Top coastal museums and galleries
Historic Dockyard Chatham
Chatham – Kent – England
Based in the charming ex-military town of Chatham, Kent, this 18th-century dockyard museum is still home to many historic Royal Navy warships. Whilst the ships are no longer in use they remain a powerful symbol of when Britannia ruled the waves and places like Chatham docks played a key role in building and housing warships before they projected Britain’s power across the globe.
Kept at the dockyard is a Cold War submarine, HMS Cavalier, HMS Gannet, HMS Ocelot a Second World War destroyer and even a Victorian Sloop. Make sure you’re prepared for lots of exploring, as there are over 80 acres worth of history to see if you want to catch everything, although you’ll also be travelling back through 400 years of heritage.
A ticket to the dockyard gets you repeated free admission for a year so if you can’t make it the whole way around on your first try, there’ll be plenty more opportunities.
When you visit be sure to check out the interactive gallery called ‘Command of the Oceans’ which has won awards for how wondrous it is. Also, make sure you have a look at the biggest collection of RNLI historic lifeboats in Britain and to have a pop at Victorian ropemaking, which isn’t an activity you get to try out every day.
Sheerness Blue Town Heritage Centre
Sheerness – Kent – England
Located on The Isle of Sheppey on the outskirts of Kent’s eastern coast is located this unique little gem that is unlikely to be similar to anywhere you’ve visited before. Sheerness lies right on the tip of the small island and if you venture to Blue Town you’ll find this venue which holds a museum, music hall and cinema.
It holds a range of displays that present the history of the local area and a keen team of volunteers keep the heritage centre running smoothly.
It’s also a great spot to go if you fancy grabbing a snack after learning about Sheppey. There’s catering available for 40 people if you fancy bringing a party and they also claim to be the home of the traditional ‘cream tea’!
If you fancy a tour of Sheppey that involves you traversing the isle then the Heritage Centre is the place to get that kicked off. They provide 3 tours a month, all on Saturdays, that you’ll need to book to ensure a place.
The Isle of Sheppey has a very interesting history so this is the core spot for those who want to learn more about one of the quirkiest parts of Kent.
Portsmouth Museum and Art Gallery
Portsmouth – Hampshire- England
Local museums don’t come in much grander buildings than this. As is the case with many of these great day spots, the Portsmouth Museum and Art Gallery used to be part of a barracks. It survived as part of the Clarence and Victoria Barracks complex all the way from the 1890s until everything apart from the museum block was brought down in 1967. Luckily for everyone who gets the chance to visit Portsmouth, the remaining structure is a Grade II listed building and has housed a fascinating museum since 1972. Those who appreciate architecture will enjoy the projecting red brick towers on each side.
This is an essential spot for book-lovers. Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the famous Sherlock Holmes adventures, spent many years in Portsmouth, naming Dr Watson after a colleague of his in Pompey. You’d work that out pretty quickly after visiting though. There is a grand display on the author and his creation which includes first editions of books and various film and television memorabilia. Richard Lancelyn Green’s collection based on the author is said to be one of the planet’s widest in range.
There are also sections dedicated to the history of life in Portsmouth that includes reconstructions of different living situations in Portsmouth throughout its history. For those who can forget the recent dark years in the club’s history, there’s also an impressive display for Portsmouth FC’s history, with memorabilia from their 2008 FA Cup Final being their most recent highlight to proudly display.
The Art Gallery holds permanent collections in decorative and fine arts and frequently chooses from these to create displays of sculptures, paintings, furniture and more. Art relating to Portsmouth from as far back as the 17th century can be found here.
Margate – Kent – England
This is a standout name for art and modern architecture enthusiasts in Britain. Being one of the newer names on this list, having only been established in April 2011, doesn’t take away from the significance of the Turner Contemporary. J. M. W. Turner was a landscape painter who frequently visited Margate throughout his life and he is still widely regarded as one of the best English Romantic painters and watercolourists. The construction of the gallery was meant to be an invigorating force for the seaside Kent town and it now sits proudly on the site of a boarding house that Turner is meant to have once stayed.
Clearly, the good word gets around the town’s visitors as only two years after it had opened, the Turner Contemporary had received its millionth visitor. Not bad for a quaint town of only 60 thousand people!
It’s been awarded for being an outstanding tourism project by the British Guild of Travel Writers and has a reputation for always showing off new and interesting artwork. It’s a vibrant venue with tours and activities, and it’s a good place to bump into fellow art-lovers for a chat about the work on show.
