Where does Sally sell sea shells by the sea shore?
June 21, 2009 3:46 AM   Subscribe

Send us on a mid-week seaside break in England!

"Us" being me and my two kids, ages 12 and 9 (boy and girl respectively). We're in London for the summer (until August 16) but my husband had to go back to the States this week, leaving us all alone. He is, literally, allergic to the sun so I thought I'd use this week for a short (two or three days, tops) seaside trip for the kids. Where would you send us that's family-friendly, not run-down, and has stuff to do besides splashing about in the ocean? We don't have a car but I do know how to book a train journey.

p.s. My daughter thinks she'll be able to actually swim in the ocean. She's crazy, isn't she? It's quite cold, right? We'll still go, I'd just like to get an idea of how likely it is that they'll be in the ocean.
posted by cooker girl to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Not from Britain, but the Guardian's travel site has a pretty exhaustive selection of articles tagged UK+beach here.

A quick perusal of this article makes the Isle of Thanet sound perfect.
posted by mdonley at 4:10 AM on June 21, 2009

If you're in London, its darn easy to get to Brighton; just get to London Bridge Station and there are several trains a hour leaving.

Make sure you get an express, and you'll be there in roughly one hour.

Lots to do, family friendly and very walkable. The beach is perhaps ten minutes from the train station, and there is wide range of accomodation.

But being so close to London its suitable for a day trip. Fairly nice little town, Mrs Mutant & I usually do a couple of day trips in the summer as a way to break up a weekend.

Bonus points if you've seen Quandrophenia.
posted by Mutant at 4:19 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brighton is close enough (50-90 minutes by train from Victoria, London Bridge or King's X--trains leave at least once per half hour for most of the day) to make it a day trip. The sea, the Sea Life Centre and the Pier are 10-20 minutes walk from the station depending upon how fast you move . Hove Lagoon is a very short cab ride away for windsurfing or other water-sport lessons. The beach is pebbles, not sand, sadly. You can also visit the Pavilion.
posted by K.P. at 4:26 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to chauvinistically suggest Swanage, as I have family links there. Direct train service to Wareham from London (a little over a couple of hours), and then there's a direct bus taking forty minutes to get to Swanage (or take a taxi, it's about ten miles). If you're feeling adventurous, you can travel as far as Corfe and then take a steam train the rest of the way to Swanage.

The town has a good sandy beach, and it is possible to swim there (I did as a child, and have been paddling in recent years). You probably wouldn't want to swim there for very long, even in the summer, but it isn't freezing cold. The town itself is small and attractive by the standards of seaside resorts, has some quirky and interesting buildings, and there are other things to see in the area - the coast to the south and west is a world heritage site, with some excellent walking along the clifftops and a country park at Durlston , and the area in the other direction is also beautiful, with spectacular views from the top of Ballard Down to the north. Corfe Castle is a picturesque village with a huge ruined castle, and the aforementioned steam train runs a regular service up and down the valley in the summer. Too far for a day trip, but if you're going away for a weekend and want something special, it's worth thinking about Swanage.
posted by nja at 6:58 AM on June 21, 2009

Since Brighton has already been suggested I won't add it. It's lovely tho! (am biased of course, I live here.) Can also recommend Swanage tho, went there (that part of Dorset in general) over Easter and absolutely love it, esp. Corfe Castle which is honestly the cutest village ever!

Re: the sea temp, here's a chart of Brighton sea temperatures (which are gonna be similar all along the South coast I'd venture). I went for a swim about 3 weeks ago and found it unbearably cold, however my neighbour says it has improved since. There were definitely loads of people swimming even the week-end I went in, so maybe I'm just a whimp.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 8:14 AM on June 21, 2009

I'd third Swanage - a great place (I spent most of my childhood holidays there and going back now I still love it). As already mentioned the Jurassic Coast provides added interest. A bit further along is Weymouth - a bit of a longer journey but a fun seaside town.

Another option to make it a bit more of an adventure is to go to the Isle of Wight - it takes about 2 and a bit hours by train including the ferry (you also get to take the unique Island Line using old tube trains). Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor make a good base, but the whole place is easily explored by bus.

The sea around Britain is always a bit chilly (by which I mean absolutely flipping freezing) - especially this early in the summer but short swims and splashing around are just about OK (by which I mean really not OK unless you are mad/British).
posted by badrolemodel at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2009

The critical thing here is prioritise. Are you looking for seaside or are you specifically looking for sand? I lived in the UK for about 10 years, and trying to find a beach that actually felt like a proper beach to me became something of a joke between me and my then-partner.

Don't get me wrong: I love the British seaside. I even like Blackpool and Southend. But going to the seaside is not the same as going to the beach because so many of England's beaches are shingle (pebble). So if you what you want is sand, buckets and spades, be very sure of your destination. Personally, I would go to Jersey, Weymouth or Isle of Wight.

Also, FWIW, I had never done a classic British caravan holiday and really wanted to see what it was. We packed up a bunch of kids and parents for three days and went to West Mersea - an hour by train, then a taxi - and had a surprisingly brilliant time. Pool, small but really lovely beach, activities for kids. It's nice to be able to to open the door in the morning and just let the kids out without having to worry about getting them dressed, packing a bunch of stuff, and carting towels etc across streets. And caravans weer about 1000x better than I thought they'd be. It was hokey but low-key, relaxing and fun.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:25 AM on June 21, 2009

Rye offers a nice combination of old harbour town, coastal nature reserve and traditional seaside resort (Camber Sands) with nice sandy beach. You're also near to Hastings and Battle.
posted by holgate at 12:50 PM on June 21, 2009

Also, if you don't have one already and you are planning more travel by train, you might want to look into a Family Discount Railcard.
posted by K.P. at 1:57 PM on June 21, 2009

Walton on the Naze is about an hour and a half on the train from London (Liverpool St Station). It has a very sandy, gently-shelving beach, perfect for swimming, sandcastles and sunbathing. If the kids are used to warm water they might find it cold, but they're kids, they'll probably be too excited to care (I used to swim at Walton until my lips went blue and my parents had to make me get out).

There's not heaps to do if you're looking for 'attractions' - though there's a pier with rides and amusements - but the great thing about caravanning there as kids was the freedom that DarlingBri talks about having on Mersea (Essex rules!) - not getting taken round lots of organised attractions, but just spending the day running around outdoors, eating fish and chips, and going to bed with sand in your hair.

Walton is a low-key, very family-oriented place, nearby are also Clacton on Sea for a bit of kiss-me-quick cheesiness, and the delightfully old-fashioned Frinton.
posted by penguin pie at 2:29 PM on June 21, 2009

For seaside excellence, Brighton without a doubt.
For sand, go to the Witterings.
For swimming, as long as it's been much warmer than 20 degrees for several days and she's not a wuss, she'll love swimming. Even in the middle of a heat wave the sea is always damn cold, but it's also damn fun.
posted by turkeyphant at 2:35 PM on June 21, 2009

The most beautiful UK beach I've ever been on was Trebarwith Strand in Cornwall. It's a lovely place, and also near Tintagel, a picturesque ruin with connections to the King Arthur legend. Cornwall is lovely and the food is great. Get the train from Paddington and go go go.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:21 AM on June 22, 2009

+1 for Swanage
posted by crocomancer at 6:38 AM on June 22, 2009

Thanks, everyone! Sand is definitely a priority. I think they'd be heartbroken if they couldn't dig and bury body parts (still attached!) and build sand castles.

I have some research to do, clearly...so perhaps this week is out. And if it's warmer by July (what do you all consider "warm", anyway?) then that will be better all around, I think.
posted by cooker girl at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2009

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