Make the most of England’s coast: 10 lesser-known coastal spots in England

The English coastline is filled with places undiscovered by even the most well-travelled visitors. The grand ambition? To have a single coastal path that connects the entirety of England’s fringes…

Rhodri Andrews
22 March 2021

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Brits are embracing the staycation for the second year in a row. But instead of a return to somewhere familiar, the English coastline is a land of opportunity laced with places undiscovered by even the most well-travelled of domestic visitors. The grand ambition is to have a single coastal path that connects the entirety of England’s fringes and there are several picturesque stretches you can already tread, with the rest of the network in various different planning stages. More than 2,000 types of accommodation sprinkled along the country’s edges mean you can create your own itineraries from scratch, taking in whichever shoreline you wish. Here are 10 unsung coastal destinations you should consider visiting on your next staycation…

Heysham coastal village (England’s Coast)

1. Lancashire

St Bees Head (England’s Coast)

Blackpool’s timeless crimson cast-iron tower may hog the coastal limelight in and around Lancashire but its fringes hide remarkable diversity. The county’s coastal villages were havens for Victorian holidaymakers and many of them retain a faded glamour that’s still attractive today, with St. Anne’s once famed for its healing salt waters and Fleetwood’s historic core a treasure trove of Victorian architecture. If you want to rewind further, Heysham is littered with 17th-century chocolate-box cottages and the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel.

Not all of the Lancashire coast’s wonders are man-made. Watch for oystercatchers marching up the mudflats near Morecambe Bay or seals basking on the beaches of South Walney Nature Reserve, while Warton Crag is a bird-rich collection of wildflower-speckled limestone cliffs and grasslands home to many rare butterflies. Nudge over the border into the county of Merseyside and you’ll find further natural drama among the sand dunes and coastal pinewoods of Formby Beach.

Bamburgh Castle (VisitBritain)

A place to stay: St Anne’s Beach Apartments, Lancashire 

These 15 nautical-themed beach apartments at Lytham St Anne’s are just a five minute walk from St Anne’s Centre. Situated along a picturesque stretch of coastline with a sandy beach, historic windmill and Victorian pier, it offers all you could want from a traditional seaside stay.

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Puffins at Bempton (Shutterstock)

2. Cumbria 

Robin Hood’s Bay (Mike Kipling)

The eyeline of visitors to Cumbria rarely wavers from the natural splendour of the Lake District, but those wise enough to venture to the county’s edges will discover it’s more than just its famed lakes and mountains. Tiny Ravenglass is the national park’s only coastal village and was once a Roman naval stronghold, although little remains of their presence. Today, the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway is the area’s charming attraction and England’s oldest narrow gauge track. The seven-mile route that winds through woodland and leafy hills to the foot of the Scafell range was one of renowned fellwalker Alfred Wainwright’s favourites.

Beyond the Lakes, Cumbria’s unsung coast continues to deliver, from the seabird-rich sandstone cliffs of St. Bees to hunting for ghosts at medieval Muncaster Castle. In 2021, a new 40-mile coastal path will link Millom with Whitehaven and open up its fringes with art installations, cycling routes and water sports such as kite-surfing and sea kayaking.

A place to stay: Wallsend Guest House & Glamping Pods

Wake up to sweeping views of the Solway Firth with a stay at the Wallsend Guest House or at one of the five luxury glamping pods, each of which are heated, fully furnished and have en-suite shower rooms.

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Tommy Statue on the seafront at Seaham (England’s Coast)

3. Northumberland

Walton-on-the-Naze (Shutterstock)

Nowhere combines remote seascapes with history quite like the Northumberland Coast. Its 30 miles of windswept golden beaches feel gloriously footprint-free but a sandy stroll along them will unlock plenty of history, character and wildlife. Every village nestled in one of Northumberland’s sandy coves bears a unique charm, whether it’s the traditional smokehouses of fishing community Craster (which forms part of a county-wide seafood trail) or the more than 23 seabird species – including puffins, kittiwakes and guillemots – you can spot off the coast of Seahouses.

You can’t ignore the myths and legends which hang over Northumberland’s coast like a thick cloak, a legacy of the early colonisation of the Romans, Vikings and Normans. Their castles remain fascinating focal points, with the well-preserved Alnwick Castle doubling for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and the basalt rock-topped Bamburgh Castle looming large since the 11th century. Its islands are similarly full of intrigue, including the bird-rich Farne Islands but none more so than the otherworldly Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which has been a legendary place of pilgrimage for centuries.

