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Paddling, rockpools and buckets and spades – nothing quite beats a summer's day at the British seaside

There are more than 17,000km of coastline in Great Britain – so travellers in England, Scotland and Wales are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches.

From vast, tide-washed tracts of sand to tiny sheltered coves, there's a beach to suit everyone – with waves for surfers, exhilarating cliff-top paths for hikers or remarkable seaside wildlife for nature-lovers.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Godrevy, Cornwall

Godrevy is an awe-inspiring expanse of sandy beaches around St Ives Bay. This is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Cornwall, with an equally popular beach café. Godrevy offers lovely views to St Ives, as well as facilities such as a seasonal lifeguard, toilets and plenty of parking in the nearby National Trust car park. And you may be lucky enough to spot seals!


Britain's best beaches

Godrevy at sunset
Woody Bay

Woody Bay, North Devon

Woody Bay – so named because of the ash, larch and birch trees that line the rolling cliff edge – is a good place for birdwatching. A wide variety of sea birds nest and breed on the cliffs between Woody Bay and Heddon's Mouth Lantic Bay, and it's also an excellent place to look out for the peregrines and buzzards that breed here.

Strangles, near Crackington Haven, Cornwall

The route to Strangles can be steep in places, with steps and a rocky descent. Taking this route you will be rewarded with golden sands, rock formations, smooth striped pebbles and interesting flotsam and jetsam.

Burton Bradstock

Burton Bradstock, Dorset

Burton Bradstock is part of the Jurassic Coast – a World Heritage Site. The Jurassic Coast covers 95 glorious miles that record 185 million years of the Earth's history. It's an idyllic mixture of coast and countryside, with cliffs, beaches and some fantastic fossils. At Burton Bradstock head to Hive Beach, where the café serves tasty, local and seasonal refreshments.

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

Despite the name, this attractive town on the north Norfolk coast is actually about a mile from the sea – but its closest beach is a vast and beautiful expanse of sand with dozens of colourful beach huts backed up along the dunes. There's a carpark giving direct access to the beach, but many choose to walk from town or ride here on the diminutive, seasonal steam train. For a longer walk, there's a path through the shady pine forest that backs the beach – this heads through the Holkham Nature Reserve to Holkham Bay, where you'll find another sensational sandy beach.

Dunwich Heath
Beach huts at Well-next-the-Sea

Dunwich Heath and Beach, Suffolk

The peaceful, colourful heathland of the Dunwich Heath Nature Reserve, with its shingle and sand beach, is rich with wildlife and ideal for family walks. The beach and heath provide the perfect habitat for species such as Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlarks, and if you pause for a while in the Sea Watch Hut you might be able to spot porpoises and seals. There are also plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained, from geocache trails and scavenger hunts to flying kites in the summer sunshine. After all that activity you can head to the tea room at Coastguard Cottages for a rest and a cool drink. Dogs are welcome throughout, although they need to be kept on leads at certain times of the year to protect nesting birds.

Sandscale Haws, Cumbria

Sandscale Haws is a beautiful sandy beach and National Nature Reserve, with far-reaching views across the Duddon Estuary. There are plenty of opportunities for seaside play, from building sandcastles to shell collecting as well as some old favourites like flying a kite and skimming a stone. Kids and adults can also have fun running up and down the dunes or a family game of cricket on the beach. The vast and beautiful dune habitat supports a high diversity of plants and animals, from coralroot orchids to curlews and great crested newts. Take a walk into the back of the dunes and look for butterflies amongst the marram grass.

Sandscale Haws
Embleton Sands

Embleton Bay, Northumberland

Embleton Bay was voted Best Beach in BBC Countryfile Magazine's Awards, and it's easy to see why. This fine sandy beach is one of the most spectacular in England, with the imposing ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle looming large on the horizon at one end. It's a great spot for paddling, and offers some good surf conditions. The Northumberland Coast also provides a stunning outdoor gym for running, walking and cycling with lots of fresh sea air.

Rhossili Bay

Rhossili, Gower

Rhossili's three-mile-long beach has some of the most magnificent views on the Welsh coast. If you stand at Rhossili Down, you can see not only the peninsula, but the coasts of west Wales and north Devon just on the horizon. With its scenic clifftops and sprawling beach, it's a perfect place to spend summer days walking, swimming, surfing and kite-flying. To stretch your legs, take the level walk along the cliff top to the Old Coastguard Lookout, where they used to keep watch for ships in trouble on the high seas. The Rhossili Shop and Visitor's Centre sells a range of lovely gifts and souvenirs – profits help contribute to the conservation of this beautiful landscape.

Freshwater West

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire

This wild and unspoilt south-Pembrokeshire beach is not only a beautiful location for a walk – it's also one of Wales' foremost surfing destinations, with consistent swell and waves ideal for the experienced watersports enthusiast. At Freshwater West there's also plenty on offer for non-surfers, with buckets of sand for sandcastle building, plenty of space to fly a kite, and a wealth of rockpools that little ones will love exploring.

Calgary Bay

Calgary Bay, Mull, Scotland

The dazzling white sand and turquoise sea at Calgary create an almost Caribbean atmosphere – although you'll soon be reminded that you're in Scotland if you're brave enough to take a dip in the cold water. There's a popular, free, wild camping site behind the beach.

Silver Sands of Morar

Silver Sands of Morar, Scotland

This stunning string of white sandy beaches, a few miles south of Mallaig, was the setting for the beach scenes in the classic film 'Local Hero'. The Silver Sands of Morar are popular with walkers, with a trail taking in a succession of gorgeous coves, some offering spectacular views out to the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.

Green Adventures July 2017