For me, there’s a beach for every season and every reason. I’m lucky to live in a country that has a lot of coast, and we make the best of that proximity to the sea. Don’t just be a fair-weather friend to the coast. It’s stunning when the waves are crashing, there’s a blustery wind, and your ramble on the shore is followed by a steaming mug of something to warm you from within. I’ve conducted considerable research – ahem, hung out at the beach a lot – over my advancing years. Here are some of the best beaches in England to explore.
Best Beach for a Majestic Backdrop: Bamburgh, Northumberland
You don’t find too many beaches backed by a Norman Castle, so this makes Bamburgh a rather special place. The castle itself has a big collection of arms and armour to investigate in its twelfth century fortifications. Offshore, you’ll spot the Inner Farne Islands, home to hermits and monks until Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries.
The beach itself gets good surfing waves, and there are lessons available along with surf hire. Even in summer, it’s a bit bracing for a full swim, but wading or paddling is definitely on. There are dunes at the aptly named Sandy Hills, and plenty of flora and fauna makes this area a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Walk north on the beach to explore Stags Rocks and the rock pools that are created there. There’s also a small lighthouse, said to be the most northerly of its kind in England. This example of our best beaches saw the testing of the world’s first ever lifeboat.
Best Beach For a sandy bay: Saunton Sands, Devon
Take the road from Barnstaple via Braunton to the coast in North Devon, and you’ll find a steep lane heading down to Saunton Sands. Here you have three and a half miles of beautiful sandy bay, with dunes to the left and rock pools to the right at the headland. This is a great spot for bodyboarding and the bay is often full of longboarders and families.
You can hire a beach hut here, complete with chairs and windbreaks, and settle in for the day. There’s a cafe in which to enjoy lunch or a cream tea while watching the waves from its massive balcony, and also a shop for every essential from suncream to beach toys to chips. This is a dog-friendly beach, and if you didn’t bring a dog with you, you may find yourself adopted by one during the day. It’s made my list of best beaches for its ability to melt away any stresses.
Best Beach for something unusual: Crosby, near Liverpool
Take the local train from Liverpool out to Crosby, and a short walk from Hall Road up past the lifeboat station will bring you to Crosby beach. Its a nice flat sandy expanse, but be aware that those aren’t swimmers that you’re seeing. They’re models of the artist Antony Gormley. Another Place is an installation of 100 lifesized Mr Gormleys, all staring out to sea. Some of them are dressed for the occasion; when we last visited one sported a bikini and sarong. They make for a spectacular skyline.
Depending on the tides, some of the figures are partly or fully submerged, and some are now homes to sea life. Because of the fast moving tides along this part of the Mersey estuary, you should not consider swimming here. Be alert too to the potential for quicksands, and it is recommended that you stay within 50 metres of the promenade.
When you’re there, check out the fine houses of Liverpool’s merchant sea captains along the shore road. There’s a Coastal Path with plenty of opportunities for ship-spotting. To the north, you’ll also find the submerged forest (a mere 4000 years old) of the River Alt where there are lots of seabirds.
Best Beach for Wildlife Encounters: Formby, Lancashire
Also not far from Liverpool is the flat sandy expanse of Formby Beach. Despite its proximity to a lot of civilisation, it’s surprisingly wild. At low tide you can see plenty of prehistoric mud; as this is being eroded, you might be lucky enough to spot ancient animal tracks at the water’s edge.
Back behind the dunes, in the pine woods beyond, you might spot a more recent animal visitor. Here lives one of the few remaining red squirrel colonies. You can also find a group on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour.
Best Beach for a day out at the seaside: Broadstairs, Kent
Deep in the family photo albums, I have a picture of my mum, in a fab 1950s bathing suit, enjoying the sandy beach here at Broadstairs. It was always a coastal treat for people from London, and today Broadstairs is still full of that family beach experience.
All the bays at Broadstairs – Viking Bay, St Mary’s Bay and Stone Bay – are linked by a promenade. As this is classic British seaside, you also get beach huts, sandy bays and rock pools to explore. Dogs are welcome before 9am and after 6pm in the summer.
