Tag Archives: Beaches

The East Neuk Fishing Villages

St Monans

The East Neuk Fishing Villages

‘Neuk’ is a Scottish word for nook or corner, and if you take a look at the map opposite, you’ll see that the East Neuk of Fife is the bit that juts out into the North Sea at the end of the Firth of Forth.

Along this coastline are a string of attractive fishing villages, the most interesting being St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther (including Cellardyke) and Crail.

If you’ve travelled to Fife over the Forth Bridge, then the first of these villages is St. Monans, about an hour’s drive away. There are several theories as to who St. Monan was, but the church that is dedicated to him is often described as Scotland’s nearest church to the sea, which is only around 20 metres away. It’s been here since the 14th century so whether it’s been that close since it was built, I wouldn’t like to say.

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North Berwick

North Berwick

A half-hour train journey from Waverley along the East Lothian coast will bring you to the smashing little seaside town of North Berwick.

The first time I came here I immediately fell in love with it. Little did I know at the time that it was one of the most expensive seaside towns to live in Scotland.

It doesn’t have an outward appearance of wealth or anything like that, in fact it’s quite an unassuming sort of place in many ways.

It doesn’t have much in the way of seaside attractions in the conventional sense, but more in the way of natural attractions. A conical volcanic hill known as North Berwick Law overlooks the town, its beaches and small harbour, but its location overlooking a handful of small islands in the Firth of Forth is what makes it a bit special.

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Scotland’s Solway Coast and the Rhins of Galloway

The Solway Firth

Scotland's Solway Coast and the Rhins of Galloway

Like so many travellers, I’ve often been guilty of rushing past this quiet corner of Scotland in search of the country’s more celebrated attractions further north, but several years ago I decided that it was about time we turned left at the Scottish border to take a steady drive along the Solway Coast to the Rhins of Galloway and find out what we’ve been missing.

From what I can see of it nothing much has changed around here since we visited, but one thing I’d better mention is that we didn’t drive along here all in one day, as the route I’ve described would take at least four hours without stops; and although it might be possible, I wouldn’t recommend it if you want to enjoy the area properly.

Naturally, I wasn’t expecting the same jaw-dropping scenery that the Highlands can offer, but I already knew from experiences elsewhere, that the Lowlands of Scotland have an appeal of their own, but in a much more subtle way.

Immediately after crossing the border into Scotland is Gretna Green, the famous runaway wedding location, where most first-time visitors will want to stop – even if they don’t intend getting spliced. Having been here before, I was keen to move on because I think it’s one of those places that, unless your name’s Henry VIII, you only want to visit once, and so we carried on along the ‘B’ roads towards Caerlaverock instead.

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Tynemouth Priory and Castle

Tynemouth Priory and Castle

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the rocky headland overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne would have been a natural place for the Romans to build a fort to guard the main sea route to Hadrian’s Wall, but they didn’t: Instead, they chose to build one on the opposite side of the river at South Shields which they called Arbeia. What their reasons were I’m not sure, but although remains of an Iron Age settlement have been found on Pen Bal Crag, the first written records didn’t appear until the 8th century when monks established a community here on the north side of the river.

The precise date when this first monastery was built isn’t known for sure, but history detectives have pinned it down to around the mid-700s. It seems as though Tynemouth was one of four monasteries in this part of the country at the time, the other three being Wearmouth, Lindisfarne and Jarrow, which was located just across the river.

One of Jarrow’s monks was the Venerable Bede (c673-735) who, in around 731, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, considered by most experts to be the first ever historical account of the people who lived in the land we now call England. Those in the know will tell you that he never mentioned a monastery at Tynemouth, so it’s assumed that there wasn’t one here during his lifetime. By 792, there was definitely a monastery here because this became King Osred II of Northumbria’s final resting place.

The 9th and 10th centuries saw the Vikings being attracted to the riches of the monasteries of the North-East, and Tynemouth’s monastery was on their list of targets. Around 875 they raided and destroyed the (wooden) buildings, after which it seems, they were content to stay put for a while.

