Nostalgia tastes sweet, and never more so than when mixed with a tang of salt at the seaside.
Time spent at the seaside
I was brought up, pretty much literally, as a beach baby in England. My parents moved to the coast when I was a small dot. I spent a lot of my childhood as a sandy toed beach urchin, towel and book under one arm. Although I now live about as far as you can get from the coast in England, I’m still up for any excuse to get to the sea. So here’s my guide to the best seaside experiences I can muster in England.
The Traditional One: Morecambe
Say “seaside” to most Brits, and they’ll have a vision of what constitutes a classic seaside resort. There will be the beach itself, of course, sometimes sandy, occasionally shingle or a mix of the two. But the beach won’t necessarily be the star of the show. For that, you’ll need all the extras that make up the day at the beach: a penny arcade, or in most cases these days a two penny arcade at best, maybe a pier to wander, a promenade, a theatre or two for evening entertainment. There will be shops selling the classic collection of beach toys including buckets and spades, and a whole load of sticky confectionery seldom seen other than at the beach. There will be a faint tang of fish and chips in the air, mixed with hot dogs and probably pizza.
Blogging on the beach in Morecambe
Morecambe on the Lancashire coast is a great example of a traditional seaside town. Sadly the pier is no more, but you can still promenade the sea front, pick up fish and chips to enjoy on the sand, and catch an evening show at the theatre. After you’ve managed to waste a few pounds, two pence at a time, in the amusement arcade.
The Transitional One: Ilfracombe
Some very traditional seaside towns have bumped into an updated version of themselves. Ilfracombe, for example, is still full of Victorian bed and breakfast accommodation, souvenir shops and quaint tea rooms. They now sit alongside a restaurant and sculpture by Damien Hirst at the Quay. It’s an interesting and sometimes challenging combination.
Verity stark against a stormy sky at Ilfracombe Harbour
From Ilfracombe, you can also pick up a ship to visit Lundy Island. Lundy is a full day in itself, where you can get to experience something rather wilder than anything Ilfracome has to offer. The MV Oldenburg will take you to the island, where you can spend a day exploring its three miles of contrasting landscapes. You’ll find rugged cliffs to the Atlantic side and a softer landscape facing the Bristol Channel. The whole island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and was England’s first Marine Conservation Zone, with unique flora and fauna.
The Chilled One: Saunton Sands
There are some beaches that see a steady procession of people settling in for the day. Saunton Sands, just around the headland from the surfing bay of Croyde, is three and a half glorious miles of soft sand, so flat and similar to Normandy that it was used to practice the D-Day landings. Saunton’s backed with sand dunes, a row of beach huts and a lot of rockpools to the right at low tide.
And breathe… Chilling with another perfect sunset at Saunton Sands
Rent yourself a beach hut for the day, complete with windbreaks, deckchairs and a refuge should the Devon liquid sunshine appear, and you’ll be ready for a fabulous time. At the entrance to the beach, you’ll find a large airy cafe with a first floor balcony with magnificent views. I can vouch for the wonderful treat of strawberries and cream watching the sun slide over the sea in the late afternoon. Downstairs, there’s a shop for ice creams, of course, and chips to enjoy on the sand with the twin tangs of salt on your lips from sea and snack.
On the beach itself, you’ll find all kinds of visitors. There are the local dog walkers, often introducing themselves to you in order to retrieve a dog who has decided you look the kind of person to throw his ball for him. Then there are the groups of bodyboarders, wetsuited and dedicated to the bigger waves to the right of the bay. In front of the beach huts are the families, sometimes brought to the coast by local relatives. Then there are the unexpected but wonderful gatherings, like the group of sixtysomethings giving a word-perfect rendition of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds to the assembled huts.
The Wild One: Bolton-le-Sands
There are still some beaches in England that are essentially wild, with very few facilities and visited mostly by locals. Bolton-le-Sands is dramatically tidal; visit at high tide and you’ll find just a few feet between the low sea wall and the water. At low tide, you can walk for mile after damp sandy mile before you can find the sea. The area can therefore be dangerous for the unwary, and it’s wise to consider the tide times carefully before walking out a long way at low tide.
