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Where To Find Britain’s Most Scenic Coastal Walks

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

At its most recognisable, Britain's coast is a striking confluence of towering chalky white cliffs hugged by rocky beaches with views of France on clearer days. But at its best, it is 185 million years of easily walkable and explorable geological history showcased through iconic rock formations rising enigmatically from sumptuous blue waters and pretty coastal villages painted in sweetest pastels.

Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic coastline stretches across 95 miles of southwest Britain from the languid sandy bays of Swanage and the striking rock formations of Old Harry’s Rock in the east, to the red sandstone cliffs of Ladram Bay and Exmouth — the gateway to the Jurassic Coast in the west. Of course, what makes it all so special is the history that’s been carved into every layer of stone. Here, while walking across sandy beaches and through charming villages, it’s possible to view almost 200 million years of geological to and fro, as well as medieval castles, charming lighthouses, steam trains and even an abandoned village.

At the heart of it all is quaint Lyme Regis, known for its pastel terraces and idyllic seaside location with access to various walks along the Dorset and Devon border. One of the Jurassic Coast’s most recognisable sights though is the Durdle Door that juts out into the sea forming a giant limestone arch — best viewed from down in the bay. While at the eastern extremes of the coastline, the picturesque beauty of Old Harry’s Rock’s is best viewed from high above, but carefully traverse along the coast and to the top of the cliffs and you’ll see one of England’s most stunning landscapes, with turquoise blue waters surrounding towering white megaliths, and a patchwork of countryside stretching back as far as the eye can see. 

The White Cliffs of Dover

These iconic cliffs are one of Britain’s most loved sights. Many associate them as some all enduring bastion of Britain and Britishness — the first glimpse of land to signal that one has returned home after a long arduous journey. They are legendary and traceable in human history back to Julius Caesar who referred to them in the Commentarii De Bello Gallico as “giant natural fortification”. To some they are as important to the UK as the Statue of Liberty is to the USA. They’ve featured in movies and TV, as well in music videos for the likes of The Cure and David Bowie. So whimsical is the appeal of these cliffs that the National Trust once installed a philosopher-in-residence in an attempt to understand their importance to we twee British folk.

Walking along the cliffs can be a delightfully languorous affair (though be wary of the paths that often disappear into nothingness — no doubt long lost at sea) with a constant sea breeze carrying the scents of wild flowers through the air. Some take issue with the views as although they are clearly impressive — with the land over in France often visible beyond a blanket of choppy waters — there’s usually a steady stream of container ships breaking up the horizon with blotches of yellow, blue and red moving slowly and noiselessly in the distance, but I believe they only add to the ambiance of the scene. For the best walk, consider a visit to the impressive 900-year-old Dover Castle that has a small itinerary of intrigues to explore, and then continue onwards from there across the clifftops to Deal (about 8 miles). 

Loch Torridon

While one generally associates the word loch with lake, here, the loch that provides nature’s melodrama in Torridon is a 15-mile long sea inlet, gouged out of the highlands by years of glacial activity — glacial activity that has recently been linked to a previously unknown ice age. And while not as vast as Loch Lomond or as famous as Loch Ness, the scenery here is astounding, with curvaceous sandstone mountains forming sultry backdrops to the sparkling waters of the loch. There are islands dotted throughout the various inlets, remote villages on the shores and increasingly beautiful views as one climbs further up the hills of the countryside.

There are numerous paths and routes to explore, some leading up into the mountains of the highlands, and others linking quaint villages like Shieldaig and Diabaig. But here, all the best walks are performed adagio and take in both the upper and lower Torridon Lochs and the lyrical beauty of Loch Shieldaig — nearby mountains reflect beautifully in the summer months — that has several romantic cottages dotted around its shores for those who’d like to linger a little longer. 

The Northumberland Coast

Northumberland sits just beneath Scotland in the northeast of England and is home to a relatively untouched stretch of coastline that while popular with puffins and seals, is perhaps a little under-loved by international travellers. The natural sandy beaches blend beautifully into the surrounding green fields of the rural landscape, with just minor undulations and plenty of flatter walks for those wanting to avoid the jagged cliffs. The popular route takes the path between Craster and Low Newton By The Sea via the stunning Dunstanburgh Castle, but another option is to continue onwards to Bamburgh Castle that lies a few miles further north.

The structure at Bamburgh is more of a fortress than a castle, with numerous architectural periods visible in its old stones, all built atop an outcrop overlooking the sea that’s been home to one fort or another since the Celtic tribes first built there in c. 420. And from there it’s possible to strike off in either direction along the beach, but a journey by boat to Farne Islands from Seahouses Harbour makes for a delightful detour. The best time to go is in the summer when the islands are full of playful rainbow-beaked Puffins, recently arrived after their annual migration. Only a handful of the Farne Islands are accessible, and the ones that are have limited walking paths, but the minor deviation from the main coastal walk is more than worth it for the wildlife and those disarming views of the beautiful British coast. 

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