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Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

02nd February 2016

Britain has some of the most amazing coastline in the world, and it is more accessible than ever before, yet many of its beaches remain hidden. These little slices of peace and paradise welcome the intrepid adventurer and those in the know. So why not set out to discover our shell-white sands and blue lagoons, hidden smugglers’ coves and dunes as far as the eye can see. Find a campsite on the beach and cook up supper on the sands for a really wild and back-to-nature experience. Daniel Start leads us on a journey round some of Britain’s most beautiful hidden beaches, describing the best places to swim, walk and explore.

Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

02nd February 2016

Melissa Corkhill

By Melissa Corkhill

02nd February 2016

EAST SUSSEX
The famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs halt abruptly at the Cuckmere Valley where the broad green meanders of the River Cuckmere roll out across the valley floor. A few lone houses sit on the hill and in the distance the shingle beach of Cuckmere Haven churns between waves, sun and sea.
Arriving here brings a welcome sense of relief: open countryside prevails after 30 miles of south-coast conurbations. There is something quintessentially English about the Sussex Downs. Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Virginia Woolf and the rest of the artists and writers who made up the Bloomsbury Group spent time at Charleston, the famous house two miles up the vale, and came to Cuckmere Haven to picnic and bathe on summer days. There are four ways to reach the beach. It’s possible to take the right bank of the river’s new cut via the Cuckmere Inn pub, but the classic route follows the left bank from Exceat past the oxbow lakes, now gleaming and disconnected from their stream. You can also camp in Foxhole Dale where there is a medieval camping barn. A less well-known but more dramatic route is via Seaford, where a stairway brings you down to Hope Gap, a rocky ledge puckered with pools and caves carved out by wind, rain and sea. But the very wildest approach is from Birling Gap and along the foot of the Seven Sisters themselves – an inter-tidal no man’s land of tiny coves and cliff tunnels. Here you’ll find some of the most remote beaches in southern England. Make sure you leave three hours before low tide to give yourself plenty of time for the slow three mile return scramble to your starting point or you’ll risk being cut off.

1 CUCKMERE HAVEN, SEAFORD
Rough shingle and sand beach at base of the iconic Seven Sisters chalk cliffs.
Nearest train station: Seaford
From Seaford follow signs for golf course, go to end of Chyngton Road, then right to South Hill Barn. Avoid river mouth in high swell.

KENT
The Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary – a grand Palladian palace built in 1791 – is one of the first buildings you see as you come into Margate. Its size is testament to the huge popularity of sea bathing and the central role played by the Kent coast in developing this national pastime.
Established by a Quaker physician, the Infirmary originally opened to treat scrofula, associated with tuberculosis. Sufferers were not only given seawater to drink but were also immersed in it on a regular basis. It wasn’t long before the healthy were also visiting Margate, many to escape the squalor of London and enjoy an invigorating summer dip. Margate still thrives as a resort and has two impressively large tidal bathing pools but the real treasures are its chalky coves to the East. Botany Bay is an unlikely find, hidden behind residential streets on the way to Broadstairs. There are no facilities here except the delightful café that Alison, a local resident, sets up in her cliff-side garden every summer. Below, white sand stretches out beneath low chalk cliffs and, in the next bay to the right, which you can only access at low tide or by wading, you can try to climb into the cliff chambers where smugglers once hid their booty. Broadstairs is said to have grown prosperous on the proceeds of smuggling and was once so fashionable that luminaries such as Charles Dickens chose to live there. In Roman times, however, the area was a remote island – the Isle of Thanet – separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel.

2 BOTANY BAY, BROADSTAIRS
Sandy bay with white cliffs and caves
Nearest train station: Broadstairs
How to get there: From Broadstairs follow B2052 north past Joss Bay, Kingsgate Bay and Captain Digby then right after a mile, down Botany road. At beach, bear right at low tide to second bay and smuggler’s caves.

ESEEX
The best places for summer dipping are Beaumont or Kirby tidal quays.
At Kirby-Le-Soken a walk across two fields leads to a pontoon and beach. Even better is Beaumont Quay, near Thorpe, built in 1831 using the 12th century stones of the old dismantled London Bridge. From here, brown topsails drifting out across the flat marsh skyline, flat bottomed barges would set sail loaded with haystacks for London’s horses, and return with manure for the Essex fields. Now at high tide this is an idyllic swimming spot.

3 BEAUMONT QUAY, ESSEX
High tide creek Nearest train station: Thorpe Le Soken
How to get there: Head north out of Thorpe on the B1414 then turn right into farm after 1.5 mile. Pass through yard 200m to find Beaumont Quay written on wall. 2 hours either side of high tide.

