Britain's top coastal walks

Posted on: 28 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

From windy cliff-top scrambles to seaside strolls, Martin Wainwright's coastal walks all have one thing in common, a healthy dose of sea air.

Britain's coastal walksDiscover some of the finest coastal landscapes all guaranteed to offer a day out full of history, wildlife and great views. From Scotland to Sussex, follow the Guardian’s leading walking expert around the top 10 coastal walks.

1) Pittenweem - Elie, Fife

I've always wanted to visit Pittenweem just because of the name, and the Fife Coastal Path is a good additional reason. The section between the town and Elie includes two ruined castles plus good rockpools whose investigation for mini marine beasts may well distract you from going all the way.

If you do make the distance, other rewards are the finely restored windmill and associated saltpans at St Monans and of course "Pittenweem, Pittenweem, Every fisher laddies' dream ..." You have go to find out why.

Distance - Six miles one way.
Transport - Buses hourly.
LinkFife Coastal Path

2) Craster - Dunstanburgh, Northumberland

Craster has the country's best kippers, so this could be a good post-breakfast hike. The sea-cliffs are excellent and the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle summon up every possible image of Macbeth, Richard the Lionheart and all those other mighty chaps.

Particularly interesting birdlife is found on the cliffs and at Newton beach and Newton Pool nature reserve. Lots of interesting plants and geology too, helpfully described by the National Trust which owns most of the land.

Distance - Six-mile circuit
Transport - Bus to Craster
Link National Trust's Craster Coastal Walk

3) Boggle Hole - Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire

Boggle Hole is a lovely and often amazingly unfrequented cove compared with the always bustling Baytown just up the coast. There's a youth hostel in the narrow ravine and the cliff or beach walks south to Ravenscar are a great alternative.

It is essential to know tide times if using the beach, which makes the most fascinating of three ways of getting to Robin Hood's Bay. This is one of the UK's premier 'fossil coasts' and splitting loose chunks of rock will often reveal an ammonite.

The cliff-top path is clear if a little over-fenced but the disused railway half a mile inland is lovely for a round trip.

Distance - Three miles one way.
Transport - Parking above Boggle Hole, bus to RHB
LinkCleveland Way

4) Burnham Overy Staithe - Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk

If the sands of Holkham beach are good enough for the Royal family, picnicking from nearby Sandringham, then the rest of us should be OK.

This walk begins from the lovely old windmill at Burnham which curiously used to stand at the end, in Wells. They moved it in the early 1800s. The big beach is almost seven miles of sand with sea lavender, dark green fritillary butterflies, peregrine falcons and just inland are the glories of Holkham Hall.

Remember Gwynneth Paltrow all alone by the breakers at the end of Shakespeare in Love? It wasn't Hawaii - it was here.

Distance - Eight miles
Transport - CoastHopper bus
LinkNational Trail

5) Seven Sisters & Beachy Head, East Sussex

The classic white-cliffs walk with lots of variations, going either way from Birling Gap which lies between the Sisters and the Head. Best start for buses or parking is the Seven Sisters country park at Exceat, then past the Golden Galleon pub - a pleasant start and/or finish - along a footpath across downland to the stunning cliffs.

Turn right for a bathe at Cuckmere Haven, as sweet as its name, or left for the Gap and then up to the old lighthouse on Beachy Head. Peep, extremely carefully, at the modern one on the rocks far below. The keepers only get French terrestrial TV because the British signal beams from the cliff-top way above their aerial.

Distance - Eight miles
Transport - Busses and parking
Link - Seven Sisters

6) Durdle Door & White Nothe Circular, Dorset

This walk starts and finishes at Lulworth Cove which is well-organised for transport and tourism, with cafes and a castle when you've finished with the coast. Don't expect to rush though.

The switchback takes in the romantic arch of Durdle Door, where dropping to the beach means a climb back up the same way, but it's worth it. Next stop is well-named Scratchy Bottom and then the more rollercoastering to Swyre Head, Batis Head and the obelisk navigation beacon and coastguard cottages at White Nothe - which really does mean 'white nose'.

You can circle back inland through gentle countryside at Dagger's Gate and Newlands Farm.

Distance - Seven miles
Transport - Bus and parking
Link South West Coast Path

7) Hartland Quay - Hartland Point, Devon

Very fine rocky shores are the target on this wild stretch of coast, where vile weather can actually make the whole experience more romantic. The quay is a pretty little spot, with Hartland Abbey behind dating back to 1157 and peacocks roaming the surroundings.

Then it's all up and down along a three-mile switchback to the lighthouse at Hartland Point. The big grey lump out to sea is Lundy Island. You can wend back inland via Titchberry, Hartland village and other sources of cream-teas.

Distance - Six-mile circular walk
Transport - Bus at Hartland, parking near quay.
Link South West Coast Path

8) Stackpole Head, Pembrokeshire

One of the finest stretches of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, this takes in spectacular eroded limestone cliffs and the peaceful loveliness of Barafundle Bay.

Bosherston Lily ponds – best in June – are an unexpected extra and the wild flora and fauna en route are terrific throughout. Start at Stackpole Quay, once a limestone harbour, now National Trust, and simply follow the cliffs south to the Head. It's back the way you came but who minds another dip at Barafundle?

Distance - Six-mile circular walk
Transport - Coastal Cruiser bus, parking

9) Hilbre Island, Wirral

An exciting venture into the world of migrating birds and grey seals, with strict adherence to waymarking and tidal times essential.

Hilbre is the biggest of three islets at the tip of the Wirral peninsular, reached from Dee Lane slipway in West Kirby when the tide is out. Times are clearly posted here with details of when you must leave Hilbre to get back safe and dry.

You can stay on the island over high water, but that means being marooned for five hours with little shelter. Apart from abundant birdlife, the Hilbre Telegraph lookout station has been renovated by the Friends of Hilbre and is open on selected dates – which are good to choose, to benefit from the volunteers' knowledge and enthusiasm.

Always keep to the marked route via Little Eye and Little Hilbre.

Distance - Three-mile circular walk
Transport - Train, bus, parking
LinkHilbre Island

10) Elgol - Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye

This is a long walk in the heart of the Cuillin mountains, craggy scenery of great grandeur surrounding a lonely sea loch. The distance is twice as long if you attempt a round trip, putting it in the Iron Man class.

The best course is to get a boat in from Elgol and then walk back via Camasunary. Check weather conditions because the stream at Camasunary can rise too high to ford, forcing a long detour.

The "bad step", a slanting slab above Loch Coruisk, is intimidating to some and other stretches of the walk are rough underfoot. Not for novices who can take the boat back while you march to rejoin them overland.

Distance - 15 miles
Transport - Parking, bus and boat
LinkVisit Scotland

By Martin Wainwright

About The Author

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Martin Wainwright is northern editor of the Guardian. He recently edited A Lifetime of Mountains, a selection from the writings of the Guardian's much-loved Country Diarist, also published by Aurum. A keen rambler, he lives in Leeds.

The Coast to Coast Walk by Martin Wainwright is published by Aurum Press, £12.99.

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