Stumbling across an idyllic sandy cove makes a good day a bit special. Wales is full of these unexpected surprises, as Daniel Start has discovered.
Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
A permanent fixture in lists of Britain’s best beaches, Barafundle is surrounded by lovely dunes and woodland. On the end of the headland you’ll find three fantastic natural arches with Gaudi-esque spires supporting them. It’s like a sunken gargoyle-covered cathedral. This is coasteering country and the intrepid might make their way along the cliffs to Stackpole Quay, checking out the massive Lorts Cave along the way. Well-earned rewards await at the National Trust café or The Stackpole Inn.
Harlech beach, Snowdonia
Harlech beach, which lies below Harlech's imposing 14th-century castle, has one of the few dune systems in the UK that is growing, extending further into Cardigan Bay. This designated National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest is well worth further exploration and the large, flat beach is well served with parking, shop, toilets and campsite. Keep an eye out for dolphins playing in the bay.
Bluepool Corner, Gower Peninsula
Bluepool Corner is one of the best plunge pools in Britain, scoured out of the rocks by wave-driven eddies that tumbled giant cobbles in its depths. A friend and I had been given a tip-off about its location. We arrived on mountain bikes, threw them into the long grass and scampered down the rocky path to join a group of teenagers who were practising somersaults into the dark purple waters. I eased myself in and swam around for a while, ‘plumb lining’ to try to calculate the depth. As I couldn’t touch the bottom, I rejoined the others who showed me how to do backflips instead.
Porth Wen, Anglesey
Porth Wen is one of the most interesting but spookiest of Anglesey’s many coves. Down an unsigned, little-used path you come upon a ruined harbour and old brickworks with a honeycomb of furnaces and chimneystacks to explore. Enjoy the perfect white shingle beach and rock arch as you think about the people who once lived and worked here, and rejoice that nature has reclaimed this quiet place for herself.
Mwnt beach, Ceredigion
Watched over by an ancient church, Mwnt beach is a perfect sandy cove, sheltered by sandstone cliffs, and is great for snorkelling. As you approach the coast through empty countryside and down miles of tiny lanes it’s difficult to imagine that this area was the scene of a major 12th-century battle. Whole skeletons are still unearthed periodically from the fields around. Mwnt, though remote, is far from secret and is popular with families, so if you’re yearning for a wilder adventure, explore a few hundred yards along the Wales Coast Path to the east. Here you'll find great slabs of rock that shelve into perfect clear water, ideal for sea-caving and snorkelling.
Porth Oer, Llŷn Peninsula
Porth Oer (Whistling Sands) is one of a string of pearly coves formed as the peninsula’s north-western coastal mountain gives way to moorland. Porth Oer is perhaps the best known of these coves and the grains really do squeak underfoot, piping shrill notes when the wind blows in from the west. A small National Trust café provides sustenance and the cliff walk immediately south leads to the small island headlands of Dinas Bach and Dinas Fawr with sea caves for exploring.
The Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire
West of Porthgain – a pretty harbour village with a restaurant, pub and galleries – there are more treats, including a swim through a giant arch at Porth Dwfn, the wide sands of Traeth Llyfn and finally Abereiddi’s famous Blue Lagoon, a disused quarry long-since breached by the sea to become an inland lake. The quarry’s old wheelhouse provides three platforms for leaping into the deep blue abyss below – a famous rite of passage for local swimmers and visitors alike.
Traeth Mawr, Monknash
The majestic Glamorgan Heritage Coast features cliffs composed of stacked limestone strata and flat limestone pavements that stretch into the sea. Monknash makes a perfect base: from here a stream with a ruined mill leads to the vast beach of Traeth Mawr. If you’re looking for a roaring fire and an impressive selection of ales and ciders, head for the Plough and Harrow back in the village, built from the ruins of the adjacent monastery.
Porthdinllaen, Llŷn Peninsula
A delightful car-free hamlet owned by the National Trust, just below Nefyn & District Golf Club. Near the lifeboat ramp there are two tiny sandy coves that are good for swimming. You may find yourself in the company of seals basking on nearby rocks. The Tŷ Coch Inn is one of the most recognisable spots in the area and is a wonderful spot to relax on a sunny summer evening. Make sure to add Porthdinllaen to your list of beaches to visit.
Confucius Hole, Broad Haven
This is one of the most spectacular stretches of coast in Britain with many caves and sea caverns. Look out for St Govan’s Chapel hidden in the cliffs near Bosherston. If you are feeling adventurous, there are several dramatic swims between Broad Haven and Barafundle Bay. One of the best is at Confucius Hole, a huge crater that fills up into a great blue lagoon with each tide. In calm seas you can enter via a sea cave in the sea cliffs, though this is only accessible at low tide.
Exploring the outdoors is fantastic fun, but please read up on the risks and make sure you are prepared.