Daniel Start shares his 20 best hidden beaches taken from the new and updated Hidden Beaches book.
Broad Sands, Combe Martin, North Devon
Cave, coves and an island look out
A double fronted cove, turquoise waters and sea caves you can swim to. Scramble to the top of the island look-out and keep watch for pirates. There are rarely visitors to this beach – the steep steps seem to keep all but the most intrepid away. Explore to the south, past Turks Cave, to reach Golden Cove too.
1½ miles west of Combe Martin (A399) turn right onto Barton Hill and park. Pass the Sandy Cove Hotel (EX34 9SR) on coast path and drop down after 500m. 15 mins, 51.2121, -4.0589
Speke’s Mill Mouth, Hartland, North Devon
Waterfalls, rock pools and ship wrecks
Devon’s highest waterfall plummets down on to this vast, wild beach. Long fingers of soft sand stretch out into the ocean and deep rock pools form at low tide. This coast is famous for its ship wrecks so refuel at the Wrecker’s Retreat Bar (and museum) at Hartland Quay.
Park at Hartland Quay (EX39 6DU) and head south for a mile along the coastal path. 20 mins, 50.9848, -4.5297
Pedn Vounder, Treen, West Cornwall
Sand bars and beach camping
Perhaps the most beautiful beach in Cornwall. Framed by Logan’s Rock on one side and the Minack cliff-top theatre on the other, it’s a tricky scramble down, but at low tide off shore sand bars form with shallow lagoons which warm in the sun. Above there is a basic cliff top campsite with superb views.
From Penzance (B3315), turn left 2 miles before Porthcurno and pass the Logan Rock Inn (TR19 6LG, 01736 810495) to reach the car park. 20 mins, 50.0441, -5.6424
Bosahan, Helford Estuary, South Cornwall
Open canoes and Frenchman’s Creek
The magical Helford estuary is lined with ancient woodland, sub-tropical gardens and secret shingle coves. There’s no better way to explore than by open canoe. Head upstream to Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, or head downstream for Durgan beach on the north side, or my favourite, Bosahan, on the south.
Walk a mile east from tiny Helford (parking at waterside) or canoe across the water from Helford Passage – you can hire boats at the quay. 15 mins, 50.0950, -5.1143
Lansallos coves, Polperro, South Cornwall
Smugglers’ tunnels, bluebells and cream teas
This is an enchanting walk, through woods and streams lined with bluebells and wild garlic in spring. As you reach the cove you’ll find a deep passage hewn from rocks where smugglers hauled up brandy and French lace contraband. The farm in the tiny village serves excellent organic cream teas.
Lansallos is signed 2 miles west of Polperro from The Crumplehorn Inn. Park by the church and take the path down through the woods. 15 mins, 50.3319, -4.5785
Moor Sands, East Prawle, South Devon
Skinny dipping and pearl white sand
The best of a trio of wonderful white coves along this dramatic south Devon coast. There is a rope to help you down to the beach, the sand is made from fine pearl quartz beads and the water is clear, almost luminescent. This is a clothing-optional beach. The legendary Pig’s Nose in East Prawle is famous its live music (TQ7 2BY, 01548 511209) and there are several basic campsites.
Continue through East Prawle and park at the road end (Prawle Point). Follow the coast path 1½, past Macely and Elender coves. 30 mins, 50.2143, -3.7368
Worbarrow Bay, Tyneham, Dorset
Ruined villages and hill forts
A wonderful half moon bay with a perfect crescent of sand, set beneath ancient woods in remotest Dorset. There are sea caves and a grassy hill fort to climb. The ruined village of Tyneham make a fascinating diversion.
Tyneham is between East Lulworth and Corfe Castle. Closed on army firing days. From the car park follow footpath signs to the sea. 20 mins, 50.6170, -2.1844
Atherington Beach, Climping, West Sussex
Pub, country views and sea swimming
This quiet rural shingle beach is an island of transquility along the built up conurbationof the South Coast. There is a sea swimming club here, a great little cafe and if you walk east you can even find some dunes.
Between Bognor and Littlehampton (A259), signed Climping Beach, then continue pass the palm-decked Black Horse Inn (BN17 5RL, 01903 715175) to the beach car park. 50.7978, -0.5721
Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, East Sussex
White cliffs and the Bloomsbury set
One of the wildest beaches on the South Coast, with superb veiws of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. At low-tide the adventurous can explore the foreshore all the way to the Birling Gap. This was a favourite haunt of the Bloomsbury Set, with Charlestone Farmhouse not far away.
Park at Exceat, 2 miles E of Seaford (A259). Follow the valley down past the old river meanders. 30 mins, 50.7591, 0.1486
Botany Bay, Broadstairs, Kent
Smuggler’s caves and tea gardens
A long sandy bay is backed with white cliffs. At low tide you can scramble round to a secret beach on the right with cave vaults and tunnels carved from the cliffs by smuggler of yore. Alison runs a tea shop from her rose gardens in summer.
From Broadstairs follow the B2052 north past Kingsgate Bay then turn right after a mile and park at the bottom of Botany Road. 3 mins, 51.3893, 1.4352
Porth Wen, Bull Bay, Anglesey
Ruins and rock arches
The eeriest of Anglesey’s many secret coves. Follow the path to find a ruined harbour and brick works with a honeycomb of old furnaces and chimney stacks to explore, now overgrown by nature. Enjoy the perfect white shingle beach and natural rock arch, and think about the people who once lived and worked here.