That’s high tide at Bolton-le-Sands. At low tide, every bit of the sea you can see there is gone, leaving a landscape of rock pools and sand flats.
But at low tide the treasures the ebbing tide uncovers are magnificent. Here is rockpooling of the highest order. On the day we visited, there were two small lads being shown the time of their lives by a pair of patient and loving grandparents. This is the stuff of my childhood adventures at the seaside: watching crabs, jumping around the rocks. spotting new seabirds and finding wildflowers. It’s wonderful to know that places like this still exist.
The Seafaring One: Hartland Quay
You have to drive a fair way down narrow wildflower lined country lanes to find this place. In fact, you’ll think you’ve finally arrived, then realise you’ve just reached the lighthouse. The Quay itself is further away, down an even narrower winding trail to a small hotel and complex at the bottom. Then you can walk onward to Hartland Quay, where there’s a small museum sharing information about the Quay’s seafaring past, including shipwrecks and smuggling.
You can see just how rugged the coast is here at Hartland Quay. To the right of this picture, the lighthouse at Hartland Point helps to protect shipping. But there are still plenty of tales of shipwrecks at the museum.
The Quay itself is craggy and full of stones. You can get down to water level at low tide and enjoy scrambling across the rocks to investigate the rockpools. When we were last there, we saw a hanglider across the cliffs, silhouetted against a cloud cloaked sun. Then there’s the cliff top view down to the bay itself, a massive drop culminating in pounding waves. You can really appreciate how shipwrecks happened here, and see the need for the lighthouse perched on the headland.
Which would you choose?
The great thing is that there are so many different seaside experiences to be had here in England. We’ve had lazy days with family, complete with chips and milkshakes in a cafe. We’ve watched the waves pound the cliffs with enough violence to be scary, even some thirty feet above. And we’ve run through the water’s edge, chilly toes in the sand, and just celebrated the sheer pleasure of being alive. Masefield got it right: I must go down to the seas again.
We’re working our way around these lovely islands to show you beautiful Britain. You can see more of the Lancashire coast here. Venture eastwards to the stunning Yorkshire Dales, where we took the train to the Scottish borders. We’ve also taken a rather longer sleeper train to the Scottish Highlands. You can explore charming Regency Royal Leamington Spa, voted the happiest place to live in England, and find Shakespeare’s country here. Take a trip to Birmingham for a dose of city life, or else enjoy the tranquility of the Welsh borders.
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52 thoughts on “Sea Fever: Falling for the charms of the seaside”
I am lucky to live by the seaside, in the South of the UK and while I didn’t experienced any of the beaches you are talking about in this article, I think the “traditions” are quite the same. The beach huts, the arcades, the fish and chips, they are all part of the British seaside culture. 🙂
Absolutely so. 🙂 It’s lovely that there are so many places to enjoy it to the full. And how wonderful to be living on the coast! As you can tell, I miss it, but I’ll be back.
Awesome photos, I can’t decide which I would choose so would have to experience all of them 🙂
I was lucky to grow up by the beach in Victoria Australia however have moved two hours inland and I definitely miss it.
Thank you. So many beaches, so little time. 🙂 Love of the seaside never, leaves you, does it?
I can practically taste those fish & chips! And no seaside visit is ever complete without a forage in the rock pools and a stick of rock to test your fillings on later! I’m thinking we may have to visit North Wales next week…the seaside is good for the soul! Thank you for the inspiration
The healing touch of Dr Sea is highly recommended. North Wales has some lovely spots to do all those things – hope you find a beautiful cove with your name on it.
I’d have to choose another one: Falmouth in Cornwall. It’s stunning! Some great choices here though
Oooh! Another for my list. 🙂 Any excuse to head for another beach.
They all look beautiful but think I will take the chilled one. It just looks so peaceful and relaxing. I would love to go for a walk there.
Perhaps my particular love of Saunton is showing through a bit. 😉 It really is a magical place, as though someone has taken away all your cares and replaced them with such a sense of wellbeing.
