UKH

Britain's Best: Coastal Walks

In Britain you're never more than 70 miles from the sea. With roughly 31,000km of coastline (estimates vary) we can genuinely boast some of the finest coastal walking in the world. There's something for everyone: epic sandscapes; clifftop spectaculars; picture postcard villages; even mountains rising straight out of the water. You might prefer a hard day on foot to ice creams on the promenade, but it's still not a proper summer holiday unless you're beside the seaside. So pack the sun hat and cozzie for ten of the top walks on Britain's coast.

Rhossili Bay and Worms Head, Gower

Rhossili Beach, 176 kb
Rhossili Beach
© Simon Rawlinson Photography

A 5km stretch of pristine sand at the tip of the Gower Peninsula's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the beach at Rhossili takes some beating - indeed in 2014 it was voted by users of Tripadvisor as the UK's best. Stride out along the sands, past the remains of a 19th Century shipwreck; make time too for Rhossili Down, the hill backing the beach, and if the tide's right follow the rocky causeway onto the striking tidal rock-peak-island of Worms Head. From surfing to climbing, there's plenty more to do hereabouts too.

Clovelly to Welcombe via Hartland Point, North Devon

Lundy and Hartland Point, 173 kb
Lundy and Hartland Point
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com, Aug 2012

The 630-mile South West Coast Path (SWCP) is by far the longest of our National Trails. Most walkers nibble at it in bite-sized chunks, and here's one of the most rugged sections, 26km along the wild 'Culm Coast'. From the impossibly quaint fishing village of Clovelly follow the densely forested clifftop to the outermost point of the Bristol Channel at Hartland Point, and then head on south down the weatherbeaten Atlantic seaboard. With its wave-washed rock fins, tottering headlands, secret coves, waterfalls and wooded dells, the scenery is impressive all the way. This long day's walk packs in more ascent than you'll find on most hillwalking rounds, but you can always stop off for a swim or a cream tea. Does coastal walking get any better than this?

  • See the UKH Route Card here

Elgol to Coruisk, Skye

Cuillin Ridge from Elgol, 196 kb
Cuillin Ridge from Elgol
© colinthrelfall, Jun 2010

A tight cluster of rock peaks spearing 3000 feet straight out of the sea, Skye's Cuillin are unequalled anywhere in Britain. The approach to the range from the lonely village of Elgol is a unique coastal walk in an utterly spectacular setting. Two hours or so brings you to the remote beach and bothy at Camasunary bay; here the fun really starts. At the west end of the beach ford a river, and continue along the coast around the craggy foot of the rugged mini mountain Sgurr na Stri. The path rounds a bend and heads towards Coruisk, a hidden loch in the dramatic heart of the Cuillin - perhaps the most impressive location in the British Isles. You'll soon reach the infamous Bad Step, a sea level scramble up a cracked rock slab; it's easier than it looks. After all this adventure the easiest way home is by boat to Elgol, a treat in itself (there are regular summer sailings - pre-book your return before setting out in the morning).

Llanddwyn Bay, Anglesey

The hills of the Lleyn from Ynys Llanddwyn, 187 kb
The hills of the Lleyn from Ynys Llanddwyn
© Nicholas Livesey, Mar 2013

Backed by the extensive dunes of Newborough Warren, and the pine wood of Newborough Forest, the vast sandy expanse of Llandwyn Bay offers a superb long beach walk with views across the water to the mountains of Snowdonia and the Lleyn. From Newborough (Niwbwrch) village head out through the dunes to the sand spit of Abermenai Point (tides permitting), then double back along the shoreline to the fascinating and photogenic tidal island of Ynys Llanddwyn. If you've time finish via Maltraeth Sands.

Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, East Sussex

The towering cliff of Beachy Head, 150 kb
The towering cliff of Beachy Head
© Cicerone & Kev Reynolds

Arguably the top coastal walk of the southeast, this long route from Eastbourne to Seaford (or vice versa) follows the sharp-cut seaward edge of the rolling South Downs, crossing two iconic chunks of seaside scenery - the undulating clifftop of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, the highest chalk cliff in the country. Bright white and surprisingly big, they are a mighty impressive sight - though take care near the crumbly edges! For an alternative take on the cliffs, or a well-earned mid day swim, the beach below can be accessed at key points including Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap. Thanks to good public transport links between London and the coast, and a bus between Eastbourne and Seaford, this walk is easy to reach without a car.