The building itself is a controversial one. Undeniably eye-catching, you’ll probably need to be a fan of brutalism to really enjoy the architecture, but you’re sure to find something you like on the walls inside regardless.
It’s also a great spot to grab a bite to eat and soak in the striking views that inspired J. M. W. Turner. The thrashing North Sea is certainly not one to miss!
Tate St Ives
St Ives – Cornwall – England
Tate museums and galleries have a reputation for a reason, and this is arguably the most unique of the four in England. Despite being miles away from the capital, all the way off in beautiful Cornwall, it remains one of the UK attractions with the highest numbers of visitors. And for good reason!
It sits in a lovely location overlooking the sandy, picturesque Porthmeor beach. It’s built on the site of an old gasworks, and everyone in the area is thankful for the upgrade! Although the building’s design takes inspiration from its predecessor, what is now Tate St Ives is a perfect addition to the view of St Ives, and managed to make the shortlist for the 2018 Stirling Prize thanks to the Royal Institute of British Architects. It also won the Museum of the Year Prize from the Art Fund in 2018, so the experts are clearly big fans of this spot at the moment.
There’s always a great exhibition or two on at Tate St Ives, and it’s the perfect spot to let your brain do some exploring before or after you’ve tired out your body on the beach.
Barbara Hepworth Museum
St Ives – Cornwall – England
Just around the corner from the Tate St Ives sits another lovely treat. Dedicated to the studio and garden work of its namesake, the Barbara Hepworth Museum is a must-see for any fans of the sculptor’s stunning work from the 20th century. For 26 years she lived on the premises and the living room and workshop have been mostly left how they were when she passed.
Any fan of modernist art needs to jot this spot down as a must-see. Not only is it a great way to see the environment in which she created some of her great art but experiencing the sculptures in person is unlike any impression you can get off pictures alone. Sphere with Inner Form and Two Forms are two fan favourites that you’ll have to check out. Alongside the Tate St Ives and the local views, the Barbara Hepworth Museum can really make for a spectacular day out in Cornwall.
Llandudno – Conwy – Wales
North Wales has got to be one of the most undervalued parts of the British coast. Whilst it can be a big pain to get to and around the upper parts of the hilly country, there are some great gems to be found there. You may not have necessarily heard of Llandudno but it’s actually the largest seaside resort in Wales!
This public art gallery has quite the history of rich women helping it out, starting off with a £2.2s donation by Lady Augusta Mostyn of The Gwynedd Ladies’ Art Society all the way back in 1894. £2 might not get you a ticket to Mostyn even now but adjusted for inflation that’s about £1500 in today’s money! Mostyn has a proud history of housing work by women who were unfairly turned away from art societies dominated by men, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century.
The building is now Grade II listed having reopened in the late 1970s and was winning architecture awards as recently as 2011, partially thanks to some funding help from the Welsh government. Whilst the outside may look slightly rougher than some of our other picks for the top coastal spots here, it complements well with some of the edgier art that’s hosted inside. The Mostyn was based on artists trying to make some deserved room for themselves and its unique exterior that isn’t trying to be anything from the mainstream shows it off perfectly. One for those who love some counter-culture!
Russel-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum
Bournemouth – Dorset – England
Here on the southern coast, we have another Grade II listed building, but this one’s in a completely different style. This eye-catching museum has a Central European fairytale look to it on the outside and boasts a baroque flair once you step in the front door. It was built by a local man for his wife as a birthday present over a hundred years ago, that’s the definition of fairytale!
The couple left it to Bournemouth town and it has been slowly extended ever since. As you could probably guess Merton Russell-Cotes, who was the gift giver, was a rich man. He had a personal art collection to match his grandeur. To this day choices from that collection are displayed, alongside the extensive memorabilia he collected on his world travels. Japan was a personal favourite of his.
One striking piece to keep an eye out for is The Dawn of Love by William Etty in 1928. That and the HMS Bombay on Fire at Montevideo by George Cochrane Kerr in 1864 are two of the pieces that best match the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum’s striking interior. It’s almost as if the art collection and the building were made for one another.
Grundy Art Gallery
Blackpool – Lancashire – England
Blackpool garners a bit of a rep sometimes from people who don’t know it but for the past couple of decades, it has been home to some of the most organic and unique working-class art to come out of Britain. The Grundy Art Gallery is now 110 years old and contains almost 2,000 objects on display.
