Are there any good beaches in the UK?

Damming the stream at Portheras Cove Beach (photo by Roger Browne - CC-BY)

After a news report about UK beaches whose water quality failed to meet regulatory standards, I heard someone say that they didn’t know there were any good beaches in the United Kingdom. There certainly are some fabulous beaches, but you need to know where to look. If you choose a beach to visit at random, you may well find that it is made of mud or stones, or is persistently windy, or reeks of sewage, or is covered in rotting seaweed and dead fish. The beach season is too short to waste on visiting the dross, and you need to make an effort to find the good beaches.

Cornwall is the premier county for English beaches. Cornwall’s northern beaches catch the Atlantic storms, and offer good surfing. When the wind is down and the sun is shining, many of them are also great for swimming and sunbathing. Harlyn Bay, near Wadebridge, offers good swimming and surfing, and plenty of sand except at high tide.

Further west, I like the beach at Portheras Cove. There’s no vehicle access, and you need to walk a mile or so. There’s plenty of sand, and lots of rocks for children to play around on. The most popular activity for children seems to be trying to dam up the little stream that runs across the sand. Swimming was great when I was there. A sign warned about the danger of submerged metal objects, although I didn’t see any.

South of Land’s End are a string of golden beaches, most of whose names begin with “Porth”. An incredibly popular beach is Porth Curno, but it gets a bit of a “meh” from me because I prefer the little beaches to its east. These disappear at high tide, but at low-to-mid tides form a string of varied and interesting golden coves with the unlikely-sounding name of Pedn Vounder. It’s a hilly walk to get to them, but it’s worth it. At certain tides, there are “beach islands” away from the shoreline that are quite delightful. There’s a mixture of nude and clad bathing on these beaches.

If you head west along the coast path from the peninsular known as The Lizard you will find a few small (but beautiful and uncrowded) pockets of golden sand.

Devon and Dorset have some nice beaches too, and surely the prettiest of these is Durdle Door beach, with its backdrop of chalk cliffs and its crescent of rounded pebbles. There’s no sand here, but the water is clean for swimming and there’s the added interest of swimming the “door” if the water is calm enough.

Pembrokeshire, in south-west Wales, has some lovely beaches. Half-way between Abereiddy and Porthgain is a pleasant and uncrowded beach, unnamed on my map. Access is along the coastal path (with parking at Abereiddy beach), and your walk can also take in the stunning cliff-jumping and coasteering location of Blue Lagoon, ending with a meal at the popular Sloop Inn pub at Porthgain.

The weather is colder in Scotland, and the beach season is shorter, but there are some wonderful beaches. If you don’t mind being in the “back of beyond” (or perhaps you even prefer it), Mellon Udrigle beach (a hour from Ullapool), or Brora Beach (north of Brora) offer clear water bathing. Scottish beaches are sometimes golden like those further south, but are often whiter.

Barra beach, in the Outer Hebrides, is a beautiful beach although you must leave the beach if a plane needs to land on the sand (which only happens at low tide).

There are other nice beaches in the UK too (Ainsdale, near Liverpool, comes to mind with its sand-dunes and its park-on-the-beach policy). By the time you’ve checked out the beaches mentioned here you will have gathered enough further ideas to keep going.

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