UK’s best under-the-radar beaches and where to stay

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un’s out, guns out, right? Whether you’re ready to get your kit off or not, it shouldn’t stop you from making the most of the incoming heatwave and hitting up costa del Blighty.

After being relegated for decades in favour of Europe’s balmier climes, UK beaches are finally having their moment in the (patchy) sun. We’ve put together some of the most aesthetically pleasing, little known UK beaches that’ll leave you swearing off the cortisol-inducing indignity of airport security forever.

Scarista Beach, Lewis & Harris, Scotland

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If you’re looking for an adventure, and possibly a very moderate tan, then look no further. This deserted beach on Lewis & Harris, one of the 6000 tiny islands that make up the Outer Hebrides, looks like something out of a Caribbean postcard. Scarista Beach is located on the southern half of the isle of Harris, which is separate from the northern Isle of Lewis by a narrow spit of land.

The beach is often very busy, but not with humans, the ​​white sand is a veritable melting pot for wildlife, whether it’s eagles gliding overhead, or deer that trot down from the surrounding grassy banks onto the beach. The aquamarine water is crystal clear and unspoilt, but be prepared for a bit of a stroll through the grassy banks (known as Machair) to get to this beach, in spring and summer they’re carpeted with wild flowers. Make sure that you bring a packed lunch because there are no cafes to pop into for a flat white around here.

Where to stay

Despite its isolated location, accommodation on the Isle of Harris gets booked up far in advance, thanks to its reputation as the “jewel” of the Hebrides. Stay at Scarista House Hotel, the only hotel in the area within five minutes walk of the beach, or if you’re feeling brave, grab a tent and a crate of wine and head down to one of the many campsites in the area.

Llanddwyn, Anglesey, Wales

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Anglesey is having a moment, don’t take my word for it, our future king Prince William called it an “immensely special place”. Llanddwyn Island is located at the far end of the beach near Newborough Warren and is attached to the mainland by a narrow strip of cliff that during high tide disappears altogether making you feel like you’ve been marooned on a private island.

The white sand beach and fragrant pine forest sit in front of a breathtaking view of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula. The wild romance that infuses this beach is not just a by-product of the view, Llanddwyn is named after St. Dwynwen the Welsh patron saint of lovers, who is said to have come from the area.

Where to stay

Keep the romance alive and stay at the Grade II listed Château Rhianfa. The opulent Victorian mansion is modelled on a period French chateau and comes complete with picturesque gardens, a tennis court, ceiling frescoes and an outdoor dining area overlooking the Menai Straits and Snowdonia National Park.

Holkham Beach, Norfolk

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The wild beach at Holkham is one of the most unspoilt strips of coastline in the UK. At low tide you can walk across the dunes for miles but when the tide comes in the basin fills to form a crystal clear, shallow lagoon, perfect for spotting rare wildlife and the odd heron. The golden sand dunes are awash with wildflowers and are part of the adjoining Holkham estate and nature reserve.

The beach was featured in the Oscar-winning romantic drama Shakespeare in Love, when Gwyneth Paltrow wades through the water in the film’s closing scenes. If it’s good enough for Gwyneth, it’s certainly good enough for us. Again, this is a BYOP (bring your own picnic) sort of spot as lunch-fare is few and far between.

Where to stay

You can’t come to Holkham and not stay at the beautifully restored Holkham Hall estate. In the grounds of the red-brick country home of the Earl of Leicester you’ll find The Victoria, a sumptuous restaurant and hotel that is famous for its seafood and use of Norfolk-grown samphire.

Shell Bay, Studland, Dorset

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The quieter cousin of nearby Sandbanks beach, Shell Bay is an oasis of blonde sand and verdant grassland. Located slightly off-the-beaten track, you have to take a 45-minute chain-ferry from the Sandbanks Peninsula to get to Studland. Its remote location makes it the favoured haunt of keen nudists, which may or may not add to its appeal.

Whether derobed or not, the warm, clear water and quiet bay are a far cry from the tourist-ridden promenades of Brighton or Bournemouth. Close your eyes on a warm summer’s day and listen to the lapping waters and rustle of reeds and you could be somewhere far more exotic. Unlike Sandbanks you’ll struggle to find a 99 ice cream here, but wander down the peninsula and head to the Bankes Arms pub for a spot of lunch and a refreshing cider.