West Somerset Railway (VisitEngland)

A place to stay: The Clock Tower at Bamburgh Castle

For the ultimate staycation for wild walks and sprawling sea views, the medieval clock tower that forms part of Northumberland’s legendary Bamburgh Castle is even complete with exclusive access to the castle grounds and panoramic views over Bamburgh beach and Holy Island. Part of the collection of Crabtree & Crabtree hand-picked properties, the three-bedroom restored 13th-century Clock Tower is perched 150 feet above the white sands of Bamburgh Beach on a craggy volcanic plinth.

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Hastings will be part of the Creative Coast (Thierry Bal)

4. East Yorkshire Coast

Trawlers at Brixham, Devon (Matt Austin)

Locals call Yorkshire ‘God’s Own Country’ and with its white-chalk cliffs, wildlife-rich landscapes and widescreen ocean views, the scenery in this corner of England certainly is heavenly. Scarborough may be the archetypal coastal town but it was pioneering; the Victorians liked what they saw and set up what is believed to be the world’s first seaside resort. Punch and Judy may still remain, but its Victorian spa and Edwardian pleasure gardens are historic reminders of its past.

Wildlife is everywhere along the coastline and it’s at its most impressive at the dramatic chalk cliffs at Bempton and Flamborough Head, together home to over half a million seabirds, including puffins, gannets and guillemots. Go south and you’ll reach Spurn National Nature Reserve, a curious sandy peninsula home to a rich array of birds and a lighthouse boasting panoramic seascapes. Make sure to set aside time to explore Hull: ignore the ‘ugly’ tag as its cobbled Georgian Old Town is a joy to wander and there are plenty of opportunities to explore its maritime heritage, like a guided tour of its deep-sea trawler Arctic Corsair.

A place to stay: Bike & Boot

Bike & Boot is a brand new hotel built for adventurers and welcomes dogs, bikes and surf boards. The 65 unique rooms are contemporary in design with pop art interiors, designed by Rachel McLane, who has won the prestigious Northern Design Award for her work on the hotel. All stays come with free hot drinks all day and cake in the afternoon, plus free movies in the Film Club. There’s also the Wadobi – free facilities for grooming your dog, storing and maintaining your bike, and washing surf gear and walking boots. 

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5. North York Moors National Park

For sheer variety, there are few places in England that can beat the margins of the North York Moors National Park. Nature’s weathered hands have run riot here as rain, ice and wind have battered this coastal wilderness for millennia, with rugged cliffs, secluded beaches, big blue skies and hidden bays the dramatic result. But take a walk along this 36-mile stretch of heritage coastline and you’ll realise its handsome looks are just the pretty front cover to a deeper story. The clifftop path, which forms part of the larger Cleveland Way, takes you through quirky fishing villages like Saltburn, Cloughton and Robin Hood’s Bay, the latter steeped in smuggling history.

The clifftop is also a great vantage point for spotting the wealth of life that calls this coastline home, from seabirds and white-beaked dolphins to breaching minke and humpback whales during the summer and autumn months in the waters beyond – regular boat trips afford you a closer look. But it’s the cliffs themselves that will really tell you how old the North York Moors really are, their shores and rocky faces pocked with dinosaur fossils, footprints and ammonites.

A place to stay: Castle House, Runswick Bay

A coastal retreat with lovely nautical décor throughout on the North Yorkshire Coast. Porthole mirrors feature and traditional handrails have been replaced with reclaimed boating oars or ropes. There’s a gentle nod to the local railways and fishing heritage which appear through the strands of the soft furnishings and the paintings and pictures depict scenes from days when life was dominated by fishing.

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6. Durham Heritage Coast 

The Durham Heritage Coast has gone through a remarkable transformation. Limestone and coal were both greatly harvested throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries and the collieries and ironworks left the county’s beaches and surrounding waters heavily polluted. Fast forward to today and while Durham’s mining heritage is evident in towns such as Spennymoor and Redhills and well worth exploring, you’ll find it’s easier to appreciate when you know the coastline has bounced back to become an important wildlife haven. A rich variety of plants and birds, including bloody cranesbills and grey partridges, thrive here among the wildflower-filled grasslands you’ll tread along the 14km-long coastal path. Visit in spring and you’ll witness a colony of little terns, one of Britain’s rarest seabirds, flitting around leafy nature reserves such as Castle Eden Dene.

If you’re interested in life before Durham’s mining boom, the sleepy village of Seaham is home to St Mary the Virgin Church, one of only 20 pre-Viking churches in the country.

A place to stay: Tithe Barn Cottages

Built by the Prince Bishops of Durham, these incredible 13th century longhouses offer all the traditional charm of their original features alongside modern-day comforts. Situated on Durham’s Heritage coast, they make for a unique base for exploring the many local sites and attractions.