The picture below shows the remains of Jarrow’s monastery which was rebuilt during medieval times. Part of the old Anglo-Saxon monastery still survives in the chancel of the adjacent St. Paul’s church.

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The Rocks, the Sand, and the Water

The Rocks, the Sand and the Water

In my introduction to Bude I mentioned that the opening of the canal was the first big thing to happen to this tiny, nondescript village at the mouth of the equally nondescript River Neet.

The reason that I’m calling it nondescript is because there was nothing here; no harbour to land fish, no minerals to mine, and it didn’t even lead to anywhere. All that was here were rocks, sand and water, so why build a canal? The answer was because of all three.

The rocks and sea cliffs around Bude are unique for Cornwall in as much as that they are made up of carboniferous limestone. Nowhere else in the county has rocks like these, and geologists have even found a special name for them – the Bude Formation. To mere mortals like me it makes for an interesting coastline and a nice sandy beach, but to people interested in making a living it meant that these cliffs produced sand containing calcium carbonate which could be used to neutralise the acidic land of the inland farms.

The first person to dream up the idea of transporting this sand inland by canal was a Cornishman who went by the name of John Edyvean back in 1774. His idea was to build a 95 mile waterway from Bude to the navigable part of the River Tamar, thereby connecting the Bristol Channel with the English Channel. This would have allowed, not just the transportation of sand, but other goods as well, such as coal, slate and timber. It also meant that ships didn’t have to take the hazardous journey around Land’s End.

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St. Ia and Pendinas

The Island from Porthmeor Beach

St. Ia and Pendinas

It never ceases to amaze me how saints of old had powers that would put David Blaine and Uri Geller to shame, and St Ia is yet another one.

St. Ia was a 5th century Irish princess who, after being converted to Christianity, decided that it was her duty to join a missionary party that was planning to cross the Celtic Sea in order to convert the good people of Cerniw.

The story goes that the boat left without her, but undeterred, she set about making her own arrangements – so what did she do? she sailed over on a leaf of course! Now, I have to admit I am partaking in a glass of fruit cider while I’m writing this, but I can assure you that the story is true, it must be, I’ve read the same story from several different sources just to confirm that I haven’t been hallucinating.

Call me an old cynic if you like, but I don’t believe a word of it. Having said that, it seems pretty likely that the Irish princess did make it across to the shores of Cornwall one way or another, and it also seems likely that she landed at Pendinas, or ‘The Island’ as it’s called today.

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The Beaches of St. Ives

Porthminster Beach

The Beaches of St. Ives

I have to confess that I’m not one for lying around on a beach, but I also have to confess that I do like seeing them, and with all this good weather around at the moment it seems as good a time as any to mention a few.

St. Ives is one of those places that is blessed with some lovely sandy beaches, but for this article I’m excluding the large expanses of sand at Carbis Bay and Hayle and just concentrating on the town beaches.

There’s not a lot that can be written about them except to say that they are all ideal for just lying around on, and taking a casual dip every so often into the shallow turquoise sea; perfect for kids and sun-worshippers alike, weather permitting of course.

Consequently, this post is mainly a pictorial one to show where the beaches are and what they look like.

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Porthcurno

Porthcurno Beach

Porthcurno

Porthcurno lies in a valley that reaches down to the sea on the south coast of the Penwith Peninsula.

For such a small village it attracts many visitors, some would say too many at times, but it’s understandable why people find Porthcurno such a magnet.

Lying about half way between Lamorna Cove and Land’s End, Porthcurno would be an obvious stopping off point for people walking along this section of the South-West Coast Path without its own attractions.

The white shell beach sits in a small bay that is sometimes called Porthcurno Bay. The colour of the sea depends on the weather, state of the tide and the time of the day, but when the sun’s shining the white sand is reflected by the sun to make the sea a perfect aquamarine colour.

