Britain's best coastal roads

Britain's best coastal roads
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The pleasures of the British coastline are not just for summer – there's plenty on offer during the winter months too. The crowds have gone, the roads are quiet, and the landscape takes on a more dramatic character. And coastal towns in particular have a wonderful atmosphere in the depths of winter – a pleasant melancholy and peace – and time can seem to stand still.

On many sections of our coast, the roads run close to the shore, so there's plenty you can experience from the warmth of your car. On a sunny winter's day after a frost, views of the coastal landscape are at their absolute best, as the cold light seems to cut the landscape's outlines with laser precision. On more overcast days, there are different attractions: historic towns, pubs and restaurants, castles and cathedrals. Check out are our favourite coastal drives, whatever the weather.

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Britain's best coastal drives
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Britain's best coastal roads

For a summer seaside outing Sussex-style, take the A259 eastwards from Hastings. At Bexhill, turn on to Cooden Drive and skirt the beach to Norman's Bay (where the invaders landed in 1066) before rejoining the A259 to Eastbourne. Here, you can drive along the seafront parades. Pit stop: The pier is lovely (open all year round), or continue to the white cliffs of Beachy Head just beyond the town's western extremities.

On a sunny day, the route along the coast of Exmoor National Park offers a spectacular drive. Fortified with a large breakfast in the harbour town of Watchet, set out on to the A39 westwards for the journey up to Exmoor. The ascent past Minehead to Allerford seems gentle enough, but after descending into the village of Porlock the fun really starts. Staying on the A39, you are confronted with the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill, which climbs 1,300 feet in the space of just two miles, before the road opens out on to the stark wilderness of moorland, affording fine views to the Bristol Channel. Continuing through Countisbury Common the road descends (again 1 in 4) to Lyn Gorge where you’ll no doubt be ready to repair to a pub in the picture-postcard village of Lynmouth.

Whatever the weather, there's plenty to do driving up and down the coast between Orford (with its excellent pubs and food shops). Aldeburgh and Southwold. The A12 provides a fast route north-south, but it’s usually better to seek out the minor roads, closer to the coast: the B1125 via Westleton to Blythborough, the B1069 via Snape or the B1353 via Thorpeness.

This beautiful stretch of coast boasts great castles, stunning viewpoints, and a string of charming villages. Begin at Warkworth Castle and head north up the A1068 towards the idyllic village of Alnmouth before taking the dramatic coastal road to Boulmer. Driving inland to Longhoughton, now join the B1339 to continue north to Dunstanburgh Castle; its brooding hulk looking out over the grey North Sea is particularly atmospheric at this time of year. Finally, amble up the coast along the A1339 and then A1340 to the wonderfully restored Bamburgh Castle, perched on a basalt outcrop from where you can enjoy views to the Farne Islands.

The dramatic chalk cliffs of the southwestern side of the Isle of Wight are particularly spectacular from the vantage point of the A3055 (the "Military Road"). Owing to the dangers posed by erosion, there are only a few places to stop en-route (some with views to The Needles), and the route culminates in the smart Victorian resort of Freshwater, which still basks in the reputation of its former resident, the poet Tennyson (whose house, Farringford, can still be visited).

Driving north from St Just on the B3306, you'll encounter idyllic villages, breathtaking views and numerous wayside halts where you can stop off for a pasty. On the moorland just inland from the road are a number of Bronze Age or Neolithic stone burial chambers. Back on the B3306, this wiggliest of roads continues all the way to St Ives, the location of some of England's most beautiful beaches. Pit stop: If you're in St Ives, a visi to the Tate museum of modern art is not to be missed.

To really make an escape, you couldn't do much better than take the A493 from Machynlleth, and drive up the west coast of Wales. The route takes you via the Dysynni Valley (with the peak of Cader Idris rising on the right), the beach resort of Barmouth, Harlech Castle and the eccentric architectural hotch-potch of Portmeirion, and on to the fishing village at the edge of the world, Aberdaron. 

When the weather's kind, the roads around south west Wales provide wonderful views of the rugged coastline. There are the dramatic rock formations at Broad Haven (via the B4341), the idyllic fishing villages of Solva and Fishguard, the castles of Manorbier, Carew and Pembroke, and St David's, Britain's smallest cathedral city. Pit stop: squeeze in a visit to New Quay, the village that inspired Dylan Thomas to write Under Milk Wood (a little further north, via the A487 then A486).

Leading southwest from Dumfries via Castle Douglas, the A75 brings you to the historic town of Kirkcudbright. Many visitors come here (the “St Ives of the North) for its associations with some of Scotland's most famous artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists). Indeed, the place remains visually stunning today, with its fishing boats and harbour, pastel-shaded houses and romantic castle ruins. A beautiful drive further westwards along the coast (A75, then A714) brings you to another fine fishing village – Wigtown – known as the “Scottish Hay-on-Wye” for its concentration of second-hand bookshops.

The so-called Atlantic Highway begins at Barnstaple in North Devon, and snakes down the craggy coastline along the A39, past the little towns of Clovelly, famous for its steep cobbled streets, and (now in Cornwall), Bude, with its sandstone cliffs.  Further south, veer off on to the B3263 and make for picturesque Boscastle then Tintagel; the latter’s castle is thought to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Returning to the A39, continue down to the surfing resort of Newquay. Pit stop: stop off for lunch en route at one of Rick Stein’s restaurants in Padstow (the queue for the fish and chip shop is worth it!). 

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