In June 2020, we emerged from lock-down, blinking in the sunlight and longing for fresh sea air – and Britain’s beaches had never been so crowded. For those who like a more socially-distanced seaside experience, the cooler off-season months couldn’t come soon enough. From Cornwall to the Scottish islands, we present ten potentially empty beaches (and the pictures – all pre-Covid – help prove our case).
I apologise in advance if one of your favourite beaches is among them. The media is obsessed with flagging up ‘secret’, hidden or remote beaches. And after a mention in, say, The Sun (who managed to spell hordes – and hoards – two different ways in one article) the said beach is no longer a secret, surely? Most of ours take time and effort to reach, and we don’t have quite as many readers as The Sun. Anyway, this isn’t just about beaches: read on, and discover a drowned Devon village, white sands made of crushed seaweed and why you should take out travel insurance when visiting a Scottish island.
Great Bay, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
The weather isn’t always this good, but this is the norm on the wonderful Isles of Scilly: white powdery sand on miles of perfect beach and very few people (the islands don’t have the infrastructure to support thousands of visitors). There are five inhabited isles, St Mary’s (which has the harbour and the airport), Tresco, St Agnes, Bryher and, this – my favourite – St Martin’s: two miles long, one swanky hotel, a pub, a bakery, a couple of low-key guest houses, a population of 120 people and some of the best beaches in the UK. Great Bay joins up with Little Bay on the island’s north shore. Take me there – now.
Shipwreck Coast, North Cornwall
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure which wild Atlantic beach this is (could be Little Strand – or Lower Strangles) but on the two-hour cliff walk between Boscastle and Crackington Haven there are several of these craggy bays, some of them reachable (if you don’t mind steep, stony ascents). Expect gorse and bracken, soay sheep, smooth black pebbles, vast undercliffs, streams and footbridges and some very challenging climbs (see how tiny the cattle look on the great shoulder of grassy rock to the left of this photo). This is not a place for swimming (the sea is nearly always rough and often treacherous) but for solitude and dramatic scenery, it’s hard to beat; possibly, one of my favourite places in Cornwall – or anywhere.
Carbis Bay, Cornwall
I know, this isn’t exactly off the beaten track, but this was on a warm day in September and, as you can see, there’s hardly anyone there. With a couple of hotels on the beach and a station just above (Carbis is the penultimate stop on the St Ives Bay branch line from St Erth), it does get busy-ish but it has more scope for social distancing than the often over-crowded beaches of St Ives (a half hour walk along the coast path). An alternative is to head south on the foot path, eventually ending up on the sands at Porthkidney – the stupendous sweep of empty beach that leads up to the harbour at Hayle.
Beesands, South Devon
We’re not saying it doesn’t get busy in places, but the quieter northern end of Beesands (main picture and above) there is enough space to offer quality anti-social distancing. A mile away, in the other direction, there’s a fishing village, the jolly Cricket Inn (good place to stay) and the beginnings of a cliff-path walk to ruined Hallsands (the sub-aquatic remains of the former fishing village, drowned in a storm in 1917). Here, it’s all sand, shingle, fields, a freshwater lake and nothing much else. Getting there is via some of Devon’s most challengingly narrow country lanes.
Marloes Sands, Pembrokeshire, Wales
This mile-long Pembrokeshire gem is popular with fossil hunters, anglers, surfers and birdwatchers but there was nobody here when I visited late one September afternoon. Marloes (pronounced Mar-loiss) is a 15-minute walk from the National Trust carpark on the Marloes Peninsula; there is nothing here but rock pools, seabirds, cliffs and, at low tide, lots of creamy sand – at high tide the beach almost disappears so best to time your visit accordingly.
Penbryn, Cardiganshire, West Wales
Another mile-long beauty, this one is on the west coast of Wales – National Trust territory, with a car-park (quarter of a mile from the beach). We walked there from Tresaith on a beautiful day in April; a two-mile coast walk that takes in views across Cardigan Bay to Snowdonia, and makes a final approach to Penbryn though pretty natural woodland. The wide expanse of sandy beach is framed by cliffs (there is a cave to explore at low tide). Inland, by the carpark, there’s a great little café called the Plwmp Tart (limited opening out of season).
Flamborough Head, East Riding of Yorkshire
On either side of Flamborough Head – the windswept, white-rock promontory that lies between Filey and Bridlington on Yorkshire’s East Ridng coast – there are two chalk-white beaches: sheltered North Landing (pictured) is reached via a slipway crowded with weathered cobble boats; and South Landing – a cliff-bound cove of bleached pebbles, where the sea is a pale greeny-blue against a white sea bed. Flamborough Head, incidentally, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, for both its geology (rare chalk sea cliffs) and biology (this is one of one of the best places in the UK to see nesting seabirds – puffins, kittiwakes, gannets etc). There are also two lighthouses.
Coral Beach, Isle of Skye
The dreamy Coral Beach on the north coast of Skye, is roughly a mile’s walk from Claigan (4.5 miles along a single-track road from Dunvegan Castle, and the closest you can get by car). Okay, you can see from the second picture that it’s not exactly deserted, but this was in May – during a week of glorious weather (on the so-called ‘misty Isle’ you don’t waste a sunny day). The water is cold (I mean cold) but the colour is Caribbean, thanks to dazzling white sand: not actually coral but, according to isleofskye.com, the ‘crushed bleached skeletons of Red Coralline seaweed’.
Isle of Kerrera, Scotland
This is Ardmore at the south end of Kerrera – an islet off Oban on the West Highland coast reached via a quirky little car ferry (one of Calmac’s smallest, ferry services, it rarely carries more than a couple of vehicles – sometimes a flock of sheep). Catching the morning ferry from a slipway at Gallanach just outside Oban, we went on foot: Kerrera is roughly five square miles of livestock and wildflowers and you can walk the whole thing in a couple of hours. This rugged little beach is just below the lonely ruins of Gylen Castle.
Isle of Arran, North Ayrshire
Isle of Arran, North Ayrshire
Palm trees? I know, and this is 45-minutes off the west coast of Scotland. Arran is magical: Scotland in miniature they say, with burns, glens, white-capped mountains and some lovely beaches like this one on Whiting Bay. Not the best picture (taken in March), but it has a story. It was here that we got a text from CalMac telling us that due to inclement weather on the mainland, the ferry for which we had tickets was cancelled. We were advised to try to board an earlier service. We were half an hour from the port; we missed the ferry, which meant we missed our flight from Glasgow. The moral of the tale: don’t travel to the Scottish islands without travel insurance and stay close to the port in the hours before you travel.