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7. Essex

With over 350 miles of coastline – one of the longest stretches among England’s counties – it’s a mystery why Essex’s coastal flank isn’t more celebrated. The funfairs of Clacton-on-Sea and lengthy pier at Southend-on-Sea may be well-known but in truth they represent a fraction of a coastline that’s blessed with wide-ranging mudflats, salt marshes and quiet bubbling creeks. These remote sandbanks were once a favourite landing point for smugglers during the 18th century but now they’re a popular place for seabirds such as razorbills, cormorants and storm petrels. Take a boat trip from Walton-on-the-Naze to be in with a chance of spying porpoises and common seals.

The smugglers had to avoid the gaze of the many forts that lined Essex’s coast and Harwich’s Redoubt Fort, built to protect England from Napoleonic invasion, is one of its best preserved. The town was also the birthplace of Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower which carried the Pilgrims across the Atlantic to settle in America in 1620. Today, Harwich is filled with attractions referencing that historic crossing, from Captain Jones’ former home to a 1km-long Mayflower trail.

A place to stay: Monkey Beach Cottage

Not only does this cottage on Mersey Island offer spectacular views of Monkey Beach, the sea and moorings, it also offers a fascinating insight into history. At over 300 years old, the Grade II building is one of the oldest on the island and was once inhabited by farmworkers back when the area was covered by agricultural land.

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8. Exmoor and Somerset

Somerset may be overshadowed by its neighbours in Devon and Cornwall, but those who are wise enough to leave the M5 sooner will unravel a wild mix of misty moorland, patchworked fields and wooded valleys. Exmoor National Park straddles the border between Devon and Somerset and while its hilly moors are veined with plenty of walking trails, it’s the park’s towering cliffs which will make your mouth fall wide open. The South West Coast Path, which runs through the park, is the best place to witness them in all their rugged glory, with the Valley of the Rocks the most dramatic of them all.

Near to the national park lie the fishing hamlet of Lynton and Victorian village of Lynmouth, the pair uniquely connected by the world’s steepest water-powered Victorian railway. There are more coastal highlights the deeper you head into Somerset, from the starling murmurations you can spot at the pancake-flat Somerset Levels wetlands in October and November to the burning sunsets you can capture from Burnham-on-Sea’s Grade II-listed lighthouse.

A place to stay: The Old Rectory Coach House

Nestled in the heart of the pretty and peaceful village of Samford Brett, this quaint cottage is a perfect place for a short break, with footpaths, cycling trails and bridleways right on its doorstep.

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9. England’s Creative Coast

From May to November 2021, seven seafront towns spread across Essex, Kent and East Sussex will welcome internationally acclaimed artists to their shores, each commissioned to create an outdoor art piece to be showcased as part of the world’s first art GeoTour. Margate, Folkestone, Hastings, Bexhill-on-Sea, Gravesend, Eastbourne and Southend-on-Sea will be collectively known as the Creative Coast but rather than these artworks being a limited focal point, they should trigger visitors to explore the towns’ cultural wonders in greater detail. Margate will mark the 10th anniversary of its Turner Contemporary gallery with new exhibitions by Steve McQueen and Barbara Walker, Folkestone boasts an entire trail of outdoor artworks and Estuary 2021 in Southend-on-Sea will be an arts, literature, music and film extravaganza set across 60 miles of coastline from September to October. Wherever you choose to explore, you’ll likely be wandering under a sky so picturesque it looks as if it was painted by the great man Turner himself.

10. Seafood Coast

For as long as we can remember, England has had a close affinity with its coastline and the seas beyond. A strong maritime heritage has matured over millennia and a country-wide initiative called the Seafood Coast has been established so you can unearth the intricacies of each region’s maritime past and cuisine right across the country. You could dive into the oyster-growing traditions of Mersea Island in Essex, where they were first grown by the Romans, or make a beeline for Teignmouth in Devon – the only place in England where you can sample sand eels. For an all-encompassing taste of England’s freshest catch, the Dorset Seafood Festival is one of the largest in the country and your opportunity to try seafood from over 100 stalls. But the food itself is only part of England’s maritime story and while eating your way through these fishing communities you can also experience them, whether it’s a sailing trip aboard a trawler or discovering how lobster pots are made in Cornwall using a technique that has changed little across centuries.

A place to eat: Urban Reef Restaurant

When exploring the Seafood Coast, don’t miss the delightful Urban Reef Restaurant. Located right next to the beach on Boscombe promenade in Bournemouth, this charming food spot offers panoramic views of Bournemouth Bay and even the Isle of Wight. Whether you pop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you will be welcomed with a friendly smile and be presented with a plate of locally sourced, seasonal and undeniably delicious food.

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There’s more to explore

This is just the start of what England’s incredible coastline has to offer. To find more hidden places and to start planning out your journey to England’s coast, visit the official England’s Coast website. 

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Main image: The Seven Sisters Country Park, East Sussex

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