10 of Britain’s best wild beach walks

Magnificent sands that, even in summer, are wide enough to swerve the crowds and enjoy lungfuls of salty air

We are blessed with vast open beaches all around our mainland that are perfect for wild walks in salty air – and many are linked to wildlife reserves and wildflower havens (look out for campion, which is at its best at the height of summer). With sea temperatures at a peak in August, pack a towel too. This is a personal list, check out the UK Beach Guide and the exceptional Wild Guides for many other possibilities. For tides and surf forecasts use Magic Seaweed.

Brancaster, Norfolk

Titchwell Marsh RSPB nature reserve.
Titchwell Marsh RSPB nature reserve. Photograph: Simon Dack/Alamy

Norfolk is home to many expansive and wonderful strands, and Brancaster is one of the best, with miles of empty dunes and sand. Park near the Royal West Norfolk golf course and the beach extends eastwards for three miles before reaching the estuarine marshes and channels of the River Burn. Looking out to sea, you may spot the rusting remains of the steamship Vina, stuck in the sands of Scolt Head Island. Built in 1894 at Leith, it finished its days as a practice target for RAF bombers. There’s a tidal channel between the hulk and the mainland, so visiting is not advisable. Heading back down the beach you will reach another creek, forcing an inland detour to the Titchwell RSPB bird reserve, 420 acres of reed beds, salt marshes and lagoon that are home to marsh harriers and avocets (around 80 nesting pairs in the season). Return to the beach kiosk cafe and car park.
Getting there A149 to Brancaster, park near golf course
Cafe Brancaster beach kiosk has tea and coffee, chips, burgers and beach toys

Turnberry, Ayrshire

Turnberry lighthouse

Where better to walk and meditate on our current predicaments than the sands of Turnberry, home to the Trump golf resort and lighthouse? The chances of running into anyone are small, particularly the Donald himself, who bought the Ailsa course back in 2014. The Ayrshire Coastal Path runs along the three miles of sand, with fine views out to the Isle of Arran. Watch out for seabirds including gannets, great northern divers and eider ducks. There is also the possibility of seeing Manx shearwaters, one of our rarer seabirds. The lighthouse, now luxury accommodation, is built on part of old Turnberry Castle, reputedly the birthplace of Robert the Bruce.
Getting there A77 to Turnberry then take Maidens Road, where there is a car park
Cafe South on A77 is Dowhill Farm, which is currently doing takeaway food from the shop

Moggs Eye (aka Huttoft beach), Lincolnshire

Mablethorpe Beach.
Mablethorpe beach. Photograph: Annett Doering/Alamy

As a six-year-old I ran, giddy with excitement, on to Mablethorpe beach and immediately trod on broken glass. It was a poor start to my relationship with Lincolnshire, but the cuts healed and so did my love for the county’s huge, long beaches, perfect for bracing walks or even a round of beach cricket. Moggs Eye, between Chapel St Leonards and Sutton on Sea, is a typical example. There’s a car park for 150 vehicles but the sands are broad and long, so there’s never a crowd. Keep heading south to reach Anderby Creek, a wildlife trust reserve good for spotting marsh harriers, ducks and sometimes rarities like black-winged stilt.
Getting there A52 south of Sutton on Sea, then Sea Lane to Huttoft car park
Cafe Anderby Beach Cafe serves sandwiches, burgers, etc

Studland Bay, Dorset

Chalk stack at Old Harry Rocks
Chalk stack at Old Harry Rocks Photograph: Richard Newton/Alamy

With miles of beach backed by heath and dune systems, Studland is a classic British beach between Poole harbour and Swanage, at the start/finish of the South West Coast Path. From the car park, it extends north for about four miles, taking in some great views of the Isle of Wight. Keep going to Shell Bay and, eventually, the chain ferry that traverses the narrow entrance to Poole harbour. However, it’s worth staying on the beach to explore some of the hinterland, where all six species of native British reptile live, including smooth snakes and sand lizards. Wildlife isn’t the only surprise here: there’s a naturist beach, perfect for stripping off and enjoying fine views of Old Harry Rocks – three offshore chalk stacks. There’s a footpath, the Heather Walk trail , that skips the naturist section for those who prefer.
Getting there Take the B3351 from Corfe Castle. Park in National Trust car parks at Knoll Beach, Shell Bay, Middle Beach and South Beach
Cafe The National Trust’s Knoll Beach cafe and the beer garden at Shell Bay restaurant

Filey Bay, North Yorkshire

Hunmanby sands, Filey Bay.
Hunmanby sands, Filey Bay. Photograph: RA Kearton/Getty Images

Although the town is right next to the beach, Filey Bay is five miles long and expansive enough to absorb large numbers, especially at low tide when it is a quarter of a mile wide. Walk south and it becomes, in order, Hunmanby Sands, Reighton and Speeton before the chalk cliffs intervene and the coastal path heads up to RSPB Bempton Cliffs, one of the country’s best birdwatching locations. Filey’s history is packed with spectacular storms that littered the beach with shipwrecks – many of the older houses around here have ships’ timbers in them. Aim for low tide and try and work out the secret location of perhaps the most famous wreck of them all: Bonhomme Richard, the American warship sunk in 1779 after an epic scrap with HMS Serapis, which was rediscovered in 2018 close to the beach.
Getting there There are several access points off the A165 coast road. Park on the seafront
Cafe The Beach Cafe at Hunmanby is a good stop on a walk

Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire

Barafundle Bay
Barafundle Bay at dawn. Photograph: CW Images/Alamy

I once tried to visit all of Pembrokeshire’s beaches in one trip, and failed. For a start, there are a lot of them. Second, there are several that are only accessible by sea, or with some serious abseiling. Barafundle is a well-known beauty spot and liable to attract visitors on sunny days – although at dawn it is utterly magical, and usually deserted. The walk to get there is a deterrent for many, and it is the same at Marloes Sands, a whacking, mile-long stretch with dozens of rock pools and sheltered nooks behind boulders. The only time this place gets busy is when Hollywood chooses it as a location: the 2012 epic Snow White and the Huntsman used it to spectacular effect.
Getting there B4327 from Haverfordwest to Marloes. There is a National Trust car park after the village
Cafe Take your own supplies or chance the Runwayskiln cafe’s fair-weather drinks and cakes kiosk

Sandwood Bay, Highlands

Sand dunes of Sandwood Bay Scotland taken on sunny day with blue sky

A decent walk to reach a beach is always a firm indicator that you are not going to find a crowd of people there, and this is a great example: an hour of steady striding brings you to magnificent Sandwood Bay, a mile-long shingle and sand beach stretched out between the 65-metre sea stack Am Buachaille, and the cliffs that lead north to Cape Wrath. Having camped here on a muggy, tranquil day in August, I must emphasise that a midge head net is an essential, but with a breath of wind the critters disappear. The sunset, peeped at through mesh, was stunning.
Getting there B801 to Kinlochbervie, then a lane. The start of the footpath is marked and there is a car park. No cafe

Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Dunbar Burn meanders across Druridge Bay.
Dunbar Burn meanders across Druridge Bay. Photograph: Daverhead/Getty Images

When it comes to big beaches, Northumberland has the truly massive beasts, and few beat Bamburgh, with its spectacular castle presiding over a long stretch of sand. However, in the 60 miles between the mouths of the Tyne and the Tweed there are many other possibilities. Druridge Bay lies north of the village of Cresswell and is a typical example: at low tide it’s particularly impressive and perfect for long walks. A couple of miles up the beach from Cresswell lies Druridge Pools wetland reserve with otters and lots of birdlife to spot (there are two hides) in a reclaimed open-cast coalmine. Further north, again via the beach, is another reserve at Hauxley, noted for its birds and flowers.
Getting there Turn off the A1068 for Cresswell. Parking in the village
Cafe The Drift Cafe gets good reports and is near the beach

Ynyslas, Ceredigion

Ynyslas aerial view of beach, dunes and Dovey estuary

There is plenty of choice in the string of sandy shores that fringe the western skirts of Snowdonia, all the way from Porthmadog in the north down through Harlech and Barmouth. Beyond that is Ynyslas, where more than three miles of sand and shingle beach extend south to the quirky little town of Borth. At low tide a petrified submerged forest is visible at the south end, and the Dyfi National nature reserve sits to the north. This a real gem – a dune area that harbours several orchid species, plus sand lizards and other rarities.
Getting there A487 From Machynlleth, then the B4353 to the Dyfi National Nature Reserve car park
Cafe The nearest is Uncle Albert’s in Borth, a six-mile round trip walk from the car park at Dyfi

Croyde-Putsborough-Woolacombe via Baggy Point, Devon

Baggy Point with Lundy Island in the distance.
Baggy Point with Lundy Island in the distance. Photograph: Anna Stowe/Alamy

Putsborough, Croyde and Woolacombe beaches are broad enough to accommodate their many visitors – mostly wetsuit-clad, board-clutching families at this time of year. But a walk between them via Baggy Point is an introduction to another world of far-flung Atlantic views to Lundy Island, crashing waves, wildflower meadows, drystone walls and interesting birds such as Dartford warblers and peregrines. The negative ions (they’re the good ones) breezing in off the sea will leave you buoyed for days. Navigation is easy because you can see exactly where you’ve got to go, and anyway the National Trust has matters in hand with proper paths and signs. It’s about six miles one-way between Croyde Bay and Woolacombe, but to make it a circular walk turn back after a bit of Putsborough Sands and, for variation, take the route over the top of Baggy Point and its windswept heath and rare-breed sheep pasture.
Getting there B3231 Croyde Road, park in the Down End car park just south of Croyde beach so you can walk north across the sands to Baggy Point
Cafe Spoilt for choice, but the National Trust’s Sandleigh Tea Room and Garden is in a lovely spot in the lee of Baggy Point and smashes it on the cream tea front

  • Additional reporting by Adam McCulloch


Kevin Rushby

The GuardianTramp

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