Where to stay

You are spoilt for choice with accommodation in this area; the Dorset coast is awash with quaint guesthouses and boutique hotels. The Pines Hotel is located four miles away and offers modern, comfortable rooms with views overlooking the peninsula. Or head to The Pig on the Beach for some bijou charm, the Jurassic Coast outpost of the boutique hotel chain is a smorgasbord of eclectic, quintessentially British seaside charm.

Three Cliffs Bay, Wales

A view of Three Cliffs Bay beach in Swansea, which topped the list

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Not for the faint hearted, but certainly one for the ‘gram, the white sands of Three Cliffs Bay with its backdrop of limestone cliffs, will be ingrained in your brain for some time after you leave. Three Cliffs is the perfect spot for a picnic or an afternoon of exploring. It stays blissfully quiet all year round thanks to its remote location, which means you may just have the beach to yourself.

The bay is overlooked by the ruins of Pennard Castle, which according to local folklore has long been the home of fairies. Whether you’re coming for the supernatural or a walk along the dunes, be sure to pack a notebook to write some bad poetry in, this place will surely awaken your inner Bard.

Where to stay

Wake up to views of the Gower Peninsula at the nearby Stradley Hotel and Spa or if you don’t mind a bit of a stroll, Brown’s Hotel is an hour drive away in the village of Laugharne and is said to be a favourite watering hole of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

St Bees, Cumbria

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St Bees is the perfect place for a bit of quiet introspection, this rugged stretch of shingle beach sits at the most westerly point of Northern England. Only a few miles from the Lake District, it has long been the haunt of nature enthusiasts or those keeping an eye on their steps as the beach marks the start of the Coast-to-Coast walk, which stretches all the way to North Yorkshire.

Legend has it that a St Bega, an Irish nun was shipwrecked on the beach and decided to build a priory on the spot with a group of other surviving nuns. Whether it is St Bega’s influence or the fresh Cumbrian air, this beach certainly has an air of ethereal spiritualty about it.

Where to stay

Head an hour down the coast and check in to the chocolate box Masons Arms pub, complete with rustic wooden furniture, a roaring fireplace and oodles of character, you’ll feel cosy throughout the year.

Bantham Beach, South Devon

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Only accessible via a foxglove-lined country lane, this South Devon beach is picture-perfect. Once you’ve reached it, the shoreline expands before you in a crescent of fine golden dunes and grass-topped cliffs. Bantham attracts a sporty crown and is a favourite with surfers and keen swimmers, thanks to the gentle tide.

At the end of the day, locals and tourists head to nearby Sloop Inn for a refreshing beer or Ploughman’s Lunch or grab an ice cream at the boujis pop up “Gastrobus” that parks on the beach in the day. While more adventurous spirits can hitch a lift on the famous “sea tractor” to get to nearby Burgh Island.

Where to stay

If you’re coming all this this way it’s a foregone conclusion to stay at the Burgh Island Hotel. The little Art Deco hotel is nestled on the tiny island off the South Devon coast and has hosted the likes of Agatha Christie and Noel Coward. Wile away the evenings in the billiards room or grab an evening whiskey at the historic Pilchard Inn, once the haunt of smugglers.

Pedn Vounder Beach, Cornwall

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This beach has to be in the running for best beach in the UK, like so many on this list its turquoise waters and remote coastline are worlds away from the Martin Parr image of the British seaside. The platinum sands, quiet aquamarine depths and backdrop of yellowstone cliffs could be something out of Galicia in Spain.

For years the beach was something of a secret gem, unknown to tourists and as such a favourite haunt of local naturists. But in recent years, the little beach has featured on several episodes of Poldark, arguably Cornwall’s most famous exhibitionist, thanks to his penchant for topless manual labour. As a result, the beach has become more popular with tourists, but the steep 15-minute hike to get to the beach has prevented it from ever becoming too busy.

Where to stay

Head to the Old Success Inn. Nestled on the beach with sweeping views across the ultra-blue water, it is the perfect place to relax and rewatch series two of Poldark.

Rhossili Bay, Gower Coast, Wales

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This beach has won many accolades, including being consistently voted one of the top ten British beaches, the UK best picnic spot and the UK’s most dog friendly beach. But despite its popularity, Rhossili Bay remains unspoilt and serene. The Gower peninsula has long been popular among walkers for its picturesque coves and landmarks, like the wreck of a Norwegian ship Helvetia, that ran ashore in 1887 and lies half buried in the sand.

