Beach huts: a humble haven by the sea

Forget sandy towels and flapping windbreaks, the beach hut is a home from home. Here are some of the best to rent, from the traditional to the hi-tech

Felixstowe, Suffolk

There are clusters of pastel-coloured huts along the three-mile promenade at Felixstowe, and around 15 of them are available to hire by the day or week (no overnight stays) via the tourist information centre. Only a handful have electricity, and most are fairly spartan but, perched above the shingle and sand beach, they provide the perfect lookout: on the horizon, some of the world's largest container vessels chug in and out of the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich.

• From £60 a week, £12 a day. Call 01394 276770 or email ftic@suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

Three Shades of Blue, Hayle, Cornwall

These no-frills 1960s beach chalets comfortably sleep six. A 15-minute walk over grassy dunes brings you to Gwithian, with one of west Cornwall's best surfing beaches. The beach has an excellent surf academy (surfacademy.co.uk) and a natural plunge pool (a deep rock pool) known as the "sheep dip".

• From £500 a week in summer Gwithian Sands Chalet Park, Upton Towans, Hayle (020-8691 0120, thelittlebluehouse.co.uk)

Dunster, Somerset

There are 230 huts facing the beach at Dunster, all built in the 1930s and all painted green, with weathered picket fencing. The small garden at the back of each hut looks out over Exmoor and the Quantock hills, while out front a pebble bank leads down to a large, safe, sandy beach. The huts are all different, but most sleep between three and five people. Nearby there's a tennis court, a putting green and a shop serving cream teas, to guarantee good old-fashioned fun.

• From £250 a week through Dunster Beach Holidays (01643 821296, dunsterbeachholidays.com)

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

The vast beach here is part of the Holkham Estate and more than a mile from town. In the summer, a miniature railway will take you from the town to the row of candy-coloured beach huts on stilts above the sand. Several huts can be hired by the day (no overnight stays) via Pinewoods, the nearby caravan park, or privately online.

• From £10 a day through Pinewoods Holiday Park (01328 710439, pinewoods.co.uk) or try beach-huts.com

Woolacombe, Devon

Every summer beach huts appear at the foot of the Woolacombe downs – they are dismantled in the winter. The huts don't have water or electricity, but there is a table and four chairs. They can be hired by the week in advance, or turn up on the day and ask at Enrico's cafe for last-minute availability. No overnight stays.

• From £17 a day, £72 a week through Parkin Estates, Beach Road, Woolacombe (01271 8702340)

Dukes Walk Beach Hut Resort, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear

A new project will see 21 hi-tech huts with direct beach access built in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle next summer. Each hut will be made up of two traditional-looking huts cleverly joined together, allowing sleeping room for between four and six people, with one bedroom, fitted kitchen, bathroom, sitting area and 24-hour concierge service. The prototype won't be ready until next summer, but they're bound to get booked up, so get your diary out early.

• From £300 a week; contact 0845 2690069, beachhutresorts.com

Westover Hall Hotel, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire

This mansion hotel overlooking Christchurch Bay has its own private beach hut for guest to use free of charge. The bay has panoramic sea views that stretch from Hurst Castle to the Isle of Wight, and luxury hampers are available from the hotel kitchen from £15. Back at the hall, the rooms feature panelled rooms and antique furniture.

• Doubles from £206 including breakfast; non-guests can hire the hut for £25 a half-day. 01590 643044, westoverhallhotel.com

Beach huts: A history

Beach Hut, Felixstowe, Britain circa 1910
Beach Hut, Felixstowe circa 1910. Photograph: Rex Features Photograph: Rex Features

Colourful and evocative, beach huts hold a special place in our hearts. This may be down to their long history on the borders of our island nation. In the mid-18th century, mobile changing rooms were invented to transport early health tourists into the waves to undergo the sea water cure.

Known as bathing machines, and looking like beach huts on wheels, these contraptions became a ubiquitous feature of the Victorian seaside, helping to protect the modesty of generations of our forebears until it became socially acceptable to walk across the beach in a bathing costume.

That change came in the 1890s, and from then on the old horse-drawn machines began to lose their wheels. Stationary huts were transformed into the ultimate holiday "home-from-home", a haven from our inconsistent climate and the perfect place to brew a cuppa.

In their design and fundamental purpose, beach huts have changed little since; even now very few day huts have basic amenities such as electricity or running water. The irony is that modern demand for these low-tech seaside getaways has made owning a slice of the simple life increasingly expensive. If you don't have tens of thousands of pounds to spare – or years to linger on a waiting list – renting offers a great way into beach hut living.

Kathryn Ferry, author of Sheds on the Seashore (£12.99, Indepenpress)

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Nell Card

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