Lower Largo to St Monan's, Fife

The open space of Largo Bay, 100 kb
The open space of Largo Bay
© Dan Bailey

Once bustling fishing and sea trading ports, the historic villages strung along the fringe of Fife's far-flung East Neuk are nowadays picturesque backwaters. From Lower Largo, birthplace of a sailor that inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, head east on the Fife Coastal Path into the wide sands of Largo Bay. Beyond the next secluded cove, Shell Bay, is the rocky headland of Kincraig Point. The path passes over, but if the tides are favourable the sea-level traverse around the base of the cliffs is a unique and adventurous hands-on alternative. This is the famous Elie Chain Walk, for many years Britain's only via ferrata. Beyond the point is another perfect sand beach, then the ancient twin villages of Earlsferry and Elie (good pub lunch possibilities). continuing east, the coastal path follows an unspoilt rocky shoreline past a ruined castle to St Monan's, yet another historic stone-built fishing village.

  • The Chain Walk, including advice on tides, is covered in a UKH Route Card here

Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, Dorset

Winter afternoon at Durdle Door, 224 kb
Winter afternoon at Durdle Door
© smr, Mar 2008

Famed for its spectacular sea cliff geology, bucolic countryside and balmy south coast climate, the Jurassic Coast of east Devon and Dorset is an understandably popular holiday destination. The perfect circular inlet of Lulworth Cove and the natural rock arch of Durdle Door are scenic highlights of this 95-mile-long World Heritage Site, easily linked in a half-day walk along the chalk clifftops.

Staithes to Whitby, North Yorkshire

staithes sunset, 58 kb
staithes sunset
© jas wood

Along the unspoilt coast of Cleveland the North York Moors crumble into the North Sea. It's all high rolling hills and fields, secretive coves - known locally as wykes, wide strands, tottering sea cliffs and wooded valleys. From the historic fishing village of Staithes, a picture-postcard huddle of houses in a deep fold, the Cleveland Way heads southeast along the clifftop. At about 18km it's a fairly long trek to Whitby, but make time if you can to check out the quirky fishermen's huts at Port Mulgrave, beautiful Runswick Bay and the gorgeous beach at Sandsend. Try a bit of fossil hunting too - this coastline is famous for them - and enjoy a good poke around the old mine and quarry works. With its hilltop abbey and Dracula associations, the seaside resort of Whitby is a pretty good place to end a walk. Consider staying the night and continuing south to Robin Hood's Bay next day for lots more of this sort of thing.

North Pembrokeshire Coast

The beautiful Caerfai Beach near St. David's in north Pembrokeshire, 148 kb
The beautiful Caerfai Beach near St. David's in north Pembrokeshire
© Alan James

To the south and west of the historic 'city' of St.Davids in north Pembrokeshire is one of the most beautiful sections of coastline in the whole of the UK. Starting from St.Davids, various paths or small roads lead to Whitesands Bay. Here you pick up the coastal section which leads round St. David's Peninsula and back along the stunning south coast. Various inlets provide picturesque distractions before you reach the perfect beach at Caerfai Bay, hopefully in time for an afternoon dip. You could now head back to St.Davids but the scenery from here to Solva is as good as anything you have walked so far.

The Old Man of Hoy and St John's Head, Orkney

Rackwick Bay.. Take off place for the Old Man of Hoy, 154 kb
Rackwick Bay.. Take off place for the Old Man of Hoy
© USBRIT
The Old Man of Hoy and St John's Head on a wild day, 95 kb
The Old Man of Hoy and St John's Head on a wild day
© Dan Bailey

Everything about this walk is superlative. First off you've got to get to Hoy, the wildest and most mountainous of the Orkney Islands. For most of us that's no small effort; but it's worth the journey. Stay at the Youth Hostel, or the nearby bothy, in the tiny village of Rackwick, a depopulated remnant huddled low against the wind in a broad bay strewn with round boulders like giant dinosaur eggs. An easy hour on the cliff path brings you to the headland overlooking The Old Man of Hoy, Britain's biggest sea stack. A giant tower of striated sandstone nearly 150m high, it was once the outer pillar of a natural arch, long since collapsed. Gravity and the North Atlantic pounding will one day do for the Old Man too. Continuing north, the crags rise to mighty St John's Head, among the highest sea cliffs in Britain. With gaping chasms, airy headlands and a gut-wrenching view down 340 vertical metres to the growling surf below (if you dare) it's a remarble spot. Wild weather only adds to the elemental feel, and so too does the local wildlife. During nesting season you can expect to be dive-bombed by the resident skuas. Known locally as bonxies, these big ground-nesting gulls deserve their aggressive reputation. Wear a hat, and watch the skies!



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