There’s something magical about the coastline, from stark, rugged cliffs to long golden stretches of dunes, from crashing waves to the promise of adventure on the horizon. At this time of year, the drama of the coastline is at its height, with raw, elemental seas and long beaches with a sense of delicious abandonment. And what could be a better way to blast away your New Year hangover than with a brisk winter stroll?
If you are feeling really brave, an icy paddle or even a dip is a revitalising way to start the year. Forecasts for this year are promising: not too cold, a bit windy, and dry. Wrap up warm and enjoy the great outdoors. Any beach will do – there are some truly beautiful coves, lagoons and sand spits to explore on our varied coastline. Here are 6 of my favourites.
1. South West England: Appledore, Devon to Westward Ho!
Appledore is a gorgeous sheltered settlement at the mouth of the river Torridge, near the confluence with the Taw. The estuary is full of moored boats and the town is full of pubs and cafes. You can follow the South West coast path north through Northam Burrows Country Park or walk along Appledore beach to the tip of the peninsula.
For a longer walk (roughly 4 miles – 1.5 hours), turn south along the beautiful dunes of Westward Ho! beach. The surf at Westward Ho! is irresistible for paddling – but is shockingly cold. There are plenty of places to buy chips at Westward Ho! before making the (shorter) return walk or getting the bus back.
2. South East England: Camber Sands
A stunning stretch of rich dunes and golden sand, Camber Sands is overwhelmed in the summer, with huge traffic jams stretching down the road to the beach. In winter you have the whole beautiful stretch to yourself. Sand dunes are not good in high winds, but the beach itself is wonderful all year round.
Camber Sands is near to the quaint town of Rye, one of the historical cinque ports. Rye boasts artisan shops and independent cafes, with great pubs and water-front dining if you venture down to the harbour.
You can access Rye by train, and Camber Sands is a just over three-mile cycle from the town, almost entirely off-road on the National Cycle Network
3. West England: Blackpool
Blackpool has been a popular tourist destination for over a century, with good reason: a ten mile stretch of sand from Fleetwood to South Shore, uninterrupted sea views, two piers and the world-famous Pleasure Beach. The rollercoasters are closed on New Year’s Day but there’s another high-octane activity for the brave: the Fleetwood New Year’s Day dip, beginning at 0830 this year. For all others, it’s a lovely beach to walk on, with acres of sand, especially at low tide, which this year will be at midday.
4. East England: Whitby
The Yorkshire fishing town of Whitby boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK, and there are plenty to choose from. To the north is the stunning Runswick Bay, made up primarily of sand and rock and an abundance of fossils, where you can spot seals if you’re lucky.
Sandsend Beach stretches from Sandsend Ness (another great spot for fossil hunters) all the way to Whitby, which is a gentle hour and a half walk, taking in Upgang Whitby beach where you can find Whitby jet. Whitby Sands beach itself is the most popular in the area, for its masses of sand and a slow curve with views up to the famous whale bone arch and Whitby Abbey on the promontory. Brightly-coloured beach huts brighten up even the dullest January day.
Finally, there’s Whitby Hill Beach which is tucked away in the sheltered Esk harbour. From here, you can climb the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey.
5. Wales: Harlech
The west Wales coast is one long line of stunning beaches from Cardigan Bay to the remote Lleyn peninsula. Harlech epitomises the Welsh coastline, with a fabulous castle, vast sand dunes, and a west-facing horizon where you can watch the sun set, all looked over by the mountains of Snowdonia. Popular in the summer months, this beach promises peace and quiet for a New Year’s Day wind-down.
6. Scotland: South Queensferry (near Edinburgh)
There’s much to admire in South Queensferry, most notably Britain’s best bridge-scape in the triple crossings: the classic Forth Rail cantilever bridge, the old road suspension bridge (now open only to buses and bicycles) and the new, cable-stayed crossing. It’s a rocky foreshore with views across to the Fife coast, out to sea and up the vast expanse of the Firth of Forth.
But the reason to visit on New Year’s Day is undoubtedly the Loony Dook, an annual dip in the freezing waters of the firth. From 11am, the streets of Queensferry are filled with the noisy procession of the dookers and their supporters, and spectators provide encouragement from the streets and the beach itself. Take part too if you feel so inspired!