We're an island nation, so it's no surprise that we have some of the world's most splendid seashores. But there's more than just beauty to Britain's coastline, there's history, too. Here, we've selected ten beauty spots that also boast a fascinating past.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Rising majestically out of the English Channel, these chalk cliffs were formed 65-80 million years ago from the bodies of tiny algae. More recently, they've served as Britain's first line of defence. In 1066, William the Conqueror strengthened the existing Anglo-Saxon fortress and, during the 12th century, Henry II built Dover Castle. Deep inside the cliffs, there is a network of tunnels dating from the Napoleonic Wars. The tunnels were used as a command centre during World War II.
The south Devon coastline is uniquely beautiful but it's wild, too. On January 26, 1917, the tiny fishing hamlet of Hallsands was washed out to sea during a fierce storm. The 128 inhabitants had to scramble up the cliffs to safety as huge waves swept 29 houses out to sea. Human activity destroyed Hallsands. Years of intensive dredging had robbed the village of its natural defences.
North Cornwall's wonderful surfing beaches are famous for their laid-back vibe. But walk along the cliffs east of Polzeath and you'll be reminded of a dark passage in British history. A few hundred metres past Pentire Point, a plaque marks the place where, in 1914, the poet Laurence Binyon composed For the Fallen.
The poem's famous fourth stanza appears on war memorials throughout Britain:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
Gower Coast, Wales
Exploring the limestone cliffs and caves of the Gower Peninsula will put you in touch with some of your earliest ancestors. Shoreline caves on the Gower contain traces of human activity dating back 26,000 years. At that time, the Bristol Channel was no more than a shallow river. Archaeologists believe that humans ranged across these rich hunting grounds during a relatively warm period towards the end of the last Ice Age.
North Antrim, Northern Ireland
County Antrim's most famous landmark is Giant's Causeway, a stunning array of naturally occurring polygonal basalt pillars. But there are human stories in these parts, too. In 1588, the remains of the Spanish Armada was limping towards Spain after defeat in the English Channel forced its ships to take the long route home around Scotland and Ireland. Treacherous seas south of Giant's Causeway sunk the flagship Girona, killing all but a handful of those on board.
The Duddon Estuary, Cumbria
This tranquil stretch of West Cumbrian coast was one of William Wordsworth's favourite spots. Its mudflats, salt marshes and dunes are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including some of Europe's rarest birds. Wordsworth wrote 34 sonnets dedicated to the River Duddon and believed that the estuary was the best way to approach the Lake District.
If you don't mind mist and midges, the glorious coastline and islands of western Scotland has some of the finest scenery you'll ever encounter. Sadly, many of the region's ancient crofting ways have died out but, on the Isle of Skye, The Skye Museum of Island Life, has restored several traditional cottages and opened them to the public.
Scapa Flow, Orkney
The natural harbour of Scapa Flow is an awe-inspiring place to visit. It was also the scene of a sobering moment in history. At the end of World War I, 74 German warships were interned at Scapa Flow. On June 21, 1919, with an unfavourable peace treaty in prospect, the German officer in command of the flotilla ordered his men to scuttle their vessels. The ships went down in full view of a party of schoolchildren on a pleasure cruise to view the pride of the German Navy.
The desolate but beautiful coast around Howick in Northumbria is home to what is believed to be Britain's oldest house. Dating from the Mesolithic – or Middle Stone Age – the dwelling was built around 7,600 BC. Archaeologists have learned that the house was much sturdier than the light shelters often used by hunter-gatherers of the time. It was built of strong wooden posts, probably covered with turf, bark or grass thatch. Careful dating of nut fragments found in the dwelling's many hearths suggests it was lived in for around 10 years.
This stretch of coastline is at the frontline of climate change. Historically, the marshes and mudflats that are now popular with bird-watchers and ramblers, were always vulnerable to flooding. So were the communities they supported. In 1953, severe floods devastated the English east coast, killing 307 people and damaging or destroying 24,000 homes. Flood defences are expensive, so some land managers are now experimenting with controlled flooding, to recreate marshes that will offset rising water levels caused by global warming.