With golden sands and clear water, Southbourne is usually quieter than neighbouring beaches in Bournemouth. And it’s one of the few stretches of coast where parking is still free. The tide moves east or west, depending on its rise and fall, so it’s worth checking the tide times. The coast here provides a lovely long swim, and you can use the groynes to map your distance. Swim into the tidal current before swimming back to where you started, ending the day at the excellent Baffi pizzeria, a short walk from the beach.
Hope Cove, Devon
There are two bays at Hope Cove, Inner and Outer. Lifeguards are on the Outer bay but the Inner bay is lovely for swimming on a high tide. The swim from the harbour side across the bay it is about 250 metres, so it’s easy to do lengths building up to a kilometre. It is a little more sheltered from the weather here, but wind is a big factor so check the wind forecast as well as the tide. Swim on an early morning tide, then enjoy breakfast at The Cove.
Trearddur bay, Anglesey
This beach has everything for a great outing: sand for castle building, rock pools when the tide heads out, and a lovely bathing area protected by marked buoys. Swimming across the bay it’s easy to cover 400 metres with nothing but sand beneath you. With plenty of parking and facilities, it’s possible to spend all day here and not get bored. Finish with locally caught fish at Sea Shanty Cafe; the mussels are perfect for warming up during the cooler months.
The north-west coast is tricky, because when the tide goes out it goes out a long way and leaves lots of mud, clay and sinking sand. Formby is popular for its lovely, long, sandy beach, but swimming here is only at high tide – I recommend 30 minutes before high tide and during slack tide. There are lifeguards, so it’s best to swim when they are present, or join Formby Sea Swimmers, who know the area well. It is lovely for swimming along a straight bit of coast.
Tynemouth Longsands, Tyne and Wear
This award-winning beach – which features sand, rocks, dunes and cliffs – is home to the TOSers (Tynemouth Outdoor Swimmers), and there are swimmers here all year round. You can get some good distance in and spend time in the sea while the crowds are on the beach. This whole coastline is a delight – swim at King Edward’s bay with a view of the medieval priory and fortress, while the breakwater at Cullercoats gives some protection at high tide if the sea is more bouncy.
Portnaluchaig, the Highlands
Scotland isn’t known for its lifeguarded beaches, remote locations being part of the appeal. There are some, however, and they are all on the east coast – the RNLI is a good resource. But the west coast is a swimmer’s paradise. There’s a cluster of small beaches and coves around the coastal hamlet, Portnaluchaig, north of Arisaig in Inverness-shire. There isn’t much here, but that is the point. There’s a car park at Camusdarach beach, which has a gorgeous bay, white sand, turquoise water and brilliant rock formations.
Broadstairs is a very popular beach, but for good reason. It is a sheltered bay, which is great for swimming when the tide is in, and there are quirky shops to mooch around, plenty of sand and beach huts. If it is busy, nearby Louisa bay is just as good for a dip. Early morning tides will beat the crowds. Be careful with the tides around Kent, though, as there is a strong current. Round off the day by heading to Morelli’s Gelato, which opened in the 1930s and still has a jukebox and soda fountain.
Don’t be put off by the colour of the water at Felixstowe: just accept you are likely to emerge from the silty swell with a sea-beard. This is a challenging stretch of water for long swims, so Channel swimmers train here. There is a drag north or south, depending on the tide, but plan it right and you can swim with the tide and feel like an Olympian. Locals swim at the northern end of the beachfront between the cafes; for the dippers, the part between the groynes gives a good, safe depth to bob about in.
Whiterocks, Portrush, Northern Ireland
Dolphins, seals and seabirds make this a truly wild spot to swim. As well as a cluster of beautiful bays, it offers cliff walks with brilliant views of the ruined fortress, Dunluce Castle. Depending on the wind direction, there are swimming spots at West Strand, which is sheltered by the Portrush peninsula, or the long bay of Whiterocks. The Menopausal Mermaids women’s group swim in the area year-round.
It’s a bit of a walk down to this beach, so it is most popular with locals and regular Cornish holidaymakers. There is a National Trust car park in the village, then follow the path down from the church. The beach virtually disappears at high tide, so check before setting off. There are rocks to swim around and dive from, along with a waterfall and cliff walk for views. It is also a great spot for beachcombing and snorkelling. Pack a picnic and go for the day, if the tide allows.
Ella Foote is editor of Outdoor Swimmer magazine, which has tips on safe swimming