OLD The best British beaches, chosen by the travel desk

·6-min read
Porthminster Beach with St Ives in the background, Cornwall (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Porthminster Beach with St Ives in the background, Cornwall (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The UK is set to see temperatures of up to 34C this Friday, following highs of 28 and 29 degrees earlier this week.

The “rare” surge in June temperatures has caused the Met Office to issue a three-day heat alert, covering parts of England from midnight on Friday until midnight on Sunday.

So, British beaches it is. Thankfully, our fair isle has plenty of decent ones – more Blue Flag beaches than Cyprus, even.

There’s nowhere quite like a British beach; in all their sticks-of-rock, wind-in-the-hair, sandy-sandwich glory.

Our little island has plenty of great options found along its every coast - here, The Independent’s travel desk praises our favourite stretches of sand across the country.

Sunny Sands, Folkestone, Kent

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Folkestone – perhaps best known for its proximity to the “Chunnel” – may seem like an odd inclusion in the best beach stakes. But its Sunny Sands beach is the place I’m most keenly anticipating returning to, for several reasons. First up, it’s extremely convenient when travelling from London – a swift 52 minutes on the high-speed Southeastern train service from St Pancras. Secondly, it has a smashing harbour arm, replete with food and drink stalls (including a champagne bar operating out of a lighthouse). And thirdly, it’s one of the few spots along the Kent coast that boasts an actual sand, rather than pebble, beach. There’s also a pebble beach on hand, if that’s more your thing, stretching who-knows-how-far and enlivened with a variety of vibrant public artworks, added to every three years during the Folkestone Triennial. Helen Coffey

Oddicombe, Torquay, Devon

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whenever I’m asked to pick my favourite beach, my answer is swift and certain: Oddicombe in south Devon. My answer largely stems from pure nostalgia – this is the beach we would go to most summers when I was a kid, during holidays to visit my dad’s family in Torquay. With a soft shingle beach, striking red cliffs (that are perpetually falling into the sea), cute kiosks to buy snacks, inflatables and buckets and spades, and even a cliff railway, it is the epitome of everything I want from a great British beach. HC

Whitby Beach, Whitby, Yorkshire

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are plenty of reasons to visit Whitby besides its long stretches of magnificent sand and shingle beach. The perfect fish and chips for one; the glorious “lemon top” (vanilla ice cream topped with a swirl of lemon sorbet) for another. It even hosts one of the world’s premier Goth festivals, the twice yearly Whitby Goth Weekend, thanks in part to Bram Stoker, for whom the Gothic Whitby Abbey served as inspiration for Dracula. Anyway, back to that beach – this blue flag beauty is ideal for rock pooling, paddling and bathing and has a spectacular cliff backdrop, plus a row of brightly coloured beach huts for added charm. HC

South Bank, Waterloo, London

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Calling this strip of sand and pebbles - properly visible only at low tide - a beach is possibly pushing it a little. But it’s a personal favourite of mine, as I held my wedding reception at the South Bank’s Oxo Tower, the building that overlooks it. There’s a bombastic view of the financial district’s skyscrapers and St Paul’s, and it’s oddly disorientating to look up at the people walking along the riverside path above. The South Bank beach changes with the seasons: in winter, the Thames looks bleakly beautiful in its gunmental glory; while in summer, seeing the sun bounce off the surrounding buildings while sunbathing in a bikini is a special kind of thrill. Plus, you’re sandwiched between the Southbank Centre (for art and culture) and Borough Market (for food) -no sticks of rock and cheap kiss-me-quick attractions here.Cathy Adams

Frinton-on-Sea beach, Essex

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If you grew up in Essex, as I did, then Frinton was the beach to go to. Unlike nearby Clacton or boisterous Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton has the nice sand and the quiet, family-friendly feel – so much so that it’s picked up a Blue Flag award. The beach itself is a real looker: it sweeps down to the sea from a high coastal promenade ideal for walking off the fish and chip lunch, and there’s a row of colourful beach huts I used to enjoy peering into as a child. But possibly the best thing about this place, as my parents will tell you, is the free parking close to the beach. CA

Ballycastle, County Antrim

 (Simon Calder)
(Simon Calder)

The Bay Cafe – which overlooks the broad beach of Ballycastle and has conveniently vast bay windows – serves the Big Fry special (sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomatoes, hashbrowns, soda bread, toast, tea) before long. This is a beach with a view: the hills of County Antrim subside into the sea – and beyond the tumbling cliffs, through the mist, stands the Mull of Kintyre, that bulky punctuation at the end of Scotland’s Argyll Peninsula. Simon Calder

Aberdeen, north-east Scotland

 (Charlotte Hindle)
(Charlotte Hindle)

Few British cities include a beach in their repertoire. Brighton and Swansea boast strips of shoreline, but are limited in their appeal by, respectively, shingle in Sussex and the humdrum urban backdrop in South Wales. In contrast, the Granite City of Aberdeen has a formidable beach: a wide arc of sand that is perfect for a pre-breakfast dip on a bright morning. After a splash or a surf, enjoy the architecture just inland in Old Aberdeen. SC

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula, South Wales

 (Visit Swansea Bay)
(Visit Swansea Bay)

The sweep of sand at the far end of the Gower Peninsula is far from the easiest beach in Britain to reach, even if you start from, say, Cardiff. But wherever you begin, it is worth the journey – with a wild, western aspect that makes it especially appealing at the end of a warm summer afternoon, when the muscular headlands cradle the sands and seem to collect the warmth. “Wake up to one of the best views in the world,” is the claim of the family-run Worm’s Head Hotel. SC

Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives’ Porthminster Beach is a bit of a stunner (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
St Ives’ Porthminster Beach is a bit of a stunner (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

St Ives is a minibreak star for so many reasons - its cutting-edge Tate gallery, mind-opening Barbara Hepworth museum and possibly the loveliest arrival by train to be found anywhere in our fair isles. You trundle along on the local train from St Erth, past Cornwall’s big-hitter Carbis Bay and finally arrive just above Porthminster Beach, a swathe of vanilla-ice-cream sands hugged by tropical-looking green slopes and topped by a ritzy beach bar. Some beaches are all about the scene, and sitting at Porthminster Beach Cafe, sipping an English Sparkling Wine produced in Cornwall and tucking into seafood linguine or local scallops, you can’t help but think: who needs the South of France? Lucy Thackray

Studland Bay, Dorset

 (Visit Dorset)
(Visit Dorset)

Backed by dunes of tufty grass and blessed with nearby views of white chalky cliffs, Studland feels wild and wholesome even when the summer crowds flock in. Pad footprints along its silky biscuit-coloured sands or take a paddleboard to the sheltered bay. The wider area, including Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy, is a National Trust area you can explore For luxury travellers, it’s the nearest “swimming pool” for guests of The Pig on the Beach, where you can stop in for a gourmet lunch if you haven’t scored a sought-after room. For naturists, there’s even a small patch where people have sunbathed starkers since the 1920s. Not that I’d know anything about that. LT

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