From Bull Bay (A5025) take the first right after 2 miles, then park by the footpath sign, by the bend. 10 mins, 53.4245, -4.4061
Porth Iago, Llyen Peninsula, North Wales
Dolphins watching with the sunset
A thick wedge of pure white west-facing sand occupies a deep cleft in the cliffs. There are flower-filled dunes and a hill fort, perfect for spotting pods of dolphins jumping through the waves at sunset. It’s a bumpy drive down the old farm track but the farmer will let you park on the rough field adjacent.
Signed 1½ mile before Rhoshirwaun, on the Aberdaron road (B4413). Take the second right after 2½ miles, then first left (LL53 8LP). 3 mins, 52.8516, -4.7217
Traeth Llyfn, Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, West Wales
Sweeping sands and blue lagoons
A great sweep of empty sand on the wild and dramatic Pembrokeshire National Park coastline. It’s just 15 minutes from the Blue Lagoon; a turquoise flooded quarry with great jumping and swimming. Continue on up the coast, past several more secret coves, to reach the old ruins above Porthgain and then relax on the harbour at the quirky Sloop Inn (SA62 5BN, 01348 831449).
Signed Abereiddi, 9 miles from Fishguard or 6 miles from St Davids. Parking at beach. 20 mins, 51.9435, -5.1992
Mewslade Bay, Rhossili, Gower, South Wales
Secret islands and giants’ caverns
It’s a very pretty valley walk down to this little-known low tide sandy cove. If you continue on round to the right you will reach Fall Bay with its Giant’s Cave, popular with climbers. Beyond is the dragon-shaped tidal island of Worm’s Head, where Dylan Thomas was once marooned.
A4118 then B4247 from Swansea. In Pitton, a mile before Rhossili, turn left and find car park on left. 10 mins, 51.5604, -4.2823
NORTH and EAST
Dunwich Heath, Minsmere, Suffolk
Lost villages, dunes and nature
The streets, churches, market place and town walls of Dunwich al vanished into the North Sea centuries ago. Not much remains except this remote beach, backed by dunes and one of Britain’s top nature reserves, with nightingale song in spring.
One mile before of Dunwich turn right signed Dunwich Heath. Continue 1½ miles to the National Trust car park with tea room (IP17 3DQ, 01728 648501). 5 mins, 52.2506, 1.6290
Burnham Beach and Scolt Head Island, Norfolk
White sand and desert islands
Dune hills and marram grass back this stretch of pure white sand. From the west end locals swim and canoe across the narrow deep channel to Scolt Head Island, a fabulous uninhabited nature reserve, and England’s only desert island. Return via the mud creeks and swimming holes on the Cockle Path.
Park in Burnham Overy Staithe harbour (PE31 8JE). Head along Overy Creek for the beach. 35 mins, 52.9789, 0.7663
Hayburn Wyke, Cloughton, Yorkshire
Cycle ways and waterfalls
A double waterfal tumbles into a sheltered bay beneath steep cliffs and jungle-like foliage. You can reach it on the dramatic old coastal railway line – now a cycle path – from either Scarborough or Robin Hood‘s Bay.
Turn off the A171 at Cloughton and after 1½ miles turn right for the Hayburn Wyke Inn (YO13 0AU, 01723 870202). The beach path is just before car park on the right. 20 mins, 54.3589, -0.4454
Embleton Bay, Northumberland
Castles in the sand
The great sandy sweep of Embleton Bay stretches beneath the fobidding ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. This is the Northumberland coast’s most spectacular beach – and that’s saying something – yet you’ll often find it deserted. Walk a mile north along the beach to the isolated Ship Inn, low-beamed and cosy, with anchors and seafaring memorabilia (NE66 3EW, 01665 576262).
From Embleton turn seawards opposite the church, then take the first right and park by the beach (NE66 3DT). 15 mins, 55.4972, -1.6102
Coral Beaches, Dunvegan, Inner Hebrides
Corals and cows
An other-worldly beach made entirely of twisted, bleached white coral pieces. This is no tropical coral, but Scottish coral, composed of the fragments of billions of bleached red algae skeletons that grow at the bottom of the ocean nearby. Cows loll about, sniffing at the seaweed, and just to the north are extraordinary hexagonal rocks from which you can dive.
Pass Dunvegan Castle car park (IV55 8WF) and continue 3½ miles to the final car park. Then walk along the coast for a mile. 20 mins, 57.500, -6.6372
Fidden, Isle of Mull, Highlands
Beach camping and treasure islands
A wild campsite on grassy meadows leads to a series of shell white coves and sunset views over the Iona archipelago. These are some of the clearest waters in Britain, and they have an ethereal turquoise hue. At low tide you can wade across to Erraid, Robert Louise Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’, with more secret beaches. Paths also lead to the lost village of Tireragan with amazing white sand coves beyond.
Turn left in Fionnphort by the Keel Row pub (01681 700458) and find the farm after two miles with roadside parking (PA66 6BN, 01681 700427). 56.3085, -6.3672
Tràigh Iar, Greinetobht, North Uist, Scotland / Outer Hebrides
Meadows and wild flowers
The Outer Hebrides are a place of pilgrimage for the beach connoisseur. Ribbons of snow-white sand drift down the islands’ Atlantic sea board and collect in endless sweeping bays. ‘Machair‘ meadows covered in wildflowers provide the perfect backdrop and offer endless wild-camping potential. Harris is the most famous but for real secrets explore North Uist. Tràigh Iar is a sandy isthimus, with lagoons on one side and swell on the other. Complete with its own hill fort, you are unlikley to meet another soul.
From the Berneray causeway continue south on the B893, then right on the A865 and turn right by the phonebox. 57.6745, -7.3366
Daniel Start shares his 20 best hidden beaches taken from the new and updated Hidden Beaches book.
This article appeared in the Sunday Times – Travel Section on 13th April 2014.