Five Best British Beaches

The search for miles of golden sand and clear blue seas need not mean a trip to the Caribbean. Cathy Packe finds the best beaches in the UK


Woolacombe Devon

Woolacombe Devon

This long, golden stretch of the north Devon coast is everything you expect of an English beach: fine sand, rock pools, easy access and facilities that the whole family can enjoy. The beach is nearly three miles long, with Woolacombe village at one end and gentle hills behind. A lifeguard is on hand every day during the summer, and the beach is kept clean, partly because dogs are banned from a clearly marked part of it and are only allowed on leads elsewhere. This is a great beach for building sand castles, but there are plenty of other, more energetic activities on offer. These include a bouncy castle as well as surfing, canoeing and windsurfing, for which equipment can be hired. The width of the beach means that swimmers and watersports enthusiasts can be separated into zones, protecting timid breast-strokers from out-of-control adrenaline seekers.

Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre, The Esplanade, Woolacombe, Devon (01271 870553; www.woolacombetourism.co.uk)

Calgary Isle of Mull

The west coast of the Hebridean Isle of Mull is the location for one of the most spectacular stretches of sand in the UK, an excellent place to get away from it all, walk or watch the sun set. Temperatures can be bracing, even in summer, when Calgary is a popular summer destination with locals and tourists - although popularity is a relative concept. Because of its remote location, a ferry ride from the mainland, followed by a coastal drive halfway around the island, the beach is never busy, but that is a large part of its charm. Out of season, it is possible to walk along it without meeting any other visitors. Buses make the trip daily from Tobermory, the island's largest town, some 10 miles away. Facilities around the beach include a hotel, café and gallery, car parking and toilets, as well as a campsite for tents and camper vans.

Tourist Information: Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull: (01688 302182; www.tobermory.co.uk)

Wells-next-the-Sea Norfolk

The unspoilt expanse of Wells beach with its woodland backdrop separating the coast from the farmland behind, is perfect for anyone interested in wildlife. The beach is owned by the Holkham Estate and is in the middle of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, which extends along the north Norfolk coast from Holkham Bay as far as Blakeney Point. The whole area is a magnificent mixture of windswept creeks, dunes, reclaimed salt marshes and pine woods, with plenty of vantage points from which to bird-watch. Wells is good for swimming too, and has lots of amenities. There are also some great scenic walks in the area, including the Norfolk Coast Path, a 47-mile hike from Hunstanton to Cromer, which passes along the beach.

Wells Tourist Information: Staithe Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk (01328 710885; www.north-norfolk.gov.uk)

Polzeath Cornwall

Like other beaches along the north Cornish coast, Polzeath is a sandy stretch that's great for swimming. But its main attraction is for surfers - and there are plenty of opportunities for first timers with Surf's Up, the surf school based on the beach. They offer everything from half-day introductory sessions to advanced courses in how to ride the waves. For those who just want to enjoy surfing on their own, there are lots of shops in Polzeath that will hire out boards and wet suits. The resort's nickname, Chelsea-on-Sea, hints at the fact that Polzeath is the latest cool spot for city types. But it's easy to be part of the crowd, and the social side of surfing is almost as important as being in the water.

Surf's Up: (01208 862003; www.surfsupsurfschool.com). Tourist Information: Eddystone Road, Wadebridge, Cornwall (01208 813725; www.wadebridgelive.com)

Tenby Dyfed

Tenby is one of the finest resorts on the Welsh coast and its four expanses of sand - North, South, Castle and Harbour beaches - mean that there is always a sunny spot for swimming. The largest of these is South Beach, fringed with attractive dunes. This attracts large numbers of swimmers, although it is also a popular spot for other watersports including windsurfing, canoeing and power-boating. Castle Beach is a smaller area, mainly reserved for swimmers, and it is a favourite of day-tripping families. When the tide goes out, Castle and South beaches turn into a single stretch of sand. There are several beach cafés, and the shops in the town are close by. Tenby's beaches are clean and well kept, and during the summer there is always a lifeguard on duty to protect any swimmers.

Tenby Tourist Information: The Croft, Tenby, Pembrokeshire (01834 842402; www.visitpembrokeshire.com)

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