There’s something about the beach. Londoners long for it. They trade secrets about the best ones accessible from the city, and which train to get on to arrive there. Ah, just in time for lunch: a dozen salty oysters, studded with vinegary shallots and lashings of lemon. The rain is relentless, and you’re dressed for November in May, but such is the unique and unpredictable joy of the British seaside. Trudging down the beach, between striped windbreaks and splayed tartan rugs, arm in arm with your friends, as dogs scarper towards the sea. Suddenly the city problems that plagued you – What’s happened to all those Oyster cards? Are you really only ever six feet from a rat? – pale into insignificance, against a backdrop of crashing, frothy waves. Reasonably, the journey home is spent googling the price of houses by the sea. Below are five of the best.
With soft and smooth sandy dunes, this beach looks like it’s been airbrushed, its driftwood fences making you feel like you could, at a stretch, be in Cape Cod. Head west for quieter stretches, where you can lay out and watch the windsurfers. When the heavens open, seek refuge in the culinary queen The Galivant, which serves predictably excellent seafood. A short walk away are the cobbled streets of Rye, where along Strand Quay you'll find tonnes of bric-a-brac shops, and in the centre, a treasure trove of antique shops. The Mint in Rye is particularly good for decorative pieces, and if restored medieval cottages are your thing, you can stay the night too.
Travel: 1 hour 43 minutes by train from St Pancras to Rye
You almost didn’t need us to tell you about this one, did you? On the north coast of Kent, its shingle, hut-lined beach is the subject of many wholesome weekend Instagram posts. The famous, salmon pink-fronted Wes Anderson-y Wheelers Oyster Bar, part of a well-constructed carousel. Despite earning the name “Islington-on-Sea” thanks to a steady stream of second-homers, there the plenty of reassuringly nostalgic, ungentrified pockets of Whitstable. Devour a platter of fruits de mer platter at The Lobster Shack, or go for a beer at The Old Neptune, which protruding onto the beach, is the best place to watch the sunset that isn’t Hampstead Heath.
Travel: 1 hour 14 minutes by train from St Pancras to Whitstable
On clear days, from Deal's pebble-swamped beach you can sometimes see France. Set slightly back is a maze of winding cobblestone streets lined with Georgian townhouses and fishermen’s cottages. For a slice of the city that you sought to escape but miss the spoils of already, head to the The Rose, an old boozer, that's been turned into an eight-bedroom, riotously colourful boutique hotel, that teems with DFL'ers (that's Down From London, FYI - yes, some even call Deal “Shoreditch-on-Sea”). With Nuno Mendes of Chiltern Firehouse fame looking after the kitchen, the food – signature squidgy crab donuts and all – is lip smacking, especially when washed down with an apricot negroni.
Travel: 1 hour 39 minute train from London St Pancras.
During the summer months there are lifeguards on patrol here, which means it’s a safe and scenic spot for a dip. Determined sun-seekers will enjoy the almost tropically sandy beach. The ice-cream-coloured huts that line it are available to rent, should you want some privacy or respite from the rain. Drift-In Cafe is as seaside-y as you like, decked in – yep, you guessed it drift wood – serving smoothies and crepes. If you fancy catching – or crashing – some waves, rent a board from the adjoining surf shop, and for a stopover, The Crab & Lobster, a pub with rooms, comes highly recommended.
Travel: 1.5 hours by train from London Victoria to Chichester.
With its Regency-style buildings, Royal Pavilion, and Indian-inspired palace, it’s a wonder Brighton was ever considered a bit, well, crap. It took a bit of colour and a few quirky cafes to lure London’s design elite here, who are now a part of the weekend furniture. Take a walk down the lengthy Pier, where you’ll find sugary sweets and saccharine lights and funfair rides. The pebbled shores of the beach are never not busy, buzzing with rum cocktail fuelled chatter (there’s a great bar Caribbean called Riki Tik on the Seafront - head there on an evening of reggae and live DJs).
Travel: 1 hour by train from London Bridge or Victoria to Brighton.
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