Five brilliant British beaches

Bamburgh Castle
From wide expanses of golden sand to ultra-clean water and wildlife galore, Britain’s beaches have something for everyone

July sees the summer exodus start in earnest as thousands of us flock south in search of sun, sea and sand. From Cephalonia’s Mykonos Bay to the golden sand of the Italian Riviera, Europe has hundreds of beautiful beaches - many of which play host to hordes of British holidaymakers. But if you’re planning on jetting off to a sunny beach somewhere, you could be missing a trick because Britain’s beaches are beautiful enough to compete with anything Europe might offer. What’s more, many are home to diverse bird and marine life, with the beaches of Bamburgh and Lundy among the best for bird watchers. There’s plenty for swimmers too, with more than 150 UK beaches receiving Blue Flag awards for cleanliness this year. Whatever you’re looking for, Britain has a beach for you.

Woolacombe Sands, North Devon
Voted Britain’s best beach by Mail on Sunday readers, North Devon’s Woolacombe Sands is a three-mile stretch of pristine yellow sand between Morte Point to the west and the charmingly named Baggy Point to the east. Part of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the beach is also part of the Voluntary Marine Conservation Scheme and is home to a large number of endangered marine species. The beach also holds Blue Flag and Premier Seaside Beach awards for cleanliness and water quality. Nearby attractions include the picturesque fishing village of Ilfracombe and the wonderful Lundy Island.
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West Sands, St Andrews
Backed by dunes and the famous St Andrews golf course, West Sands is one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches. The two-mile long stretch was used for the opening scenes of 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, and holds a Blue Flag award for water quality. Although sand yachts are frequently seen on the beach, the local council operates a zoning system to keep families and adrenaline junkies apart. Head into town after your swim for a wander around the picturesque mediaeval city centre, stopping off at the pretty Holy Trinity church on route.
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West Wittering, West Sussex
A wide expanse of golden sand with spectacular views of Chichester Harbour and the South Downs, West Wittering is one of the south coast’s prettiest beaches. Holder of a Blue Flag award for water cleanliness, the dunes and shallow coastal lagoons are also home to a wide array of bird and marine life, while the cliff tops have plenty of flora for botanists to enjoy. The sand dune split at East Head has also been designated a site of special scientific interest.
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Bamburgh Beach, Northumberland
Overlooked by the mighty Bamburgh Castle – seat of the Dark Age Northumbrian kings – Bamburgh beach is home to over 40 miles of dunes, which are part of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The dunes have also been designated a site of special scientific interest and are home to a number of endangered plant species, including the sea sandwort and petalwort.
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Polzeath, Cornwall
Fans of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series will know Polzeath as the holiday spot of choice (other than Aunt Fanny’s) for the Kirrin children and the beach remains a popular destination today. Its golden sands and ultra-clean water make it a good choice for families, while its excellent waves have made it popular with surfers. Polzeath also has coastal trails galore, including one that runs past Greenaway Bay with its rock pools and wide sandy expanses, then up towards Daymer Bay and the pretty 12th century St Endoc church.
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