Heatwave choice: Simon Calder chooses 10 British beaches for you to enjoy the sunshine
From deep south to far north, there is plenty of coastline to savour
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Tuesday 16 July 2013
Britain enjoys a far higher shoreline-per-citizen ratio than the average European - many times better than in France and Spain, for example. With hundreds of great British beaches on offer, this is a purely personal selection of some favourites - running from deep south to far north.
I count this fickle stretch of sand as the southernmost in Britain - and given the difficulty in reaching this corner of the kingdom, you can expect to enjoy the place in relative solitude. If you don't have your own yacht, take a boat from Penzance or a plane from one of several south-west airports to St Mary's - then a local boat across to St Agnes.
The morning sun brings Torbay to life, with Paignton shining brightest. A traditional resort with the benefit of an interesting hinterland: fishing-village Brixham to the south, post-Fawlty Torquay to the north, and the gorgeous River Dart just south-west.
Two retro transport options earn the otherwise unremarkable beach at Ryde its place: Britain's last surviving hovercraft roars off to Southsea several times an hour, while an ancient former Tube train rattles down the pier, the opposite end of the railway spectrum from the Trans-Siberian.
The Welsh mainland has a ridiculous number of excellent beaches, but this is my favourite: the sweep of sand that bookends the Gower Peninsula, with a wild, western aspect that makes it ideal at the end of a warm summer afternoon.
For sheer diversity, head to England's easternmost county. On the "Suffolk Heritage Coast" between Aldeburgh and Southwold, you find rich flora and birdlife; the Sizewell B nuclear plant; the artists' colony of Walberswick; Alain de Botton's "balancing barn", a short way inland; and miles and miles of beaches that face the dawn.
If scenery from the beach is important to you, then Beaumaris is the place: you look across to the silhouette of Snowdonia. The town and its medieval castle are also visually rewarding, and if you are feeling energetic the Anglesey Coastal Path may tempt you.
For many of us, the beach is just an excuse for a collection of indulgences - and Blackpool vies with Brighton for the crown of Britain's most hedonistic resort. The Lancashire town wins thanks to having proper sand, not shingle, as well as the Tower and the Pleasure Beach.
Lord Byron married Annabella Milbanke at Seaham Hall two centuries ago, and the cliff-top residence is now an elegant spa hotel. In the intervening years, Seaham was the heart of the coal industry, with shafts extending deep beneath the North Sea and a hinterland desecrated by development. Now, nature is reclaiming the shore.
Want a sweep of shoreline to yourself? Find your way on foot or by sea to the Knoydart Peninsula, Britain's last great wilderness. Western Scotland has more appealing sands (notably in the Outer Hebrides), but while Knoydart is part of the mainland it offers even more isolation.
By the time you reach the Northern Isles, the chances are that you won't be planning on too much swimming - which is where Westray scores. Seals slouch on the shore and seabirds screech, while archaeologists dig up traces of one of Europe's oldest settlements.
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