Growing up in South Africa with its long white sand beaches, I was shocked when I first went to the UK and discovered what passed for beaches there! But a nice walk along a beach anywhere is nice, just don’t ask me to sun-bathe.
My husband once memorably managed to get sunburn on one ankle at Braunton Burrows, so we can occasionally get a little bit of heat here. 🙂 South Africa sounds wonderful for beaches. *adds to ever-extending list of travels to consider*
Hi Bernie, lovely to be reminded of beaches we left behind when we went travelling full-time in our RV 18 months ago. We love Croyde and Bigbury Sands in Devon too. So many to choose from around that coastline. Kx
Devon’s a lovely contrast – the more rugged north coast and softer landscape of the south coast with those red cliffs around Teignmouth. So many beautiful beaches. 🙂 And an RV would be perfect for the trip too, although some of the lanes might be a challenge; I’ve not been there in anything bigger than a VW camper.
I moved to the coast of North Carolina in December 2016 to heal my heart. I’ve vacationed here on Oak Island since I was 8 years old and spent many childhood summers here so it already felt like home. I think the ocean is soothing and healing for anyone who is hurting and I feel so lucky to live here! I really enjoyed your post. And I want to rent a beach hut now!
Salt water puts lots of things right. There’s something about the space at the water’s edge, and the calming rhythm of the tides. Even the big blustery days seem to clear things away that need to be shifted. And most definitely rent a beach hut! It makes for such a wonderful day. I’ve heard that Oak Island is gorgeous, and I’m glad its powers are working for you.
what a beautiful story! brings me back to when I was a kid and my parents would take us to Seaside, Oregon! your photos are stunning and bring a swarm of emotions!!
Ah, that’s lovely – thanks. 🙂 The sea is so majestic and, as you say, stirs up many emotions. Glad you have such good memories.
Absolutely LOVE this! There is SO much more to the UK than I thought and thank you for showing me more of it!
Loved this! Makes me want a day trip to the beach. I’ll definitely look back on this next time I’m in England.
Much as autumn’s my favourite season, I’ve loved looking back to summer on the beach. And looking forward to winter there too: all bundled up, and with a hot chocolate to look forward to once we persuade our windswept selves off the sands and over to a cafe.
I’ve actually never been to any of this despite living in England my whole life! My favourite beaches in the UK are in Scotland 🙂 Although I now want to visit bolton-le-sand 🙂
Scotland has some amazing beaches. We loved Portobello, even if it did try to blow us away. And absolutely do visit Bolton-le-Sands. There’s a cafe belonging to the campsite along from the car park, so you can get a cuppa if you’re waiting for the tide to go out. Or come in, even. We spent a good two hours just watching the tide turn one day. As you do. 🙂
This is such a helpful guide! Although I’d love to visit them all, I think I’d choose Hartland Quay first. I like my seaside rugged, and it looks beautiful there. We used to live in London, but didn’t make it outside the city nearly as often as I would have liked. Before we moved there, I imagined us spending every other weekend either by the sea or in the countryside, and I just laugh at myself for that now. We were lucky to get away once a month (if that!) during our three years there. Such is life, I guess!
Hartland is absolutely spectacular. We’ve seen it under beautiful blue skies and also in that liquid Devon sunshine. Someday we hope to get a room in the hotel there in the depths of winter. London does tend to suck you in; even if you have weekends free, there are still so many temptations of things to do in the city that I can fully understand why you didn’t get away as often as you’d planned. You’ll just have to come back! 😉
I’ve never been to the British coast and I would love to! I’ve seen some photos before and it’s raw and beautiful. Like your insider guide 🙂
Ah, it’s so beautiful. 🙂 And so many different types of beach to enjoy from the wild to the family friendly. Hope you get to visit.
Love the thought of an idyllic beach with Victorian homes and fish and chips in the air! Sounds like such great memories:)
They absolutely are. 🙂 And I’m still discovering lots of new coastal spots like Bolton-le-Sands.
I always forget that the UK has so many seasides to explore. Somehow I always get stuck in a city and having afternoon tea. But this is a great list of things to see for the next time I’m there!!
