Coastlines of Southwest UK




Rocks west of Glenthorne Beach Summerhouse Point Sand Point West of Durdle Door

Southwest UK is justifiably famous for its spectacular coastline, some parts of which are easy to reach though others are rarely visited; even the coast path has to run quite far inland in places, up to half a mile, owing to steep slopes below, in particular the western part of Somerset, and some sections of north and south Devon. The majority of the coast is lined by cliffs, terraces and eroded rock formations, with sand or pebble beaches at intervals; only along on the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary is the scenery less interesting, since here the sea is mostly bordered by mudbanks and flat grassland.

The coast in this part of the UK can be divided into three sections - south Wales, Somerset/north Devon, and Dorset/south Devon.

South Wales


Starting in the east, the south Wales coast becomes scenic just beyond Cardiff (at Lavernock Point), as here the muddy flats are replaced by extensive outcrops of thin-layered limestone, which extend all along the edge of Vale of Glamorgan to Ogmore-by-Sea, a 14 mile section known as the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. Other notable areas include Aberthaw to Stout Bay, Stout Bay to Nash Point and Temple Bay to Dunraven Bay. From Ogmore to Swansea the coast was once covered by a huge dune system stretching up to 2 miles inland, and this survives in two main locations (Merthyr Mawr and Kenfig, both national nature reserves), the remainder long since replaced by the suburbs of Port Talbot and the adjacent steelworks. Rocks return west of Swansea, mostly carboniferous limestone, and also heavily eroded, lining the south and west sides of the Gower Peninsula, below which are a number of popular, sandy beaches, principally Langland, Caswell, Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich, Port Eynon, Mewslade and Rhossilli. Two other notable locations are the dramatic promontory of Worm's Head at the southwestern tip of the peninsula, and the remote dunes of Whiteford National Nature Reserve in the northwest. Further west are the broad inlets of the Loughor and Towy rivers, before the even more extensive cliffs and beaches of Pembrokeshire.

Somerset and North Devon


The predominantly low, mud-lined coast along the south side of the Bristol Channel is interrupted by few rocky outcrops, at Aust (in Gloucestershire) and from Portishead to Clevedon, then at Sand Point, Worlebury Hill and Brean Down, all in Somerset, but there is not much else of photogenic interest on this stretch, southwards to the mouth of the River Parrett. West of the river are several miles of dunes and broad, pebble beaches including Fennig Island National Nature Reserve, until beyond the Hinkley Point power station, where low cliffs appear, formed of the same grey/blue lias that is exposed on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel, in Glamorgan. These rocks stretch for 12 miles, to Blue Anchor Bay near Minehead, with perhaps the most scenic stretch being the 4 miles between Lilstock and St Audrie's Bay. Further west in Somerset, continuing into north Devon, the land rises steeply by up to 1,000 feet, along the edge of Exmoor, forming spectacular cliffs cloaked by dense coastal forests, explorable from above via the coast path, and below by careful walking at sea level, at low tide. Sections include Minehead to Hurlstone Point, Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach, Glenthorne Beach to Foreland Point and Valley of Rocks to Woody Bay. This region includes the highest sea cliffs in England, and some of its most isolated, inaccessible terrain.

Dorset and South Devon


The most famous section of the south Devon and south Dorset shoreline is the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage site, covering the 95 miles between Orcombe Point, near Exmouth in Devon, and Old Harry Rocks, south of Bournemouth in Dorset - all is lined with sand/pebble beaches below fossiliferous rocks, varying greatly in colour, orientation, form and hardness. As with north Devon, most is usually explored from above, along the coast path, though nearly all is also accessible at sea level, at least around low tide. Notable sections, from west to east, include Sidmouth to Ladram Bay, Branscombe to Beer, Axmouth to Lyme Regis, Lyme Regis to Seatown and Durdle Door to Lulworth Cove. Further south, the Devon coast stays mostly cliff-bound but becomes more rugged and irregular, with smaller beaches, and is generally less accessible.



England


Devon



Axmouth to Lyme Regis
Axmouth to Lyme Regis
Cliffs, beaches and landslips along a remote, 7 mile section of the Jurassic Coast; includes Haven Cliffs, Goat Island, Charton Bay and Pinhay Bay

Rating: ★★★★
Beer Head
Beer Head
Sheer cliffs, sea caves and scenic beaches along the Jurassic Coast; Beer, Pounds Pool Beach, Hooken Undercliffs and Branscombe Mouth. Also many summer wildflowers

Rating: ★★★★★
Burgh Island
Burgh Island
Cliff-lined island opposite the popular sandy beach at Bigbury-on-Sea

Rating: ★★★★★
Glenthorne Beach to Foreland Point
Glenthorne Beach to Foreland Point
Spectacular, three mile section of the north coast, with dense woodland sloping steeply down to remote beaches and eroded rock formations