Regularly praised for its eclectic collections, it usually features emerging artists’ work both from the UK and abroad as well as displaying pieces with more historical weight from time to time, typically on a temporary basis from larger British art institutions.
They also hold tours for newcomers and oft-praised workshops that are particularly well suited to younger visitors. They even offer tailored versions of these activities sometimes if you get in touch before your arrival. This is a great spot to visit if you want to see what life is like for the British people who don’t necessarily come from the more glamorous cities like London and can be a great way to get a feel for what kind of art people create and enjoy.
Scarborough Art Gallery
Scarborough – Yorkshire – England
This is another lovely gallery that proudly shows off its local artists. It particularly has an affinity for works of art produced by people linked to the Scarborough School of Art. The former head Albert Strange is a particularly prominent artist that the gallery proudly displays.
Things are still kept fresh though, with the gallery looking to the future as well as the past. They receive new works to display from the Printmakers Council on a biennial basis so this is a must-see for those who are a fan of contemporary print work.
The building has been used for many things in the past, initially passing through the hands of wealthy families before becoming a children’s nursery and welfare clinic. It has been a public art gallery since 1947 and has built up an impressive collection ever since that is essential viewing for any art-lovers travelling through North Yorkshire.
Towner Art Gallery
Eastbourne – East Sussex – England
Possibly the most well-known art gallery in Sussex (definitely in the East), the Towner Gallery hasn’t made a name for itself by accident. Despite having a four-year hiatus after its old building was closed in 2005 it still manages to attract over 100,000 visitors a year. One of the main reasons people keep flocking to the gallery is its sizeable art collection, which is one of the most notable in England’s south.
It can also be part of a bigger day of culture in Eastbourne due to the impressive Congress Theatre which sits adjacent. The purpose-built venue is one of the largest in the region and is an architectural sight to behold.
Despite the gallery’s history stretching all the way back to 1923, it has come under pressure in recent years due to funding cutbacks. Although it will hopefully remain standing for a long time yet, if you’re going through Eastbourne it’ll be worth popping in the see the Towner Collection at least. If the council’s funds keep getting cut back, no one knows what could happen to this southern landmark that helps to support the Eastbourne Sunshine Carnival, the national Arts Award programme, and the Annual School’s exhibition.
Del La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill-on-Sea – East Sussex – England
This venue is a British highlight for people into all sorts of art. From visual crafts like painting to music to architecture, the Del La Warr really has something for everyone. For starters, the building itself is in itself a hugely significant work of art.
Some claim it to be the first notable Modernist public building in Britain, although this claim is still hotly disputed to this day. What isn’t disputed, however, is its importance. The grade I listed building is one of the beautiful highlights of the ancient town of Bexhill-On-Sea and was designed by some of the leading architects of its time. It was developed in the 1930s and was an anomaly for being one of the few public buildings of its type.
Once you get inside, the art that can be seen is just as impressive. It accurately describes itself as a “pioneering centre for arts” on its website and as well as consistently showing outstanding exhibitions is a great place to hear live music with orchestras, bands, gospel choirs and solo artists all booking tour stops in the De La Warr Pavilion in the past.
Notable patrons include Eddie Izzard and the Del La Warr’s president Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Aberystwyth – Cerdigion – Wales
This impressive arts centre in West Wales is another that will have a bit (or a lot!) of something for everyone. Within the venue is a cinema, concert hall, theatre and studio with a whopping, 125, 80, 900 and 312 seats respectively. They’ve made so much room for a reason, because people who know it love to visit!
It’s one of the largest centres of its type in Wales. The main problem with it is, like so many other great spots in West Wales, it’s such a pain to get to. Aberystwyth is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain so if you have a car, you’re in luck, that will cut a lot of time off your journey, depending on how far you’re coming from. The trains and busses to such spots in West Wales can take a very long time but luckily they tend to be accompanied by some world-beating views.
One of those views close to all the beautiful beaches and scenery can be found nestled on Aberystwyth University’s Penglais campus. Inside the arts centre, you can catch some great music, a flick, or one of the great exhibitions always on in one of the four galleries.
The venue has been growing in popularity for years, with around 750,00 currently attending annually. You can expect this name to become an even better-established one in the art world in the coming years, if you’re ever in West Wales get down there to see what all the hype is about and so you can be the cool friend that was into the arts centre even before it becomes a household name.
