Find the best beaches in South Devon
The 20 best seaside spots along the UK’s 70-mile holiday coast.
It’s famous for cream teas, thatched cottages and sandy beaches. Little wonder then that the 70-mile coastline of South Devon is one of the UK’s prime summer holiday destinations. The traffic and crowds can be off-putting - but a little local knowledge can save visitors time and trouble. I was bought up in Devon and have just written a book about the county. Here is my pick of the South Devon beaches:
The region’s beaches range from tiny sheltered coves to great swathes of golden sand and long stretches of pebbles and shingle. Many beaches offer safe bathing, family facilities, energetic watersports, wildlife havens, access for dog walkers or top waterfront restaurants.
Devon visitors can find 20 of the best beaches listed in the very useful South Devon Guide, which is available free from www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk.
Among the best of the region’s beaches is the most easterly, Dawlish Warren. This sandy spit at the mouth of the River Exe is a winner of the European Blue Flag award ten times and internationally recognised as a nature reserve that’s home to hundreds of species of birds, animals and plant life. The Warren, as local call it, has a long sandy beach, family amusements and cafes, some holiday camps and budget hotels plus good walks through the dunes, along the coast path and River Exe estuary. The cheap amusements and chalets give it a down-market feel at times but there’s always plenty of space to escape the crowds.
For a contrast, the secluded hideaway of Coryton Cove at Dawlish, is more picturesque, with rock pools, red sand, brightly-coloured beach huts and the occasional sighting of dolphins.
Nearby the hidden Ness Beach at the picturesque Teign-side village of Shaldon sits between towering red sandstone cliffs and can only be reached through an old smuggler’s tunnel.
Families searching for a long stretch of sandy beach, with shallow water for paddling, rock pools for exploring, a beach shop and café, would be hard pushed to find anywhere better than Bigbury on Sea. Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Blue Flag beach is joined by a causeway to the luxury art-deco hotel on Burgh Island, which can be visited by sea tractor or on foot at low tide. The beach is also ideal for wind and kite surfing.
Other sandy beaches popular with families include Dawlish Town and Teignmouth Town, both of which offer free entertainment during the summer months and are in easy reach of all the facilities of their towns. Teignmouth is one of my favourites with its old pier, quaint old fishing quarter and interesting ‘back beach’ area facing the estuary of the River Teign. Broad Devonian accents ring out as fishermen mend their nets or catch sand eels amid beached boats and beach huts. Britain’s oldest ferry can carry you across the river to the excellent waterfront pubs of Shaldon.
The crescent-shaped beach of Blackpool Sands, with its sheltered bay and backdrop of evergreens and pines is often voted the best beach in Britain. It’s certainly a great base for watersports including surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and boogie boarding (equipment hire and instruction is available here). Blackpool also has a Blue Flag award and is home to the brilliant Venus Café which serves local and organic food.
The pretty little beach at Salcombe South Sands, in the heart of the wealthy South Hams area, is accessible by road, coastal footpath and passenger ferry from Salcombe town centre. On the opposite side of the estuary is East Portlemouth beach - it’s more difficult to get to, so it’s less busy.
Bantham, a fine sandy beach at the mouth of the Avon estuary, is among the most popular on the south coast for surfing thanks to its strong waves. It’s not always the best choice for young families though.
Also a hit with surfers and body boarders for its swells and shore breaks is Challaborough, a sheltered cove in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just along from Bigbury which has also been awarded a Blue Flag.
The National Trust owns the beach at Wembury, together with its Marine Centre, which runs guided rock pool rambles and other events during the summer. The Trust also run the historic water mill and cafe.
The National Trust also own Thurlestone and South Milton Sands. Thurlestone Rock, a natural red sandstone arch created by wave erosion was famously captured on canvas by William Turner, the celebrated 19th-century landscape painter.
Disabled holidaymakers can also find a good selection of beaches in South Devon. There’s good wheelchair access at Dawlish Warren, Teignmouth Town Beach and Bigbury on Sea. These also have toilets for the disabled and beach wheelchairs available for hire.
South Devon’s dog-friendly beaches include: East Portlemouth, Mill Bay, Ness Cove, Salcombe North Sands, Slapton, Strete Gate, Teignmouth River Bridge, Torcross and Thurlestone. All of which allow unrestricted access.