Britain’s secret coastline
Thursday, 17 April 2014

Britain’s secret coastline

Our island nation is a treasure trove of beaches, coves, caves and rock pools, says Daniel Start, who knows just where to look

That first summer the sun beat down every day. The scent of gorse and heather filled the air, the whiteness of the sand was almost blinding and the ocean shimmered. Hidden beaches

I had moved to Cornwall and was meant to be studying, but the heat was so stifling I ended up looking for coves. Poring over my map, I was amazed at the places waiting to be discovered with a bit of scrambling and exploring. That amazing summer was the beginning of an aquatic odyssey as I embarked on a journey around Britain, searching for its coves, caves, beaches and islands.

Ten years on and I have travelled thousands of miles. I have twisted ankles, drowned camera bags and suffered from hypothermia and heatstroke. But I have found solace, too, in a slice of beach, an archway to swim through, a cave encrusted with pink coralline. Whether you are exploring the Witches’ Cauldron near Cardigan, collecting oysters and samphire in East Anglia or basking in the glow of the Outer Hebrides’ lagoons, you’ll find our foreshores are full of wonders – rich in wilderness and secret places. Here are a few of my favourites…

1 Pedn Vounder Sands, Treen (pictured top)
Land’s End, Cornwall
White sand. A tricky descent. From Penzance B3315, turn left two miles before Porthcurno, past Logan Rock Inn (TR19 6LG, 01736-810495). Car park by cafe. Follow track up past Treen Farm Camping (TR19 6LF, 01736-810273) to coast path (½ mile), and then straight over and down. Grid: 50.0441, -5.6424


2 The Haven
Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Beautiful beach bordered by lagoons. For fish and chips try 226 High Street (IP15 5DB). Head one mile north by road to the scallop-shell sculpture or one mile south to the Martello tower. Thorpeness is two miles north. Grid: 52.1606, 1.6057

3 East Head West
Wittering, West Sussex A peninsula to the north of the Witterings. The Salterns Way cycle route links to Chichester. Head south from Chichester bypass on A286 following signs to Birdham, then West Wittering (PO20 8AU). Parking at far end of beach; walk on to dunes and north ½ mile, past crab pools, away from main beach, to East Head. To the left, waters run fast over the ‘Winner’ sand flats at the harbour mouth, accessible at low tide. Best swimming at spit head. To the right the lagoon can be warm; the ebb tide drains via a channel, good for mud slides. Camping at Stubcroft Farm (PO20 8PJ, 01243-671469). Grid: 50.7892, -0.9134

4 Bossiney Haven
Tintagel, north Cornwall

Beautiful cove under dramatic cliffs. Low tide connects to Benoath Cove. One mile east of Tintagel on B3263, car park on left by transmitter (PL34 0AY); follow track down. Continue 700m east along coast path for Rocky Valley waterfalls. Grid: 50.6722, -4.7380

Hidden beaches
5 Watcombe Bay
Freshwater, Isle of Wight

The adventurous can swim around Fort Redoubt to Watcombe Bay. Freshwater Bay is a family beach, with the Red Lion pub (PO40 9BP, 01983-754925). Scramble over rocks to west end of the bay, then swim to headland and into Watcombe Bay. Cave leads into a smugglers’ tunnel emerging on the clifftop. Hire boats or canoes at Isle of Wight Sea Kayaking by beach (01983-755838). Grid: 50.6682, -1.5162

6 Sanna Sands
Ardnamurchan, Lochaber, Scotland

This is the most westerly headland on the British mainland. A stunning bay of coves and rocky islets, with views across to the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum. From Kilchoan (which has a community tourist centre with a restaurant, PH36 4LJ, 01972-510222), follow directions for Portuairk, but turn right after one mile for Sanna (PH36 4LW). There is also good sand and coves at Portuairk. Camping at Ardnamurchan, Kilchoan (PH36 4LL, 01972-510766). Grid: 56.7479, -6.1859

7 Bow Fiddle Arch
Portknockie, Moray, Scotland

Dramatic slanted rock with a massive arch on the edge of a small town. There are caves in the nearby bay. East of Elgin, A98. Follow the road through the town down to the seafront. Turn right and park by the church hall (AB56 4NN, at the bottom of Admiralty Street). Follow the track right down past sheds to the shore, then to the arch. The Preacher cave is 200m to the left, below Patrol Road. Grid: 57.7072, -2.8489
Hidden beaches

8 Skinningrove Jetty and Sands
North Yorkshire

Old ironstone-mining town with beautiful sands and old ruined quay. Turn off A174 in Loftus, opposite Golden Lion Hotel/church (TS13 4HG), down narrow North Road. Turn left down lanes before Hummersea Farm to reach beach car park with tractors (TS13 4BJ). The jetty has deep, clear water over sand. Go to far end to find rusty steps down to water in right corner – difficult but not impossible. Eerie but interesting place, though watch out for old metalwork and uncovered hatches. Jetty good for fishing. Also visit Cleveland/ Tom Leonard Mining Museum, with haunted tunnel tours (TS13 4AP, 01287-642877). Grid: 54.5729, -0.8992

9 Confucius Hole and Caves
South Pembrokeshire

Huge lagoon crater and smaller caves. 100m southeast from Broad Haven on cliff path. Its smaller cousin is 30m beyond. Grid: 51.6105, -4.9139

10 Porth Wen
Bull Bay, Anglesey

Eerie secret bay with old ruined harbour, rock arch and white pebble beach. First right after two miles from Bull Bay/A5025, then after 800m, by left bend,  nd two footpath signs on right. Take second footpath (metal kissing gate) and descend to bay (500m). A mile west on coast path leads to ruins at tiny Porth Llanlleiana. Grid 53.4245, -4.4061 

Hidden beaches
11 North End Haws
Walney Island, Cumbria

Remote north end of the island. Just dunes, lakes and the backdrop of Black Combe. Cross on to Walney Island and turn right at the lights by the bridge. Turn left after ½ mile, then turn right, following the signs for West Shore/Earnse Point to park at the shore (LA14 3YR). Walk north up the beach 1½ miles through dunes and lakes to reach the tidal Scarth Channel. Grid: 54.1498, -3.2661 

12 Bamburgh Castle Sands
North Northumberland

Sensational beach with its iconic castle ruins overlooking the dunes. Never feels too busy. Signed Bamburgh from A1 near Belford. Turn left for parking down The Wynding, in the direction of Golf Course (NE69 7DD). After houses on the right (300m)  nd two car parks for the beach. The Victoria, Castle and Lord Crewe Arms are all recommended. Grid: 55.6130, -1.7131

Hidden Beaches, by Daniel Start, is published by Wild Things Publishing, priced £16.99.

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