I love beaches in winter – maybe not when it’s raining/ snowing or there is a stiff wind from the north whipping the sand up into your face, but on a clear, crisp winter’s day they are wonderful. As a child, I remember swimming in the freezing Devonshire sea – my sister’s fingers turning blue, my mum waiting on the shore with scratchy towels and a thermos flask full of hot tomato soup to warm us up. There was a special thrill to our bravery – that breath-catching run across cold wet sand and the paralyzing sting to your nervous system as you first hit the waves. The dogs would leap and bark and we would scream with pleasure.
I’m not quite so enthusiastic about swimming now I’m in my weak middle ages, but I still love the thrill of the empty winter beach for an invigorating winter explore, young children charging along beside me in wellies and wind-proofs throwing sticks and looking for shy winter crabs.
Some great beaches to enjoy in winter (with pubs to warm up in after) are:
Whitesands is one of the most westerly beaches in north Cornwall and one of its most beautiful. Its long crescent of Atlantic-smoothed silky sand, with soft, grassy cliffs rising behind, has a palpable ‘next stop America’ feel about it. Take great gulps of bracing fresh air and walk from Land’s End along the coast path. After flying the kites/playing beachball have lunch at the 17th-century Old Success Inn, which is full of (interesting) life.
Old Success Inn, Sennen Cove, Cornwall. Contact 01736 871232; www.oldsuccess.com
The Jurassic Coast is England’s first natural World Heritage Site, a 95-mile stretch of coast from Exmouth to Studland. One of the best beaches for fossil-hunting is Charmouth. Start at the heritage centre, where you can fossick in the rivers and on the sand before walking along the beach and cliffs until you arrive at the Cobb at Lyme Regis, where The French Lieutenant’s Woman was filmed. Lunch (if you’re feeling like stretching the budget) has to be at Mark Hix’s gorgeously relaxed Hix Oyster & Fish House.
Slapton Sands is a long shingly crescent flanked either end by a great collection of rocks to climb and caves to explore. Its backed by a large, fresh water lake known as the Lea where winter birds congregate. Take the kids for a bracing saunter along the sands before popping in to Start Bay Inn in Torcross for some world class fish and chips.
Start Bay Inn Torcross, Kingsbridge, Devon TQ7 2TQ contact 01548580553
Northumberland has some of England’s most far-flung and exciting beaches. Walk south around wide Embleton Bay and let the kids go wild in the ghostly ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. The beach is backed by pretty dunes famous for their winter flowers and birds. The friendly Ship Inn serves crab and homemade pasta; much of its seafood is landed at the bay.
The Ship Inn, Low Newton by-the-Sea, Alnwick, Northumberland. Contact 01665 576262; www.shipinnnewton.co.uk
Suffolk has miles of stunning sand and shingle beaches to explore. Combine an invigorating play on the beach with some crabbing off the quay in Walberswick. You are surrounded by mudflats, meadows and marsh if you want to go bird watching after lunch in the pretty Anchor pub.
The Anchor, Main Street, Walberswick. For more information contact 01502 722112; www.anchoratwalberswick.com