As a child, I was a British beach bum, living on an all but forgotten beach. If remembered at all, it was due to the beautiful sunsets that lit up behind the Neptune pub perched on the pebbles, with the sun disappearing into the silvery waves behind it. Scenes like these had been captured by the great British artist J.M.W. Turner in the 19th Century, but Whitstable beach had largely faded out of British memory by the 20th Century.
No one had thought much more about it. That was until, as local rumor has it, the late British celebrity Paula Yates, described a nearby slither of sand and stones known as Seasalter as the most beautiful beach in the world.
Whether Yates in fact said that is not known, but that description of Seasalter is quite apt. The swirls of colors that hover over the beach, like clouds of painterly dreaminess, give the impression that one has been transported to the middle of a Turner painting.
The beach feels as if it lies somewhere between heaven and earth. The Sportsman, a gourmet pub, stands like a lone outpost on the tip of the marshes past old beach houses from yesteryear.
Adding to the rediscovery of Whitstable is the opening of a popular oyster restaurant. The oyster industry in Whitstable traces back to the 15th Century. The Whitstable Oyster Company has transformed old oyster stores into a beloved restaurant, which attracts throngs of foodies.
The Whitstable area has become so popular that even the retirement quarters of nearby Tankerton are now trafficked.
The opening of JoJo’s, a popular restaurant in a former supermarket, has brought tourists to sleepy Tankerton.
Reached by walking a mile or so north of Whitstable, Tankerton is like stepping back into the 1950s. It offers old-fashioned cafes and pubs on the front, wooden beach huts, and a sailing club, not to mention a mile-long path of shingle leading into the water known as The Street.
Call it three beaches in one: Whitstable is trendy and chic, Seasalter is remote and atmospheric, and Tankerton is an inimitable time capsule.
The Scottish island of Iona offers one of the most beautiful collections of beaches in all of the British Isles. There are no cars on the island, and it is a hike to get to the West Coast of Scotland. However, that only adds to its draw.
Iona is still a bit hidden, since it hasn't been thought of as beach destination for long. During my university exploits in Scotland, I relished the beautiful beaches found on the diminutive island of Iona.
They were made even more beautiful by the trip through another beauteous island called Mull. I always thought, “If only it were sunny here.” In the time since, it seemed that global warming has transformed Iona into a well-kept secret ready to be discovered. All that had been missing were a few rays.
Iona is often described as the symbolic center of Christianity in Scotland. St. Columba founded the first monastery there in 563, where many of the kings of Scotland and Ireland, as well as Viking rulers, are buried.
That rich history may explain why the beaches on the island have an otherworldly feel and such extraordinary beauty.
It's also why one can have the beaches to oneself, since tourists often run to the Abbey.
Beaches with names like the Bay at the Back of the Ocean and St. Columba’s Bay evoke scenes of white sands meeting green-blue ocean, vistas which become even more superlative when the Northern Lights present themselves.
The beaches lie against a backdrop of abundant nature, which makes them more like something one could imagine finding in Iceland than the Mediterranean.
Margate in East Kent
Ironically, Dreamland fell into a nightmare state of disrepair, but thankfully, it is currently being revamped. It is supposed to open later this year, bringing a taste of old fashioned British beach culture and sending 21st Century visitors back to the days where arcades and theme parks ruled.
This once god-forsaken beach town, where British artist Tracey Emin grew up, is now getting its share of good press because of her fame.
Emin with her notorious artworks, such as Everyone I Had Ever Slept With: 1963-1965, is partly to blame for the sprouts of gentrification.
The posh changes can be seen in the back streets near the Turner Contemporary, an art gallery which opened in Turner’s name. The art venue has ushered in a seismic shift away from slot machines towards high culture.
St. Brelade’s Bay on Jersey
The Channel Islands, which lie between France and England, are often celebrated for having the best weather in the British Isles, as well as some of the best beaches.
Jersey offers little-island living and beautiful bucket-and-spade beaches, as well as a fascinating history that includes stories of German occupation during World War II.
Now, Jersey is a paradise island, playing home to tony residents. But, it is also home to one of my favorite beaches, St. Brelade's Bay.
St. Brelade’s Bay is a sublime highlight. The wide, sandy beach is lined with boats, forming a picturesque setting beneath the hills, which shelter a churchyard and cemetery.
A recent TripAdvisor poll, ranked St. Brelade's Bay as one of the top 20 beaches in all of Europe.
