The currents that swirl around our coast have given us an amazing variety of beaches in Britain, it’s just a pity our weather is often ‘too British’ for sunbathing. Fortunately, even the plainest beach has some secrets to discover and adventures to be had, if you know where to look…
You might only ever see one on a weekend away or a family holiday and spend much of your time sunbathing or paddling, but the beach is one of nature’s most unique environments and with 20,000 miles of shoreline, Britain offers an opportunity to discover and explore the beach like no other place.
Here are six ways to take advantage of all that space and do something you simply can’t do anywhere else…
For instance, you might like to try crabbing with the kids (or just on your own, it’s great fun). You don’t need a beach with lots of rock pools; the legs of a pier or the edges of a breakwater – anywhere where the crabs can hide – can be brilliant spots as well.
You just need a length of string wrapped around your finger and some bait on the other end – crabs go crazy for scraps of raw chicken, fish and bacon that were destined for the bin. If the bait isn’t heavy enough you need a weight to make sure it stays on the bottom. Once they nip you can gently reel them in and put them in a bucket of seawater with some bits of seaweed and stones for shelter. To avoid getting nipped yourself handle them gently between your thumb and forefinger just behind the pincers.
If you’re squeamish about the pincers, you can take the nippers (the kids, not the crabs) to go rock-pooling. As with crabbing, there are often interesting little niches full of nature around the beach architecture, even where there are no natural rock-pools. You can catch tiny pollack, spot sea anemones, shore and hermit crabs, starfish and shrimp.
Try not to leave the bucket out in the sun for long before you release your catch back to where you found it.
Away from the rock-pool, on some beaches you may be lucky enough to find fossils. Between Lyme Regis and Swanage, much of the Dorset coastline is made of Jurassic limestones where successful fossil hunting is virtually routine, but parts of Yorkshire around Robin Hood Bay are just as Jurasssic. Keep off the cliffs and scan the debris that regularly falls onto the beach instead – it’s much safer and always more productive.
Lyme Regis even has huge ammonite fossils the size of cartwheels still set into the rocks on its east beach and a few other shorelines around Britain feature dinosaur footprints.
4) Sand doodling
A wide apron of sand isn’t just a great place for the kids to build castles – get them to make some super-sized art as well. Collect bits of driftwood, rocks and seaweed, draw lines with sticks, make shapes with shells and pebbles or simply scale up the sandcastle into a sand city with moats and walls.
Alternatively, you could take some shells or a few pebbles home and either get the kids to make their own souvenirs – collages and pictures, jewellery, glass jars filled with colourful stones and shells – or use them for your own home or craft projects.
Of course you don’t have to go to the beach in the day. Some beaches can be perfect for a small evening bonfire and even if you’re not allowed one of those, the night sky can be particularly romantic and twinkly gazing up from the dunes with a flask of hot chocolate or a little of your favourite tipple. Where you can have a bonfire – or perhaps one of those disposable barbecues – hot food and campfire camaraderie, an acoustic guitar or a creepy story, can all add up to a perfect evening out away from the crowds. Always put out the fire thoroughly and leave time for it to cool down if you need to dispose of a barbecue tray responsibly.
Failing that, there’s really nothing more special or as easy as settling down and watching the sun set into the sea at the end of a long day of exploring the other side of the seaside.
Where to go: British beaches that won’t disappoint
These five beaches are natural British wonders – where you can do so much more than just sunbathe…
For sand and seahorses: Sandbanks, nr Poole Dorset
On the Isle of Purbeck a short car ferry away from fashionable Poole. You can even take the open top bus from Bournemouth across and enjoy this amazing sandy beach owned by the National Trust. Sandbanks is one of the few places in Britain you might see seahorses in the wild. More.
Long and flat with red squirrels in the pine trees, a romantic chapel on a headland dedicated to the ‘Welsh St Valentine’ and a pile of ancient pillow lava at one end of the beach. More.
Blakeney Point, Norfolk
Best place to see seals in Britain and a coastline of beautiful sandy spits and amazing bird life. More.
Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight
Visitor attraction in a natural tree-lined gorge with exhibitions and events, including the evening Chine Lumiere where hundreds of lights illuminate narrow paths, streams and waterfalls. More.
An Corran, Staffainn, Isle of Skye.
A family of dinosaurs left their footprints here on a beach 165 million years ago. Now preserved in a cluster on a bed of sandstone close to the ramp that leads down from the road. More.
And one more tip…
For the definitive, expert guide to building sandcastles, try this.