Planning a last minute seaside holiday but don’t want to be overrun by the crowds? Here are six ‘secret beaches’ together with recommended holiday cottages in the seaside counties of Devon and Cornwall. Of course, it’s impossible to find a beach so secret that no one knows about it, so I picked out those that look lovely, are somewhat off the beaten track and recommended by locals, who instinctively know the best beaches away from the main drag on which to chill out on a summer’s day.
Secret Beaches in Devon
Lee Bay, North Devon
Photo credit: www.myholidaycottagemarketing.uk
Lee Bay nestles on the rugged North Devon coastline between Ilfracombe and Woolacombe. Lee itself is one of those ‘time forgotten’ villages where you could be forgiven for believing you’d slipped through a time warp back to the 1950’s as you descend through sleepy Lee village in the valley towards the beach.
The Bay has two equally appealing faces: at High Tide when the sea laps against the sea wall and the turquoise colour of the ocean contrasts with the grey rugged cliffs and bright greens of the trees and fields that dip down towards the shore. It’s the kind of view you ache to take home with you. To be at Lee on a full tide is a time for peaceful contemplation of all that is well with the world. Take a seat on the wide sea wall and watch the sun set over the ocean, then turn about and walk through meadows to The Grampus, an ancient, and oh so very convivial low-beamed pub serving fine local ales and scrummy pub-grub where children and dogs are equally welcome.
When the tide recedes, the bay becomes a playground for all ages. It’s a beach made for rock pooling – you can while away the hours, shrimp-net in hand dabbling in pool after pool, discovering all kinds of sea-life nestling between the fronds of weeds. A goodly expanse of sand is also revealed by the retreating tide offering a choice between sandcastle building, paddling or swimming, depending on the time of year and height of the waves. During the main summer months, boats will collect visitors from the beach for a tour along the coastline towards Ilfracombe. Take a picnic though as, other than toilets and a small car park, there are no shops or cafes – just a few old fishermens' cottages and the, now closed, Lee Bay Hotel currently awaiting a suitably visionary owner to take it in hand.
Photo credit: www.myholidaycottagemarketing.uk
This is one secret beach that leads to an even more secret beach thrown in for good measure.
Deep in the heart of South Devon a hop and a skip from Salcombe, lies Seacombe Sands, a wide sandy beach backed by wonderful rock formations that provide shelter and picnic spots directly below the holiday cottage recommended. It isn’t easily accessed but its beauty attracts the seaside connoisseurs. But, less well known and for the intrepid only, is the beach called Rickham Sands. This lies to the west of the main beach. You’ll need to pack a tide table in with your picnic. Only at the lowest of tides, is it possible to walk round the rocky headland that separates the two beaches. At all other times however, access can only be gained by scrambling over the rocks. It has been labelled the perfect ‘Famous Five’ beach. There are rock pools and usually enough driftwood to have an evening fire. As the tide recedes, a stretch of firm sand is revealed that invites ball games or races. In August, its secrets get found out but, at most other times, peace and privacy prevail – all too rare on the south coast of England.
Stay at: The Dairy at Beeson Farm – a luxuriously furnished contemporary home with stunning sea views and its own cinema. It sleeps 7 in style.
Branscombe, East Devon
You’ve really got to want to go to Branscombe. No main roads into town here – just some meandering narrow Devon lanes where, in the height of summer, judicious use is made of passing places. That being said, it’s well worth the journey to this overwhelmingly quaint village strung out along a valley floor amid a riot of flowers in summer.
Boasting two pubs, the no-nonsense Fountain Head which serves excellent real ale and proper pub food and the Masons Arms – a proper thatched gastro-pub, there’s no excuse to go hungry here if you’ve forgotten your picnic. You can drive down to the beach (more do-si-do manoeuvres with on-coming cars), or park in the village centre near the thatched forge (still working), and stroll down a picturesque riverside footpath to the shore.