St Brelade's Bay has the draw of being a remote beach getaway while only being a 22-minute flight in a propeller jet from Southampton Airport and thirty minutes from London.
One can spend a week on this bay and not leave, save to hike to small beaches nearby. There are fabulous restaurants and cafes and even a beautiful spa at the L’Horizon Hotel, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar facelift.
St. Brelade's Bay also has a historic, and at times controversial, artistic history, which adds a richness to the beautiful beach town.
Lesbian artists Claude Cahun and partner Marcel Moore lived in the bay in the 1940s and 1950s. Here they created subversive art, which is the subject of a current exhibition run by Jersey Heritage.
In her work, Cahun questioned gender, the self, and Nazi occupation of Jersey. Case in point: one of her photographs shows the couple dressed as old ladies, biting a Nazi badge in their teeth.
Grand Greve on the Island of Sark
A boat ride away is the car free island of Sark, which was the last feudal state in Europe -- until a few years ago when a fight broke out between Britain’s billionaire Barclay Brothers and the government.
The island is rented from the British Crown, though the Barclay brothers own a neighboring island and several hotels on Sark.
Due to an agreement going back centuries, the Ruler of Sark, the Seigneure, rents the island from the Queen for just about two dollars a year.
Earning the title of the first "dark sky island" for its fine stargazing, Sark sits proud in the ocean between England and France. It is also home to spectacular beaches that make one think of Okinawa.
I had one all to myself in September, a beautiful beach on the island known as Grand Greve. It lies beneath La Coupée, a causeway that connects Big Sark with Little Sark.
This extraordinarily beautiful water is overlooked by steep cliffs whose red rocks crumble down the sides of the path lined with berries.
For some local color, ask one of the residents for some stories of when ladies in large crinoline skirts were once deposited at a beach nearby with a rope for them to climb up the cliffs. That was the punishment for being unable to pay full fare for the boat ride from Guernsey.
Angmering-on-Sea, West Sussex
Angmering-on-Sea in West Sussex offers not only a fabulous secluded little beach, but its own colorful history.
Settled by the Saxons around 600 AD, Angmering-on-Sea remains something of a secret to this day.
It is now home to only 5500 people. A historic country club has been turned into the Angmering-on-Sea Beach House. The area is filled with private estates, which line the beach with quaint Hansel-and-Gretel-like-houses, along with a smattering of cute cake shops and a fish and chip shop. Come sunset, locals walk dogs to the Blue Bird café.
Woolacombe Beach, Devon
The three-mile stretch of sand plays home to surfers and families on holiday. The beach was privately owned until the middle of the 20th Century. It had been held in the same family for 800 years since the reign of King Henry I. But when one Lady Rosalie Chichester died in 1949, it passed to a family friend and is now wildly popular with the public.
The beach was also a training ground for the army during World War II. Today, there is a placard dedicated to soldiers.
The population of 1000 swells during summer months, thanks to the great surfing conditions. Meanwhile, families love the pirate-themed golf course built from local stones.
Weymouth Beach, Dorset
WeymouthBeach brings tourists to another beautiful part of the country, Dorset county. Weymouth also offers the added cool factor of being the former vacation destination of monarchs, so you can say you hit the same beach as the historic royals.
As the story goes, Weymouth was frequented by King George II when he was sick. Apparently, the King even named Weymouth his favorite resort, and made it a fashionable bathing spot. One no longer discovers many monarchs here, but one can find British beach attractions like Punch & Judy puppet shows, trampolines, and volleyball, not to mention the quintessential fish and chips.
Rhossili Bay in Swansea
With beaches on this list from England, Scotland and The Channel Islands, now comes one from Wales.
Stretching five miles long, Rhossili Bay is probably so popular because it is backed by sand dunes.
The beach is close to some prehistoric remains and small islands that lay just off the coast.
Visitors can go treasure hunting and view the wreckage of a ship called the Helvetia at low tide. In fact, the beach is so popular that it has been used as the backdrop for a number of British TV shows, including Doctor Who. During the 2012 British Olympics, a local choir singing on the beach was broadcast live, cementing its claim to fame.
Luskentyre on the Outer Hebrides
Lying on the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, Luskentyre beach has a heavenly appearance. It looks almost as if it were from another world. This is another beach that often makes it into the list of Britain’s finest.
Luskentyre not only has fine sands but great wildlife to boost. Situated on the Isle of Harris, it is home to creatures both beautiful and exotic, from the Slavonian grebe to the wigeon.