Rating: ★★★★★
Sidmouth to Ladram Bay
Sidmouth to Ladram Bay
Red sandstone cliffs, isolated beaches and large sea stacks; part of the Jurassic Coast

Rating: ★★★★★
Valley of Rocks to Woody Bay
Valley of Rocks to Woody Bay
Rock formations, isolated beaches, steep cliffs and coastal woodland, west of Lynton. Includes Wringcliff Bay and Lee Bay

Rating: ★★★★★

Dorset



Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove
Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove
Sea arch and a circular cove, part of a varied section of the coast that also has headlands, sandy beaches, chalk cliffs and other eroded formations

Rating: ★★★★★
Lyme Regis to Seatown
Lyme Regis to Seatown
High cliffs, wildflower meadows and pebble beaches along five miles of the Jurassic Coast, including Charmouth, Stonebarrow Hill and Golden Cap

Rating: ★★★★

Somerset



Brean Down
Brean Down
High, narrow limestone peninsula along the north Somerset coast, lined by cliffs; site of a 19th century fort and several more ancient relics

Rating: ★★★★★
Lilstock to St Audrie's Bay
Lilstock to St Audrie's Bay
Four mile stretch of the coast, including Kilve Pill and Quantock's Head, with layered, blue lias cliffs above extensive, wave-cut terraces

Rating: ★★★★★
Minehead to Hurlstone Point
Minehead to Hurlstone Point
Cliffs and pebble beaches along a spectacular, little-visited, five mile section of the north Somerset coast

Rating: ★★★★★
Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach
Porlock Weir to Glenthorne Beach
Five miles of the Somerset coast; rarely-seen beaches and eroded sandstone formations below steep cliffs and extensive ancient woodland

Rating: ★★★★★
Portishead Coast
Portishead Coast
Low cliffs, eroded rocks, pebble beaches and a lighthouse, along the Bristol Channel coastline between Portishead and Clevedon

Rating: ★★★★
Sand Point and Middle Hope
Sand Point and Middle Hope
Narrow promontory and elevated headland overlooking the Bristol Channel, lined by stony beaches and eroded rock formations

Rating: ★★★★★

Wales


Bridgend



Kenfig National Nature Reserve
Kenfig National Nature Reserve
Varied coastal dune habitats, including sand, slacks, grassland, marsh, woodland and beaches, supporting a great range of plants and animals

Rating: ★★★★
Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve
Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve
Coastal sand dunes near the River Ogmore; grassy near the sea, more overgrown further inland. Home to many wildflower species

Rating: ★★★★★

Swansea



Caswell Bay to Langland Bay
Caswell Bay to Langland Bay
Two sandy beaches lined by eroded cliffs of inclined limestone, linked by a short section of the coast path

Rating: ★★★★★
Port Eynon to Common Cliff
Port Eynon to Common Cliff
Spectacular, lightly-travelled, two mile section of the southern coast; limestone hills sloping down to rocky inlets, sea caves and wave-cut terraces

Rating: ★★★★
Three Cliffs Bay
Three Cliffs Bay
Sandy inlet on the Gower Peninsula, bordered by dramatic cliffs, centred on a narrow promontory and crossed by a stream

Rating: ★★★★
Whiteford National Nature Reserve
Whiteford National Nature Reserve
Sandy beaches, grassy dunes, wetlands and forest, on the remote northwestern corner of the Gower Peninsula

Rating: ★★★★★
Worm's Head
Worm's Head
Tidal island south of Rhossili Bay at the western tip of the Gower Peninsula, surrounded by limestone cliffs and eroded formations

Rating: ★★★★★

Vale of Glamorgan



Aberthaw to Stout Bay
Aberthaw to Stout Bay
Cliffs, terraces and pebble beaches along the easternmost three mile portion of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. Includes Limpert Bay, Penry Bay and Summerhouse Point

Rating: ★★★★★
Dunraven Bay
Dunraven Bay
Cliffs, beaches and eroded rock formations along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast near Southerndown, plus gardens, a ruined mansion and a waterfall

Rating: ★★★★★
Nash Point to Stout Bay
Nash Point to Stout Bay
Varied, little-visited, four-mile section of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, with layered, vertical cliffs of blue lias above extensive wave-cut terraces

Rating: ★★★★
Ogmore-by-Sea
Ogmore-by-Sea
Wide sandy beach giving way to sheer limestone cliffs with caves, terraces and other eroded formations

Rating: ★★★★
Sully Island to Lavernock Point
Sully Island to Lavernock Point
Headland, layered cliffs, level terraces, sand and pebble beaches, and an undeveloped tidal island

Rating: ★★★★★