Paddling Britain: the best coastal routes

20/08/2018 13:53

Written by Lizzie Carr

To celebrate the release of her new book, Paddling Britain, author Lizzie Carr rounds up her favourite of Britain's best coastal paddling routes. 

Rhossili Bay, Swansea

Rhossili Bay Britain by Billy Stock ShutterstockDirectly below your board, the sea flickers and glistens like diamonds in the sunlight © Billy Stock, Shutterstock

Walkers would argue that the finest views to be gained of this world-beater of a beach come from the Gower Way footpath along the cliffs that drop dramatically into the water at either end of the bay. I would disagree. Head out on the water, I say, then look back to enjoy the beach in its bay, its dramatic cliffs leading south to the dragon-like form of the tidal island-cum-headland that Vikings called the ‘Wurm’, but is now known as Worm’s Head. Granted, you have a chance of seeing grey seals and common bottlenose dolphins from the cliff or even the bay, but it is solely from the water that you have the chance of appreciating their inquisitive side and of watching them from their own environment.

Isle of Arran, North Aryshire

Isle of Arran Britain by TheWashingLine ShutterstockArran's mountains are best appreciated from the water © TheWashingLine, Shutterstock

Scotland’s seventh-largest island, Arran lies off the country’s southwest coast, in the Firth of Clyde. First occupied during the Neolithic period, the island is home to many ancient remains. Castles abound, but Giant’s Grave, situated on a lofty peak in a forest clearing and overlooking the picturesque departure point for this paddle (Whiting Bay), comprises two chambered tombs. The burial sites were excavated in the early 1900s and were found to contain flint knives, pottery shards and arrowheads, as well as burnt bones. 

Bigbury Bay, Devon

Burgh Island Britain by Ian Woolcock ShutterstockA paddle-board allows you explore small caves and inlets scattered around the perimeter of Burgh Island © Ian Woolcock, Shutterstock

The South Devon coast hosts a substantial segment of England’s longest National Trail, the 1,000km (630 mile) South West Coast Path that runs from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. The path snakes through a World Heritage Site and a national park as well as visiting fishing villages, topping rugged cliffs and admiring perfectly secluded little bays. Immersing yourself on the trail by foot is one thing, but observing the stunning coastline from the water is an altogether different experience. The section between Bigbury Bay and South Milton Sands luxuriating in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and formerly a thriving pilchard-fishing area – is particularly lovely. Here glorious sandy beaches occupy sheltered coves that are fringed by sharp rocks, and rolling green fields press inland. 

This stretch of coast focuses on the tidal island of Burgh. Once the refuge of pirates and smugglers, it is today dominated by a famous Art Deco-style hotel that inspired two Agatha Christie novels (it serves as Soldier Island in And Then There Were None and crops up again in the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun). The island also has the remains of a chapel known as the ‘Huer’s Hut’, believed to be an old watchpoint for fishermen looking for shoals of pilchard. Once seen, the ‘huer’ would make a ‘hue and cry’ to alert others around Bigbury.

Newgale, Pembrokeshire 

Newgale Beach Britain by BerndBrueggemann ShutterstockTowering sea cliffs undulate along the sides of the beach © BerndBrueggemann, Shutterstock

With sea to its south, west and northwest, Pembrokeshire has become a no-brainer destination for SUP, canoe and kayak activity. There is simply so much choice! The county’s coastline is filled with Blue Flag beaches and hidden coastal gems. Amid this treasure hoard, Newgale is surely the crowning jewel. Also a recipient of the Blue Flag, Newgale offers a spacious strand with expansive flat sand backed by a pebble beach that ‘arrived’ after a storm in 1859.

The well-trodden Pembrokeshire Coast Path runs along the beach before treading up the nearby cliffs, offering views over the water, its seabirds and its seals. However, as is the beauty of paddling, from the water you’ll be right in the thick of the action – the best seat in the show.

Farne Islands, Northumberland

Farne Islands Northumberland Britain by Autobahn ShutterstockPaddling between the Inner and Outer Farnes should only be attempted by highly proficient paddlers on calm days © Autobahn, Shutterstock

Think of a British island, and Skye or Anglesey or the Isle of Wight might be among the first to come to mind. Skulking off the Northumberland coast, a few miles into the North Sea, the Farne Islands probably wouldn’t. But that doesn’t render them any less worthy of waterborne exploration. Quite the opposite, in fact.

These chunky, rocky, treeless protrusions are world-famous for the quantity and variety of seabirds that breed here. This coastal citadel houses some 70,000 pairs of birds, their number including Atlantic puffins, guillemots and razorbills. The most dramatic avian encounters, however, are with Arctic terns. Should you inadvertently paddle too close to their nest or young, these feisty ‘sea swallows’ won’t think twice about dive-bombing you – and their sharp bills mean they can even draw blood. Factor in the large colony of Atlantic grey seals, whose curious youngsters adore tailgating paddleboards, and there’s never a dull moment around these islands!


Discover more coastal paddling routes here:

Bradt Travel Guides Paddling Britain

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