The bay is protected to the east by a headland that is renowned for its ‘Logan Rock’ and to the west by Pedn-men-an-mere, or Wireless Point as it’s sometimes called.

It gets its name of Wireless Point from the receiving station that was set up here to eavesdrop on Marconi’s successful wireless telegraphy operation which was in direct competition with Porthcurno’s underground and submarine cable communications.

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Picturesque Polperro

Picturesque Polperro

If someone unfamiliar with Cornwall were to ask me to take them to a picturesque Cornish fishing village, I would have to take them to Polperro. It has everything you would expect – from a lovely harbour, narrow streets with quaint cottages, coastal walks and some great pubs to finish off with; what more could you ask for?

The only problem is that I’m not the only one who thinks it has everything, and so if you choose to come at the same time as everyone else then Polperro might not live up to expectations. I know this applies to any popular destination, but if you can come on a pleasant day out of season (preferably with an overnight stop) then you will be rewarded with a much better experience.

You can reach Polperro from Looe by a bus service that suits the company more than it does the passengers (remember everything down here operates on Cornish Mean Time), but if you have your own transport you will have to park at the top of the village near the Crumplehorn Inn where the local highwayman used to masquerade as the car park attendant. These days he’s been replaced by his metal mickey equivalent whose advanced technology doesn’t seem to stretch as far as being able to dish out any change.

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Exploring the Rame Peninsula

Rame Head from Portwrinkle

Exploring the Rame Peninsula

The Rame Peninsula, for anybody who doesn’t know it, is the bit of Cornwall you can see from Plymouth Hoe. It’s a natural assumption therefore to think that this part of Cornwall is frequented by Janners (Plymothians) more than visitors from elsewhere, and you would be right: But you would be wrong for thinking that it’s somewhere to pass by on your journey down west, and in this post I’m going to explain why.

There are several ways of getting there, but for people with a car who like to explore I’m suggesting that we travel the long way round to begin with and drive across the Tamar Bridge, and then return to Plymouth via the Torpoint Ferry. I have my reasons for saying this, but you can travel the other way round if you prefer.

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Slapton Sands and Exercise Tiger

Slapton Sands and Exercise Tiger

The sweeping arc of coastline between the mouth of the River Dart and Start Point is known as Start Bay, and includes a two-mile-long beach that extends from Blackpool Sands to Hallsands.

The most easily accessible part of the beach is between Strete Gate and Torcross, where a road just manages to separate the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley from the sea, but for how much longer I wouldn’t like to say.

Slapton Sands, as this part of the beach is called, gets its name from the small village of the same name which lies just about a mile inland: Why the beach is called Slapton Sands I have no idea because it consists mainly of shingle and pebbles.

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Babbacombe

Babbacombe

Babbacombe, although part of Torquay, has a totally independent feel to it. There are similarities such as a prom, harbour, beach and even a theatre, but generally speaking, it’s a much more reserved and low-key location than its larger neighbour.

The focal point is Babbacombe Downs, which at 300 ft. above the sea below, offers commanding views around Lyme Bay towards Dorset.

On a clear day it’s possible to see as far as Portland Bill, so where better to just lounge around and enjoy the view, perhaps with some fish and chips from Hanbury’s in nearby Princes Street. As tempting as that might be, it’s probably better to work up an appetite first, and a short walk around Babbacombe will not only do just that, but will also provide you with quite a few things to see and do along the way.

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From Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach

From Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach

Even though Torbay is generally thought of as an urban area next to the sea, it doesn’t mean to say that the South-West Coast Path isn’t worth following around the bay. I would agree that it wouldn’t make sense to follow it all the way around, but there are some lovely stretches of coastline between Torquay and Brixham, and I reckon this one from Torquay Harbour to Meadfoot Beach is one of them.

The footpath between Peaked Tor Cove and Daddyhole Plain is about a mile long and known locally as Rock End Walk, but to make it easier to find I’ve decided to start the walk from the Victoria Parade side of the harbour where it meets Beacon Hill.