Branscombe Beach is not a classic beach; no sand for starters, just pink and soft-grey pebble ridges, but on a hot sunny day it’s one of the best beaches for lying in the hot sun with eyes closed but not quite snoozing. Settle down above the waters edge and listen to the hypnotic splash of waves upon the shore overlaid with the haunting cry of a gull and the occasional chug-chug of a passing clinker-built lobster boat. A couple of spindly jetties poke into the sea. When not used by children as diving platforms (you’ll hear the splashes), they are visited by mackerel fishing boats. Climb aboard and spend an hour or two cruising offshore in one of these and you’ll have some fine fish to take home for the evening BBQ. Paddling and swimming is lovely – the steeply shelving beach means you can be up to your waist within few feet. Then, when the desire for an ice cream, something thirst quenching or a cream tea becomes irresistible, The Sea Shanty, a large thatched café, is at your service, nestling just to the rear of the beach.
Stay at: Watercombe Farm in Branscombe – a luxuriously furnished property for big family and friends gatherings – it sleeps 24.
Mill House at Boswell Farm Cottages – set in the beautiful and secluded Sweetcombe valley just west of Branscombe – it sleeps 6.
Secret Beaches in Cornwall
Porthcurnick beach lies just outside Portscatho on the Roseland Peninsula. Owned by the National Trust, unless it’s absolutely the height of the season, it stays pretty quiet. If not, while the tide stays low you can scramble around headlands to even quieter coves. Just make sure you leave enough time to return! Porthcurnick Beach is pleasantly isolated, lovely and sandy and you are allowed to take dogs! Take shrimping nets as well for some lovely rock pools are revealed at low tide.
The Beach has an amazing little cafe called “The Hidden Hut” which you may have seen featured last year on Caroline Quentin’s series on Cornwall. It’s not easily seen as it was built during the Second World War for a purpose that meant it was best if it wasn’t noticed from the sea. This usually means it is goes totally unnoticed by the occasional basking shark (strictly the non-dangerous type) that can be seen from its terrace.
Stay at: Tideway a truly sumptuous self-catering cottage in nearby St Mawes with stunning sea views sleeping 9 in blissful comfort.
Wreckers, a quaint Roseland barn conversion just 5 minutes walk from the beach. It sleeps 4.
Seemingly designed purely as a place from which to watch the sunset while imbibing a Pimms or (locally brewed) beer this cove is more sheltered than most North Cornwall coast beaches, being protected by steep-sided granite cliffs. It’s probably the least secret of all the beaches listed here, but it’s a good-sized slab of sand affording plenty of space. There’s an even quieter cove to the north called Trevellas Porth, which will appeal to snorkelers but isn’t quite so family friendly. Trevaunance is good for bodyboarding, learning to surf, and bathing with lifeguards being present from early May to end September. This is snorkelling territory with the combination of clear waters and a wealth of underwater plant and animal life making it one of the best locations on the North Cornwall coast for seeing the world through a glass-mask.
There are caves and rock pools to explore, the ruins of an old harbour for children to clamber over and a flat sandy beach below the hide tide mark.
By all means bring a picnic, but if you leave home without the sandwiches, fret not, there’s a beach shop, a pub with its own brewery and a chippie above the beach to sustain you.
Stay at Argental, in a beautiful wooded valley where three friendly cottages each sleeping 5 are just 5 minutes walk from the beach.
You’ll need to head to the far west of Cornwall to get to Porthcurno, but it’ll be worth the trip. This little oasis of a beach is wedged between a couple of rugged headlands and comprises a wide stretch of soft white sand which beautifully contrasts with the turquoise and blues of the ocean in summer. It is overlooked by the famous Minack Theatre, reputedly the UK’s most spectacular open-air theatre. Should the sun drift behind clouds, it’s a short walk up the beach to the wonderfully named ‘Museum of Submarine Telegraphy’ which recounts the story of the days when telephone cables were laid linking Britain and America either, depending on your point of view, coming ashore or entering the sea at Porthcurno.
The beach offers all the necessary facilities that’ll please families (loos, a café, restaurant etc) as well as a fresh water stream perfect for all those at the paddling stage of their lives.
Stay at: Borah Farm Cottages – three delightful cottages converted from granite barns sleeping 4-11 guests each just above Lamorna Cove, a mile or so to the east.
Meadowside sleeps 4
Bew sleeps 6
Tremornah sleeps 11
Do feel free to add your own suggestions for future ‘Secret Beaches’ articles – or share a tale or two about time you’ve spent on any of the six listed above. Just use the comments box below.