Focal Point Gallery
Southend-On-Sea – Essex – England
The Focal Point Gallery is one of the smaller venues here but it’s certainly not one to miss. In fact, Southend as a whole is a bit of a hidden gem!
In the gallery, you’ll get to see great selections of contemporary visual art, group and thematic shows, talks, film screening and major solo exhibitions. The Focal Point Gallery is part of a larger organisation, Radical ESSEX, that helps to produce its own works and you’ll get to see these great pieces on display here.
There’s also a great selection of other galleries and theatres close by, whilst Southend’s pier is one of a kind, being the longest world’s longest pleasure pier. It allows people to talk 1 mile out from the coast! Among all this excitement in the seaside resort town is a must-see gallery that shows both locally produced and politically and visually challenging art.
Beecroft art gallery
Southend-On-Sea – Essex – England
Another valuable piece in the lovely town of Southend, the Beecroft Art Gallery was recently moved into the old home of the Central Library. The work it holds tends to be more classic than innovative contemporary like the Focal Point, but it still deserves to be visited on those merits. It’s especially a must-see for fashion lovers and enthusiasts. Fittingly for Southend, beachwear is a key component of the show. Its strong point is fashion from between the 1920s to 1970s, but you can catch stuff dating all the way back to the 17th century here.
There’s always a good selection of paintings on show coupled with temporary exhibitions, with the Essex Open Exhibition running between July and September every year being a particular standout.
Brighton and Hove – East Sussex – England
This is a great community centre that really makes the effort to be integrated with its community and puts on events to have the community come and soak in what’s on show. The Fabrica holds talks, workshops, and screenings. Aside from being a great place to soak in some art that represents local communities, it’s also set in a former Regency church. This makes it not only a beautiful setting to see some challenging work but also a totally unique one.
If you’ve got the time on your visit to Brighton then make sure to book one of the great classes they hold at the Fabrica. The experimental drawing workshop is certainly one that needs to be checked out and it’s a great chance to mingle with other aspiring artists from around Brighton.
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
Brighton and Hove – East Sussex – England
This magnificent building has a glorious collection of art on the inside to match its exterior. It was originally built for King George IV – whose breeches are still on display – and completed all the way back in 1805. You could guess from the structure that it was once used for military purposes, but it was meant to be a tennis court before it was a cavalry barracks.
In the 1850s it was converted into one of the most stunning galleries in Britain and ever since has shown off world-class art collections. It has a wide range including a Decorative Art collection, Oral History collection, Fine Art collection, and Archaeology collection among many others. Suffice to say, there really is something for everyone here, both as a gallery and as a museum.
The Naze Tower
The Naze – Essex – England
This gallery is unlike any other on this list, and probably any other in Britain. It looks like it was picked up straight off a chessboard and plonked down in one of the prettiest spots in England. This is because it was originally built as a navigational tower all the way back in 1720, meaning it was used even during the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the two world wars. It’s not all military though, being a teahouse during points of the 18th century and now once again being reserved for more relaxing pastimes.
Located inside the fairytale-looking building is a private art gallery spread over six floors as well as a museum with shows off a fascinating exhibition about the tower, as well as the local area, which is important for both historical and geographical reasons. Once you’ve worked your muscles climbing the stairs and your brain soaking in the art, you’ll get a well-deserved view at the top too, which lets you see for miles in all directions.
Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth – Cornwall – England
Falmouth Art Gallery is one of the most well-respected names in art in southwest England. This is mainly due to its fantastic art collections that include a huge range of styles from old masters to French impressionism to maritime art. This collection has been proudly held onto by the gallery for decades, with the core of its work dating all the way back to 1923. Much of the collections are made up from donations by wealthy art collectors throughout the years and the gallery still receives impressive gifts to do this day.
Arguably it has Britain’s most important collection of works outside of London, holding works by some of history’s most highly-respected artists including Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Andy Warhol.
It also regularly holds season exhibitions made up of specially commissioned works and shows off some of the best work from the Cornwall area.
Aside from showing off work by accomplished artists, the Falmouth Art Gallery is regularly praised by the government for being at the front of artistic education in Britain. This iconic institution is just as passionate about developing the world’s best artists as it is about showing them off.
