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10 must-visit secret beaches

As soon as the sun comes out Brits love nothing better than to flock to the beach, however, when everyone has the same idea it can be difficult to find a space on the sand to call your own. Looking to escape the crowds? Discover Ferries and its 13 ferry operator members have shared their top picks for the best beaches accessed by British waters. So, whether its tropical sands and surf, caves and rockpools or somewhere so remote, you feel like Robinson Crusoe, there’s something to tick every box. And, even better, they can all be accessed by ferry!

  • Watcombe Bay, Isle of Wight
Credit: Island Visions Photography

On the west of the island, just along from the more popular Freshwater Bay is the remote Watcombe Bay. Only accessible by water, this deserted stony beach is cut into the chalk cliffs under Fort Redoubt. Curious visitors can explore beneath the cliffs to find caves that were used by smugglers in days gone by. Book a kayaking or SUP tour with one of the Isle of Wight’s adventure companies or travel by boat and make sure you go with local who is familiar with the tides!

Travel to the Isle of Wight with Hovertravel, Red Funnel or Wightlink.

  • Laxey beach, Isle of Man
Credit: Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

Situated 8 miles north of Douglas, while this beach is not the most “unknown” it does hide a secret. At low tide, the steep stony slope turns into a huge sandy beach and reveals a network of sea caves and rock pools ripe for exploration. The beach gets its name from the old Norse word for salmon, which is also the name of the river that flows down from Snaefell Mountain – the island’s highest peak – into the sea at Laxey Harbour, which is a great spot for fishing.

Sail to Douglas with Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

  • Helen’s Bay, Northern Ireland
St Helen’s Bay Credit K Mitch Hodge from Unsplash

Helen’s Bay, close to Bangor in N. Ireland is blessed with sand dunes and calm waters making it great for families and swimmers. The beach neighbours a stunning 9-hole golf course and Crawfordsburn Country Park, which forms part of the North Down Coastal Path. Discover Ferries recommends travelling car-free. Take advantage of Rail & Sail tickets to Northern Ireland via Belfast with Stena Line or travel from Scotland to Northern Ireland with Stena Line or P&O Ferries. Helen’s Bay has its own station and is only a 22min train journey from Belfast, which costs less than £5, or 1hr 35mins from Larne station. 

  • Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, France
View from Cap de Carteret, Cherbourg Peninsula Credit: CRT Normandy

Within just a few kilometres from Cherbourg harbour, ferry passengers can find some of France’s most impressive beaches. The Cotentin peninsular boasts expansive sandy beaches along the whole west edge until Mont Saint-Michel. With an abundance of space, it’s not hard to find your own secluded place on the coast and enjoy sunbathing, a reinvigorating walk or water sports. Families searching for calmer waters should head for sheltered bays such as the Anse de Sciotot, whereas surfing enthusiasts should head to Siouville beach, which is blessed with consistent waves and strong easterly winds. Sail to Cherbourg with Brittany Ferries.

  • The Cairns of Coll, Isle of Coll, Scotland
The Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides Credit: VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins

On an island with fewer than 200 residents, this small, shell-sand beach is visually stunning but relatively unknown. The white sands are set off by the clear, turquoise waters, the golden sea grasses, and rocky outcrops. This jewel in the Inner Hebrides is loved by nature and is regularly visited by bird and marine life. Thanks to Scotland’s efforts to protect this aquatic habitat, the area continues to be a hotspot for basking sharks – the second largest fish species – and is visited by fin whales – the second largest animal on the planet. Sail to Coll from Oban with Caledonian MacBrayne and get to the Cairns of Coll by boat or paddleboard.

  • Stradbally Cove, Co. Waterford, Ireland
Stradbally Cove, Waterford Credit: Chris Hill Photographic

Tucked away on Waterford’s UNESCO recognised Copper Coast, this sheltered bay is protected from the breeze by trees either side. At low tide, the sandy beach stretches endlessly towards the sparkling sea but at high tide the beach almost disappears completely. Here it is just you and the sea so stop in the pretty village of Stradbally to stock up on refreshments and essentials before heading to the beach. The village has received accolades from Tidy Towns Competition and the respected Entente Floral. While in the area, pay a visit to the more rugged and dramatic Ballyvooney Cove, which is also accessed via the village and situated beneath an impressive headland. Stradbally is 2 hour 20 minute drive from Dublin or less than 90 minutes from Rosslare port by car. Travel with Irish Ferries or Stena Line.

  • Beach of Malo-les-Bains, Dunkirk, France
Credit: Hannah Reding Unsplash

This beautiful beach holds a prominent place in military history as it was the scene of the Operation Dynamo, a heroic World War II military manoeuvre, which saw “little ships” help to evacuate 338,000+ Allied troops in 1940. At low tide, shipwrecks become visible, and these moments of history have now become home for sea life. A visit makes for a very moving day trip, or, for history enthusiasts, it is a great place to start (or end) a tour of the D-Day beaches that stretch along France’s north west coastline. Sail to Dunkirk with DFDS or travel via Calais with DFDS, Irish Ferries or P&O Ferries.

  • Hidden Beach, London

By name and by nature, most Londoners are oblivious to this beach that is “hidden” in plain sight close to Tower Bridge. This tidal pebbly stretch is situated on the southern banks of the Thames, visitors are blessed with views of landmarks including the Tower of London, the Shard and the “Walkie Talkie” building. Sail to this beach with Uber Boat by Thames Clippers.

  • Plémont Bay, Jersey
Plémont Beach Credit: StudioM Visit Jersey

One of Jersey’s most beautiful beaches, this sandy cove is hidden away on the north-west tip of the island. Plémont is protected by dramatic cliffs and the island’s largest sea caves ready for exploration. The sheltered crescent-shaped sand has plenty of rock pools creating a beach that feels more like a film set. Most impressive of all is the freshwater waterfall! Sail to Jersey with Condor Ferries.

  • Great Bay, St Martins, Isles of Scilly
Great Bay, St Martin’s Credit Isles of Scilly Travel

While Great Bay has been voted the best beach in the UK, even on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend in August you could easily have the entire beach to yourself. Utterly unspoilt, Great Bay is reached by a few minutes’ walk through heathland paths, marram grass and sand dunes. With no facilities and no roads or buildings in sight, visitors to Great Bay can feel like true castaways. Sail away to Britain’s paradise isles with Isles of Scilly Travel.

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