I hate to tempt you, but the coast has lots of afternoon teas too. 😉 Especially Devon and Cornwall, where traditional cream teas are a big thing. In Devon the cream goes on top, and in Cornwall, it’s the jam. Although in Cornwall, you could have treacle instead, in which case it’s called “Thunder and Lightening”!
This post took me back to exploring British beaches in the summer when I lived in England. You have alerted me to new areas I need to explore when I am lucky enough to visit the UK again. Thanks for taking me back 🙂
I hope you had an absolutely brilliant time. There are so many distinctly different places to visit that it’s a whole journey of its own. If I hadn’t lost my pics, I could also have shown the Jurassic Coast, which is full of fossils. Good excuse to return for both of us. 🙂
Such great tips! I think a lot of people don’t realize that England is actually a very beautiful country! I remember going to Brighton and loving it! Next time I go back I will have to check out some of these spots!
I think what I love most here are the contrasts. England can do wild and rugged, it can do soft rolling hills and woodlands, and it can do very large amounts of history. All of which are rather wonderful. But as a Brit, I may be a bit biased. 🙂
I’m from Margate so loved reading about your seaside experiences. There is something so quintessentially British about the seaside.
A friend’s been doing a lot of photography in Margate recently and it looks stunning. We islanders love our coast. 🙂
I recently visited the seaside town of Brighton, England, and completely fell in love! I’d love to go back to England and explore some of these other seaside towns! 🙂
Ah, Brighton’s a whole other category of seaside towns in its own right: so vibrant, hip in all the good ways and absolutely buzzing. Glad you had a chance for some time there.
Ah, Brighton’s brilliant! So glad you had a good time. I can’t think of anywhere quite like Brighton, although Newquay and Croyde have a lot of the same chilled vibe.
Hi Bernie, I loved reading this! I had no idea there were so many beautiful seaside areas in England. I’ve only visited the UK in winter, so visiting the seaside was the furtherest from my mind. I will have to visit again during a warmer period and visit some of these areas!
The coast really is so very beautiful in many different ways. Definitely add it to your list for a summer trip. And if you wrap up warm, it also makes for a great day out in autumn or winter. Think the wind in your hair, the solitude, the lovely endorphins that a good walk along the shore brings, and the sumptuous restorative hot chocolate waiting at the end of your wander. 😉
I love so much your writing style!
I also live quite close to the sea in the Netherlands and it’s a thing I couldn’t really live without.
Thank you. 🙂 The sea gets in your blood, doesn’t it?
Cool post. I wish I lived by or near the sea at least one point of my upbringing…then I would know how to swim! Haha. Thanks for sharing, it’s never too late to experience the water life (and this is coming from someone from a huge, bustling city, where beaches are not great). 😉
I went from coast to big city. 🙂 I think I was taught to swim early to avoid the risks of my trying to do a Robinson Crusoe roleplay in the estuary sandbanks/imaginary islands without the aid of even doggy paddle. But even if you don’t go there to swim, there’s something special about the sea.
This is such a beautifully detailed and well written post! I really enjoyed reading it. I feel like I have such a good sense of what they’re each like. Great job!
Ah, thanks. 🙂 I do feel that there are so many different experiences to be had at the coast, and every one of which is great in its own way. There are days for rugged seafaring adventures, and others to waste your money trying to win little plastic things in arcades…
These look amazing! I always forget how much I love the ocean until I am back there, because I live somewhere that is miles and miles away from the ocean. I need to visit more beaches while I travel though! Looks amazing!
I’m exactly the same. Every time I get back to the sea, I know I should be there more often. But it made me feel happy looking at the pictures again, and I’m glad it worked for you too. 🙂
I love that the idea of seaside is different from the beachside we have gere in Florida. I’d love to be surrounded by these cliffs while on vacation, and would definitely help myself to fish and chips at Morecambe. That’d be my choice, sounds kind of like Atlantic City 🙂
That sounds a good equivalent, although I think Morecambe’s tiny in comparison. Still plenty of fun things to do though. 🙂