Newlyn art gallery
Newlyn – Cornwall – England
For such a sparsely populated and poorly-funded part of Britain, Cornwall sure does know how to flaunt great art. Newlyn specifically has a really interesting history in regards to artists coming to create. The Newlyn School was an ‘art colony’ in and around Newlyn, which was only a small fishing village at the time, for a few decades starting in the 1880s. The artists were attracted by the perfect light and the cheap living whilst the style was inspired by the working life of the fishermen, everyday harbour life, and a newfound interest in figure painting. It inspired the modern Newlyn School of Art that was formed in 2011 with supports from the Arts Council.
The Newlyn Art Gallery was designed originally in 1895 with the intent of holding the pieces made by these artists, although it now shares many of them with the Penlee House Gallery and Museum. The focus remains on drawing and painting, although there are times where other art forms are also on show.
It’s also a lovely place to relax, with the affluent glass curtain wall providing breathtaking views of the ocean and Newlyn Green and a quiet garden being available to visitors.
Pier Arts Centre
Stromness – Orkney – Scotland
In many respects, this is the most wondrous part of Britain. This archipelago at Britain’s northernmost point has some of Europe’s oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites and a proud body of folklore.
What better spot to have a quirky little arts centre on the pier?
Radical activist Margaret Gardiner established the centre in 1979 and was awarded an OBE for her efforts in providing it with a fine collection of art. This collection is usually accompanied by a constantly changing programme of events and exhibitions throughout the year. Once treating yourself to a view of the mainly Modernist works, you’re literally metres away from a view of the pier that looks like it’s been pulled straight from a Viking legend.
The UK’s top coastal architectural landmarks
South Foreland Lighthouse
St Margaret’s at Cliffe – Kent – England
This Victorian lighthouse was constructed all the way back in the 1630s, at least in its original edition. Initially, it came as part of a pair, South Foreland Upper Lighthouse and South Foreland Lower Lighthouse, the second of which is still standing.
One thing that marks it down in the history books is the fact that it was the first lighthouse to use an electric light and the site would go on to house more innovation, with wireless radio transmission being advanced as a technique by Italian engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi’s experiments. John Tyndall and Michael Faraday are two other well-renowned scientists who used the lighthouse as a base from time to time.
Until 1904 there was a cottage attached to the lighthouse, but this was demolished when the tower was taken out of commission and sold.
Nowadays the lighthouse is open to the public for use since it’s been owned by the National Trust as of 1989. It’s not really accessible by vehicle but luckily it’s in one of the many beautiful parts of Britain so walking from Dover or St Margaret’s village should be a joy.
Once their visitors can enjoy great views as well as kite flying and games on the lawn. It’s also a great spot to grab some cake or an ice cream whilst you look out at the sea. Mrs Knotts tearoom has been kept in its original style too, so you can relax in the same vibe that would’ve been present whilst the lighthouse was home to groundbreaking experiments.
Wroxall – Isle of Wight – England
This magnificent structure was once considered to be the boldest and grandest house on the Isle of Wight. There are still 11 acres of grounds to explore and the building itself is a must-see for any visitors to the Island, who can explore Appuldurcombe House from 10 am to 4 pm 6 days a week (you’ll have to get an invite to one of the gorgeous weddings hosted here if you want to go on a Saturday).
It now also has a reputation for being one of the Isle of Wight’s most haunted buildings! Talk to locals to hear stories about supernatural presences such as ghosts and phantoms. If you visit during the summer you might even get the chance to grab a spot on one of the ghost walks.
The ghosts could come from all sorts of backgrounds since Appuldurcombe House has been used for a wide range of things in the past including a home, a gallery, a gentleman’s academy, and an abode for Benedictine monks and world war two soldiers (though not at the same time!).
If you’ve got the bravery and the wallet, this beautiful building is available for a cool £4.75 million in case you decide it’s too nice to leave after your visit.
Bamburgh – Northumberland- England
Sitting in the middle of nine gorgeous acres of Northumberland countryside sits a castle that has seen rebellions battles and long lost secrets. This beautiful building has sat 150 feet above the coastline to defend British shores for over 1400 years!
It looks so striking and story-esque because when wealthy industrialist William George Armstrong bought it in 1894, he envisioned transforming it into the archetypal castle. And that’s just what his wallet and a large group of hard-working builders did. Inside the castle remains the treasured objects, ceramics and artwork that he left behind.
This is another venue where rumours abound of haunting and ghost legends. Perhaps its most famous claim to legend is that it is the site of Joyous Garde, Sir Lancelot’s home and castle.
