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 and Padstow are beloved by the young surfer crowd. The more sheltered south coast tends to be popular with families due to the calmer waves. In the far west, 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.

Woolacombe Bay

One of the most famous beaches in the country, North Devon's Woolacombe is hugely popular with surfers for its waves and with families for its soft sand 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 miles west of Lynton: to get here, take A361 and follow signs.

Blackpool Sands

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 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 miles and look for signs.

Fistral Bay

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.

Porthcurno

A protected, blue 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 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 miles southeast of Land's End.

Sennen Cove

Located in the aptly named Whitesand Bay, Sennen Cove is a gorgeous expanse of creamy soft sand on the western tip of Cornwall. When the tide is coming in, the waves attract legions of surfers. 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 miles north of Land's End: follow signs.

Updated: 10-2013

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