7 secret beaches in England's south west

7 secret beaches in England's south west

The UK's south west is back on the map for romantic rail travellers, after the Dawlish train line re-opened earlier this month

The Dawlish railway line, in south Devon, was one of the highest-profile casualties of the UK's February floods this year (2014) - but it reopened for business at the beginning of April, just in time for the Easter weekend.

The line, which is the only rail link between Exeter and Plymouth, part-collapsed into the sea after torrential rainfall two months ago - isolating a large part of the area from the rest of the UK. But thanks the efforts of a round-the-clock recovery team (nicknamed the 'Orange Army'), the line is open for business once again. Writer Rob Smith marks the occasion by revealing the area's best 'hidden' beaches. Couples and newlyweds, take note…

1. Gwynver, near Land's End

Seclusion: 3/5
Sand: 4/5
Rockpools and caves: 2/5
Swimming: 4/5

A wide slice of golden sand that has plenty of places to sit or stroll even at high tide, Gwynver makes a peaceful alternative to neighbouring Sennen Cove. Just across the water from Land's End, it offers stunning views of its noisy neighbour and Longships Lighthouse over Whitesand Bay. And though the full force of the Atlantic hammering on its shore attracts in-the-know surfers on high-season weekends, you'll have it pretty much to yourself the rest of the time. Think extreme romantic getaway. Even getting to the nearest shop and toilet requires waiting for low tide and then walking across the sands to Sennen.

Getting there: Take the A30 towards Land's End. Then on a left-hand bend, just after the junction with the B3306, take the small road on the right. Bear right when the road splits after 100 metres or so, and keep going until you see signs for a car park. Parking costs £2.

2. The sequestered sands of Lizard Point, Land's End

Housel Bay
Seclusion: 3/5
Sand: 5/5
Rockpools and caves: 4/5
Swimming: 5/5

Pentreath Beach
Seclusion: 4/5
Sand: 5/5
Rockpools and caves: 4/5
Swimming: 4/5

At low tide, pretty Housel - located at the base of a steep valley - rolls out like a carpet towards the blue waters of the bay. It's an isolated small sandy cove which would suit anyone in search of an amorous beach stroll. Meanwhile, Pentreath rivals the famous surf spots of Fistral and Porthtowan in the amount of Atlantic swell that rears up before it. Located beneath the cliffs, Pentreath is a pebble beach, although there is sand at low tide.

Getting there: Head south on the A3083 into Lizard village and park on the green in the centre (postcode: TR12 7NQ).

3. Soar Mill Cove, South Devon

Seclusion: 3/5
Sand: 5/5
Rockpools and caves: 5/5
Swimming: 4/5

Sunset is the perfect time to visit this hidden cove, which sits beneath the looming crags of Bolt Head. Tombstone-like rocks dot the wide tranche of golden sand, casting shadows across its flat expanse as day ebbs away, while the last rosy fingers of sunlight shimmer in the surfaces of rockpools. The beach is accessed from the Coastal Path, and a hotel and campsite up on the green slopes overlooking the sands ensure a steady trickle of visitors, especially in summer.

Getting there: Head south on the A381 to Malborough. Once you've reached the town, take the right turn signposted Bolberry. Drive along this road, following signs to Soar and then the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. The car park is situated on the left, just before the hotel.

4. Woody Bay, North Devon

Seclusion: 4/5
Sand: 3/5
Rockpools and caves: 5/5
Swimming: 4/5

The cliffs along the Exmoor coastline, particularly those east of Lynmouth, are among the highest in the country. And this can lead to some long and arduous descents to its beaches. This is certainly true of Woody Bay, though this stunning stretch of shoreline more than compensates for any aching shins. The aptly named beach is gorgeous at every level - densely wooded hills plummet down to huge rock buttresses, flat sandy plains and, finally, the Atlantic, and the views are exceptional. You can even walk along a nearby leafy lane through picture-postcard cottages, and past moss-bordered waterfalls and ancient bridges down to the sea.

Getting there: Head west out of Lynton on the road that takes you through the Valley of Rocks. Drive past Lee Bay and keep going along the clifftop road. Around 300 metres after the Woody Bay Hotel, you'll see a parking area on the left where you can leave your vehicle.

5. Fox Cove, North Cornwall

Seclusion: 4/5
Sand: 5/5
Rockpools and caves: 2/5
Swimming: 5/5

A wide crescent of sand, spliced in two by a mussel-crusted spike of rock, Fox Cove is the largest of the three inlets that sit between Treyarnon Bay and Porthcothan. Completely inaccessible at high tide, the beach reveals its smooth, butter-yellow sweep when the water retreats, and the deserted shore presents a glorious alternative to all the sun-seeking and sandcastle-digging going on at neighbouring Porthcothan.

Getting there: Take the B3276 south from St Merryn and, when you arrive in Porthcothan, park in the council car park. Charges vary, depending on the length of stay.

6. Diggory's Island Sand, North Cornwall

Seclusion: 4/5
Sand: 5/5
Rockpools and caves: 5/5
Swimming: 5/5

A wonderfully secluded corner of the spectacular yet popular Bedruthan Steps, Diggory's Island Sand is only accessible from the beach at very low tide. To visit its deep arc of pale-gold sand at any other time requires walking around rugged Park Head, and watching your footing as you edge your way down to the deep-blue lagoons that collect around its shoreline. Don't forget your swimming things. No matter how low the water temperature is, you're going to want to jump in and splash around.

Getting there: Head north out of Mawgan Porth on the B3276, and drive past the two car parks that serve the Bedruthan Steps. Continue along the flat road and, just as you start to go downhill, look out for Park Head car park, which displays a National Trust sign. Park your vehicle here for free.

7. White Nothe Beach, Jurassic Coast

Seclusion: 5/5
Sand: 3/5
Rockpools and caves: 1/5
Swimming: 2/5

Quite how White Nothe Beach came to exist isn't really clear. A small area of boulder-surrounded pebbles, situated to the east of Weymouth, it is little more than a collection of stones that happens to have accumulated in one place. And, though we first discovered the beach back in 2009, it has such an air of transience it feels as though it could be washed away at any moment… how thoroughly magical.

Getting there: Head southeast out of Dorchester on the A352 and turn right onto the A353. Go through Poxwell, then turn left onto the road to Upton and Ringstead just after the bend. Follow this all the way to the headland, over the cattle grid and into the National Trust car park. Make a donation.

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Extracts taken from Rob Smith's book Secret Beaches South-West. Check out his website for more details or to nab yourself a copy.

One of the reasons Rob wrote the book was to raise awareness of the terrible problem of marine litter being washed ashore - and forming the plastic islands in our oceans. He is also the founder of the Tidy Tourist campaign - a project to help keep Britain's beaches clean. Find out how you can get involved here.

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