Best beach for a world heritage site: Lulworth Cove, Dorset
Lulworth is a pebble beach secluded in that beautiful horseshoe shaped cove you see above. Coastal erosion over some 10,000 years is responsible for that memorable shape. This is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
Be aware that this beautiful spot sees around half a million visitors a year, with a third in July and August. So if you want a more peaceful visit, choose your date accordingly. In the summer there are boat trips available to Durdle Door and Mupe Bay. Durdle Door is a natural limestone arch on the coast. You can walk to Durdle Door via the hill from Lulworth.
If you think you recognise this beautiful spot, you may have seen in in Nanny McPhee, and also in the video for Tears for Fears Shout.
Best Beach for rugged rocks: Kynance Cove, Cornwall
You’ll find Kynance Cove two miles north of Lizard Point, not far from Helston. This is a really deep sandy cove, accessed by steep steps. Here you’ve got spectacular and unusual serpentine rocks, the absolute epitome of the rugged Cornwall coast.
The cove has seen some famous visitors including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, plus the poet Tennyson. The South West Coastal Footpath provides access to the cove, and there’s a cafe on site. If it looks familiar, you should know that it was used as a location setting for Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It’s also a location for Poldark.
Best Beach For natural beauty: Blakeney, Norfolk
This is a beach to really get your nature on. Part of Norfolk’s Heritage Coast, and an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this area is full of coastal wildlife. The North Norfolk Coastal Path travels the quayside of the tiny village of Blakeney (population less than 1,000) and onwards to salt marshes and sandy beaches. There are over 100 species of birds nesting here.
Blakeney Point nearby is full of salt flats, shingle spits and reclaimed farmland. It’s a great spot for birdwatching and is home to around five hundred seals.
Blakeney itself has a depth of history that belies its size, including reports of piracy in the fourteenth century when men from the village boarded vessels from Flanders. There’s a friary, a windmill and a lot of historic pubs with proper beer.
Best Beach on a Small island: Tresco, Isles of Scilly
Tresco is situated in the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall. It’s a car free island, with most goods being moved by farm tractor and trailer. The south coast of the island has beautiful sandy bays backed by dunes. Pentle Bay in particular is full of dunes and then heathland, creating a beautiful environment. Here you can indulge in full your fantasies of island living.
You’d expect somewhere so stunning to be a film location, and you can spot Tresco in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Proving that Debbie Harry is a woman of enduring good taste, the video for Blondie’s Island of Lost Souls was also shot here.
For a look at life on the islands, I heartily recommend reading The Life of A Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor, a police sergeant formerly stationed there. His humour totally encapsulates the idiosyncracies of island life, and it made me laugh until my eyes went damp.
Best Beach for wild waves and surfing: Fistral Bay, Cornwall
A mere half mile west of Newquay, Fistral has a reputation as the UK’s best surfing beach. It’s split into two halves: North and South Fistral, with most of the big waves coming from The Cribbar reef at the north end. These are reckoned to be the biggest waves in Cornwall, reaching 40 feet. With all that big water, you’ll be pleased to know there’s a lifeguard service.
Fistral also has the International Surfing Centre, which hosts all kinds of businesses including surf hire. Boardmaster, Europe’s largest surf and skate festival, takes place here in August. With so much surf action going on, this has to be one of our best beaches.
best beach for getting away from the world: Man o’War, Dorset
I make no apologies for including this lovely neighbour of Lulworth Cove as one of our best beaches in its own right. Even the name is so majestically nautical. It’s very popular here in summer, but far more peaceful out of season. The beach itself is a mixture of sand and fine shingle, and is accessed by a long steep swirl of steps. This is not the place to realise you left something essential behind in the car.
The beach is adjacent to the South West Coastal Path and is part of the Purbeck Heritage Coast and the Jurassic Coast. You can see the ancient history of coastal development here, and maybe even spot a fossil or two.
More Best Beaches and sea Experiences
You’ll have realised by now that I’ve been permanently affected by sea fever. Here’s my guide to the best beaches in Wales and to more beaches to explore. We also have a fabulous collection of the best boat trips experienced by travel writers. If you’d like more time on the ocean, you can read our experiences cruising in the Baltics.
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