CUMBRIA
At Drigg Point a thousand acres of untouched dune unfold and a white desert-island shoreline extends four miles up to the village of Drigg.
This area is a nature reserve and an important breeding site for the rare natterjack toad, so the dunes are out of bounds. Otherwise, this is a perfect wild camping beach, a place to lie awake by the moonlit dunes, snug in your sleeping bag, waves lapping on the sands and toads croaking in the dunes. This is a place to contemplate the enormity and magnificence of the universe, the bright gossamer of its galaxies above you stretching out to infinity over the endless sea.

4 DRIGG, HOLMBROOK
Miles of wild remote sand beach and huge area of dunes, south of Sellafield.
Nearest station: Drigg
How to get there: From station follow sign to beach, about 1 mile away. Once at beach, walk left for two miles for huge dune system.

WALES
The Gower Peninsula and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park offer some of the most spectacular coastal scenery, caves, islands and secret beaches in Britain. Cardiganshire is equally impressive but lesser known. In north Wales, the beaches of Snowdonia, the Lleyn Peninsula and Anglesey – as dramatic as their high mountain backdrops – are punctuated by coves, rock arches and dunes. One of the best views of the great Glaslyn Estuary, a dramatic plain that drains the Snowdon massif, is from Borth-y-Gest, where there are deep sandy pools and lagoons at low tide.
At the deserted Swanlake beach we enter red sandstone country. Thousands of foxgloves cover the headland in June, creating a sheet of purple that moves in the warm breeze. There are deep crimson grooves in the rock here and a remote, basic campsite in the field above the bay. It’s only a mile to medieval Manorbier, where you’ll find a Norman castle with a warren of corridors and cells, a church and an ancient dovecote. You might even agree with Gerald of Wales – whose famous 12th century book, The Journey Through Wales is still in print – who describes this village as the ‘pleasantest place in Wales’. Follow the coast path on past King’s Quoit, a Neolithic burial chamber dating from around 3000BC, to Presipe Bay, Steep steps lead down to this dramatic tidal beach, with shallow sandy pools in the hollows beneath the chine. Further on, the scenery reverts to rocky limestone at the adjacent coves of Skrinkle Haven and Church Doors, where striated pillars have created an abbey-sized archway. The steps to Skrinkle collapsed in 2008 but you can still access this superb beach via a tunnel at Church Doors at low tide. You can also swim around the dividing rock buttress, though it’s further than it seems as Shrinkle’s beach is lower and the waterline is further back.

5 PEN Y BANC, BORTH Y GEST
Low tide sand and pools on estuary under mountain backdrop. Tidal currents so best at turning tide.
Nearest train station: Porthmadog
How to get there: Borth-y-Gest is signed from Porthmadog. Follow road then path down shore ½ mile. Connects to Black Rock Sands/Morfa Bychan.

6 PRESIPE BAY, MANOBIER
Tidal beach with crimson rock stacks and deep sand pools and lagoons.
Nearest train station: Manorbier
How to get there: Follow coast path east from Manorbier 1.5 miles to find steps on near west side.

7 SKRINKLE HAVEN, MANOBIER
Small cove with dramatic Church Doors arch and secret cave tunnel through to the spectacular Skrinkle Haven beach with further impressive caverns.
Nearest train station: Manorbier
How to get there: Walk along coast path 400m to find metal staircase down to pretty Church Doors cove. At low tide small cave tunnel on right allows access to Skrinkle Haven, via gulley scramble. Find huge vaulted cavern with skylight. At high tide access via 200m swim.

SCOTLAND
The most famous singing sands of the Inner Hebrides are those of Camas Sgiotaig on the beautiful Isle of Eigg, purchased and saved by its community in 1997.
It can be reached by daytrip from Arisaig and there are spectacular views across to the towering 8000-foot peaks of Rum, just 10 miles away. The island consists of the ancient remains of one of many volcanoes that erupted along this coast when the landmasses of Scotland and America were breaking apart. Arisaig is also the first stop for exploring the famous sands of Morar, a string of beaches made famous in the widely acclaimed 1983 film Local Hero. Here you can watch the sun setting over Rum and Skye and experience the magical Northern Lights on summer nights. My favourite swimming cove is the little-known bay to the north, Rubh’ An Achaidh Mhior. Here the headland forms a smooth peninsula with perfect diving ledges. You can also keep walking around and up the magical river estuary of Morar, the shortest river in Britain, to find more white sand, oak groves and caves reaching right down to the water’s edge.

8 SINGING SANDS, EIGG
Great views of Rum, from brilliant Eigg
Nearest Train station: Arisaig, with ferry trip onwards
How to get there: Day trips from Arisaig.

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