The West Country Feature
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West Country Beaches
When the British travel to Cornwall and Devon, they're heading for the beach. This region has the best beaches in the country, whether on the Atlantic or the English Channel: crescents of ivory sand at the foot of plunging cliffs, all washed by clear, deep blue water. Bring your swimsuit and join the fun.
Carved out by ancient volcanic activity or by the creative erosion of wind and waves, the beaches here are often uniquely beautiful. North Cornwall beaches are rugged and often pounded by surf: those near Newquay are beloved by the young surfer crowd. South Cornwall beaches tend to be sandier and less crowded, and they are also popular with families due to the calmer waves. In Devon the beaches can be a bit wilder and equally spectacular, although the best are often off the beaten track—and well worth the drive. Most beaches are free (but you may pay to park), and rare is the beach that doesn't have an ice cream truck nearby. Expect to bring your own towels, chairs, and floats.
Good to Know
The waters off the coasts of England are very cold: brace yourself. Undertows are common due to the nature of the shoreline; beware of fast-moving tides. At most beaches, red-and-yellow flags show the limits of safe swimming. A blue flag means that the beach is excellent. The Blue Flag plan grades cleanliness, water quality, access, and facilities; it's used in Europe and parts of North America.
These Devon and Cornwall beaches include top picks for families, surfers, and those who love stunning landscapes.
One of the most famous beaches in the country, North Devon's Woolacombe is hugely popular with families because of its soft sand, rolling dunes, and tidal pools for the kids to explore. This beach has all you could need for a dreamy day: cafés, chairs and surfing equipment to rent, lifeguards, ice cream—you name it. But if you're not looking for crowds and kids, you may want to go elsewhere. The beach is 17 mi west of Lynton: to get here, take A361 and follow signs.
Near Dartmouth on Start Bay in South Devon, this privately managed beach sits at the edge of an extraordinary natural setting of meadows and forest. It's favored for its gentle surf; clear water; and long, wide stretch of sand. Great for swimming (not so great for surfing), the beach is big enough that you can always find a quiet stretch. Take A379 south of Dartmouth for about 3 mi and look for signs.
This favorite of serious surfers near Newquay in North Cornwall is a long stretch of flat, soft sand, renowned for its powerful tides and strong currents. Surf shops rent equipment and offer lessons on the beach, or you can just check the scene. Lifeguards watch the water in summer, and there are cafés and shops selling beach supplies. The beach is off Headland Road at the western edge of Newquay.
A protected, turquoise bay in South Cornwall, Porthcurno has a crescent moon of white sand (from crushed shells) at the foot of imposing dark, blocklike granite cliffs. The extraordinary Minack Theatre—carved from solid rock—is on one side, and there are plenty of pubs and cafés nearby. A steep slope can make swimming a challenge at times, but one area near a stream is good for families. The town and beach are signed off B3315, about 3 mi southeast of Land's End.
Located in the aptly named Whitesand Bay, Sennen Cove is a gorgeous expanse of creamy soft sand on the southern tip of Cornwall. When the tide is coming in, the waves are good enough to attract surfers (and it's not too rough). When the tide's out, kids paddle in the tidal pools and the sand stretches as far as you can see. Cafés are nearby, and surfing equipment is for rent on the beach. Sennen is off A30 less than 2 mi north of Land's End: follow signs.
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