The expanse of golden-sand bay is backed by verdant grass-topped cliffs, where you’ll often see sheep coming to graze in springtime. The Atlantic swell makes the beach a favourite among surfers, who come to come in the mornings and afternoons to catch a few waves at Worm’s Head beach. It’s a slightly steep walk to get down to the beach, but if you get hungry there are refreshments in the car park, which is 400 metres away.

Where to stay

For a truly unique experience check in at the Rhossili Old Rectory. Located on the beach itself with no other buildings around it, the period property will make you want to write a novel while nursing a tumbler of scotch. Do some exploring in the nearby fishing village of Mumbles, birthplace of Catherine Zeta Jones and home of the Mumbles miles, a pub crawl popular with poet and keen drinker Dylan Thomas.

Blackpool Sands, Devon

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Ignore the name, this beach bears more resemblance to the azure shores of the South of France than a Lancashire pier. This sandy, buttercup yellow beach is backed by a forest of pines, which infuse the air with a fresh aroma. The clear, blue waters are privately managed and thus kept impeccably clean, which is music to the ears of keen swimmers, but not so much to dog-owners as canine pets are banned.

Unlike many of the other beaches on this list, Blackpool sands has a more genteel feel, the lollipop coloured bathing huts along the beach give it an aesthetically pleasing,  vintage feel and the Venus Beach Café serves an array of organic dishes worthy of the finest Gastropub in east London.

Where to stay

After a long day on the beach head to the nearby town of Torquay for some pampering at the boutique Cary Arms & Spa and warm up in the steam room and waterfall hydrotherapy pool. For a more modern feel drive down to Salcombe for dinner and a night at the Harbour Beach Club, the epitome of minimal chic and 400 metres from the Salcombe North Sands.

Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, East Sussex

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This is one of our favourite beaches if you’re looking for somewhere quick to get to from London but don’t want to compromise on natural beauty. You will probably recognise the iconic white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters and the peach-coloured pebbled shoreline from several films and TV series including Harry Potter and Robin Hood.

Cuckmere Haven beach is also the start of the iconic Seven Sisters Cliffs walk, which stretches all the way to the Birling Gap in Eastbourne. The 14 mile walk takes a few hours and isn’t for the fainthearted, the 287-metre drop offers spine-tingling views across the Atlantic and certainly gives you a sense of the majesty of nature.

Where to stay

For an unconventional stay head to Belle Tout Lighthouse at Beachy Head. The historical lighthouse was decommissioned in 1902 and used as a home and tea house until it was partly destroyed in World War Two, before being lovingly restored in the 1950s and turned into a hotel.

Sandbanks, Dorset

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So not exactly “under-the-radar”, it is nonetheless considered one of the best beaches in the UK. This golden sanded gem has held European Blue Flag status for 23 years and for good reason. The clear water and designated swimming areas mean that you won’t have your breaststroke interrupted by a floating rubbish or an over zealous Golden Retriever.

The beach is on a small peninsula that lies at the crossing of Poole harbour and its proximity to the beach town makes it an easily accessible spot for families or those with mobility challenges. There are several spots to rent watersport equipment along the beach and volleyball nets for those with itchy feet.

Where to stay

The area around Sandbanks is prime real estate territory so it’s the perfect place to crash in an Airbnb and feel like you’re a millionaire for the day. Otherwise the Pig on the Beach hotel is a 30-minute drive away.

Botany Bay, Kent

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Another beach within driving distance of London, this hidden Kentish gem is surrounded by mesmeric chalk cliffs that give the golden shingle an air of grandeur. The beach was named after an Australian town of the same name after local smugglers were caught on the beach and deported to the Australian prison colony.

Nowadays there’s no treasure buried beneath here, but there are fossils, which draws crowds of amateur archeologists to the beach throughout the year. After a long day hunting for T-Rex skulls, locals head to an old shipping container-turned kiosk slightly up the beach to grab refreshments or borrow a bodyboard.

Where to stay

Situated on the magnificent clifftop at Kingsgate, the Botany Bay Hotel is minutes from the beach. Head slightly further down the coast into fashionable Margate for a plate of the most succulent prawns you’ll ever eat at Angela’s before bunking down for a night of boutique Georgian luxury at The Reading Rooms, just a stone’s thrown from Margate’s quirky Old Town.

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