a towel. We like our comforts. No beach day is complete without a Thermos flask and a tin of chocolate digestives to hand round.

I used to turn my nose up at folding chairs — now I’m a convert. They have so many uses: for a snooze, to hang clothes from and dry towels on, cup-holder, and shade-provider for the dog, whose territorial urges kick in the second you plonk down a chair.

So down to this delightful place you’ll go, carrying a chair each, surfboards, cricket bats, balls, buckets and spades, picnic, rug, hats, suncream, books, change of trousers for the stubborn person who will ‘just go for a paddle’ and get soaked. And only when you get there, will you discover whether it fulfils your own micro-requirements: does it have the right amount of shade; does it have sand hard and flat enough for a game of cricket, and of the perfect consistency for a moated sandcastle? Is there somewhere to shelter if it rains? Is there any phone signal?

And are there enough pebbles to throw but not so many that it makes walking down to the sea in bare feet torture? Only by sampling these places for the first time will you begin to start perfecting the experience and making the beach ‘yours’. 

  • British Summer Time Begins: The School Summer Holidays 1930-1980 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham is out now. 

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