As you start to walk up the hill, you’ll see a brown tourist sign that leads down to Beacon Cove. Unlike the red sandstone beaches that this part of Devon is well known for, this is a small rocky limestone bay, which until 1903, was a ladies-only beach and a favourite spot for the young Agatha Christie. Next to it is the now empty ‘hairnet’, which before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, was the home of seabirds and other marine life that made up Paignton Zoo’s Living Coasts. There’s no access onto the coast path from Beacon Cove, so you’ll need to walk back up onto the road if you venture down here.

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Abbey Park, Torre Abbey Sands and Sandyman

Abbey Park, Torre Abbey Sands and Sandyman

Visitors to Torquay have probably come to enjoy the sea air as much as anything, and a short walk from Torre Abbey through Abbey Park will bring you to the seafront and Torre Abbey Sands.

Abbey Park lies in front of the Riviera Centre and has some low-key sporting facilities such as tennis and crazy golf if you like that sort of thing, but the gardens, with their sub-tropical plants and water features are what I like, and in particular, the Italian Garden which is a riot of colour during the summer (see featured image at top of page).

If you’re not in any rush to get the sand between your toes, you might also want to check out the One World Café and Bistro which is the ideal place for doing absolutely nothing for an hour or so.

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Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

My final post about Paignton covers the area between Broadsands and Brixham, and includes the short walk from Broadsands to Elberry Cove and an extension to Churston for those who want it. The village of Churston Ferrers, technically speaking, comes within the boundary of Brixham, but I think it makes more sense to include it here.

You don’t need to belong to Mensa to work out where Broadsands gets its name from. It’s the last major Paignton beach before reaching Brixham (which doesn’t have any major beaches incidentally), and is another safe place for toddlers to paddle in. Unlike the beaches nearer to the town centre, there are very few amenities, and that’s the reason why some people enjoy coming here.

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Goodrington

Goodrington

Goodrington was another village, like Preston, that was swallowed up by Paignton, and covers the coastal area between Roundham Head and Broadsands, but just like its counterpart across the other side of town, it has grown inland as well.

It has to be said that there’s not much for the ardent historian to seek out here because Goodrington primarily attracts families who just want to enjoy the beach, park and water flumes. That said, it also manages to juggle the appeal of family fun with some important conservation as well.

As I pointed out in Old Paignton this used to be a wet, marshy area, and it’s not difficult to see why it was looked upon in years gone by as an area that needed to be tamed, but these days we treat nature with a bit more respect (sometimes) and work with nature rather than against it.

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Preston (Paignton) and Oldway Mansion

Oldway Mansion

Preston (Paignton) and Oldway Mansion

As Paignton (and Torbay in general) began to expand, then it was only a matter of time before other small adjacent villages were added to the urban area’s population. For Paignton, it included the villages of Goodrington to the south, and Preston to the north.

Preston sits between Old Paignton and the boundary with Torquay at Hollicombe, and over the years has expanded up the hill inland, but from a visitor’s perspective the main points of interest are the beach, known as Preston Sands, and Oldway Mansion.

At low tide Preston Sands are a continuation of Paignton Beach, but is generally regarded as the shoreline between the Redcliffe Hotel and Hollicombe Head. It’s a safe beach ideal for sunbathing and swimming, as well as rock-pooling at Hollicombe Head.

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Paignton Seafront

Paignton Seafront

I’m not somebody who likes to lie around on the beach much these days, but for families, Paignton seafront has all the ingredients to make a perfect holiday.

The sunny, south facing beach has sand that’s perfect for making sandcastles, and its Blue Flag status makes the sea perfectly safe for even the tiniest of tots to paddle and swim in.

If the youngsters get tired of playing on the beach, then there’s always the 780 ft long Pier to wander along. It first opened in 1879 and was initially used as a place for music and dancing, but those days have long gone, and instead there are now traditional slot machines, the latest video games, and a children’s play park with ‘rides and slides’ including a helter skelter. Since the 1980s the pier has been constantly upgraded and is as popular as ever.

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