Surprising places by the sea

Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore, by Patrick Barkham, celebrates the extraordinary coastline which is in our care. A journey along coastal paths, beaches and coves, the book offers a fresh perspective on what it means to live in a land that is ‘more edge than middle’. Patrick has selected some of the most unusual and inspiring coastal places he visits in the book and explains what makes them so special. As featured in the spring 2015 edition of our magazine.

The cliffs at Fair Head, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Fair Head near Giant's Causeway, County Antrim 

The Giant’s Causeway is the most visited of all our places but it’s hard not to be taken aback by Antrim’s spectacular cliffs, a match for the most celebrated corners of Cornwall. While the Giant’s Causeway is deservedly possible, the great bulk of Fair Head can be empty except for the mewing of a buzzard soaring on the thermals.

 Red squirrel in a tree

Formby, Liverpool 

In the pine woods surrounding the grand sand dunes of Formby lives a surprising seaside resident: the red squirrel. Formby is a rare English refuge for the native squirrel, thanks to its isolation from populations of greys further inland. Formby's dunescape is constantly shifting with storms and winds but the dry, warm pockets of the dunes are filled with wild flowers and insects in the summer.

Braich-y-Pwll from the summit of Mynydd Anelog on the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales

R S Thomas' Cottage, Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd 

The poet R S Thomas retired in 1978 to a tiny, dilapidated cottage overlooking the Irish Sea at the end of the Llyn Peninsula. It was lent to him by the philanthropic Keatings sisters – at his request they saved Plas yn Rhiw and bought and donated the surrounding land, including the cottage, to the National Trust. The cottage is leased to Thomas’ son but you can walk past on the old coast road.

Shingle leads up to the Pagodas at Orford Ness, Suffolk

Orford Ness, Suffolk 

For 80 years of the last century the shingle peninsula of Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast was a top secret site where military scientists tested everything from artificial clouds to triggers for atomic bombs. On what appears to be desert of pebbles – in reality a fragile, arid ecosystem of salt-tolerant plants and ground-nesting birds – stand derelict laboratories known as ‘pagodas’.

Lindisfarne Castle off the Northumberland Coast

Northumberland's castles 

The British coast's defensive relics express centuries of anxiety about invasion. The castles of Northumberland also speak of ancient animosity between the English and the Scots. The most stunningly positioned must be Lindisfarne Castle on the rocky outcrop of Holy Island, which was converted into a country retreat by Edwin Lutyens. Another spectacular example is the ruined Dunstanburgh Castle. The National Trust protects the coast between Craster and Dunstanburgh.

Walking on the clifftop at the White Cliffs of Dover, Kent

The White Cliffs of Dover, Kent 

A huge swath of the White Cliffs has been returned to flower-rich grassland since we raised £1.2 million to buy a 0.8 mile stretch in 2012. This has opened up a glorious walk to South Foreland Lighthouse, which was formerly one of a network of lights guiding ships along what was once the world’s busiest shipping channel. Its position helped prevent wrecks on the hazardous Goodwin Sands.