Bamburgh Castle has a history of homing some of Britain’s most well-known kings including Henry VI and James I. When it was initially built, Northumbria was the most powerful and largest of the Seven Kingdoms, and Bamburgh was chosen as the royal capital.
During the War of the Roses, it also became the first castle on the entire planet to fall to gunpowder. This is a must-see for any history enthusiasts exploring Britain’s coasts.
Portchester – Hampshire – England
This grade I listed castle dates all the way back to the 11th century and sits right on the water by lovely Fareham. It’s seen its fair share of battles and the French even briefly wrested control of it in the 13th century whilst it also had its fair share of embarkments for invading campaigns going the other way.
It also featured in Henry VI, the famous play written by none other than William Shakespeare. Between being a military stronghold and the publicly accessible Scheduled Ancient Monument that it is today, it also was used as an intimidating prison.
Nowadays within the walls is plenty of spacious well-kept greenery to relax on whilst soaking in the castle. Impressively there also remains a well kept quaint church on the grounds too. Inside the castle, visitors can check out displays and exhibitions. It’s also said that Pontius Pilate as a final refuge was brought here via a galley.
Of all the Saxon shore forts, Portchester castle is certainly the best kept, and rightfully so! It was a crucial part of the shore’s defence for centuries. It’s the perfect spot to mix a view of the sea with a comfy picnic and some beautifully kept history to soak in.
Blackpool – Lancashire – England
If you were asked to guess the tallest manmade structure in the British Empire in 1894, you’d be forgiven for trying to thinking of buildings in London, Cairo or Calcutta. In fact, it’s this industrial piece completed in that year that rises above Britain’s rough gem, Blackpool. Standing at 158 metres tall, even over 100 years later it’s still the 125th-tallest freestanding tower in the world.
One glance at it and you could probably guess one of its key influences, the Eiffel Tower, which was completed only a few years beforehand. The French icon is about twice the height, although it doesn’t have such great views of the sea!
It was designed by two local Lancashire architects, Charles Tuke and James Maxwell, although both had unfortunately passed away by the time of the Tower’s opening.
It receives praise from modern architects for being able to gently sway in heavy winds (which are plenty common in Blackpool). Whilst many buildings at the time were built too rigidly to be able to sway and as such their longevity suffered, it is now a commonplace design feature.
Over 5million Accrington bricks (a symbol of the local industrialism) were used in Blackpool Tower’s construction and underneath is hidden a time capsule in case future architects should ever be so lucky as to find what currently proudly stands here in North West England.
South Foreland Lighthouse
St Margaret’s at Cliffe – Kent – England
This stunning white tower looks like it could’ve come out of the middle east due to a bold design that is far from the norm for what you’d expect from a lighthouse in the UK.
Even though its white exterior still looks crisp and pristine, the original pair which this tower was part of was built as part of was constructed as far back as the 1630s. The remaining tower is the South Foreland Lower Lighthouse but it used to stand proudly next to the South Foreland Upper Lighthouse too.
There used to be a cottage attached until 1904 when the tower was decommissioned and sold, after which the cottage was destroyed. Yet there still remains the history of innovation and science left behind by the great names who used the lighthouse to conduct experiments.
Most famously, Italian engineer and inventor Guglielmo Marconi brought huge developments to wireless radio transmission during his time working at the lighthouse but other prestigious names such as John Tyndall and Michael Faraday also used it for experiments and research.
Thankfully, the lighthouse is now owned by the National Trust, so you don’t need to be a world-class inventor to visit. It’s a must-see for anyone travelling through Kent that wishes to see some structural beauty to match the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
Burgh Island Hotel
Burgh Island – Devon – England
Burgh Island is a one of a kind location that you might find yourself walking to one hour and then cut off by water to return back to the land the next. Its strange geography means that the path which connects it to the local village Bigbury-on-Sea is only approachable at low tide. It then becomes an island as the sea rises. Knowing that not every visitor is always going to get their timings right, there’s luckily a ‘sea tractor’ service run that means visitors have a way of getting back to Britain during high tide without getting wet. Riding on this unique vehicle that dates back to the 1930s is a novelty experience of its own.
On this bizarre spot sits the Burgh Island Hotel. What once started off as a prefab wooden house built by musician George H. Chirgwin for guests in the 1930s has slowly developed into a Grade II listed art deco hotel that is a sight to behold.
During its varied existence, it’s hosted many notable people including Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Agatha Christie who claimed the setting inspired books And Then Were None and Evil Under the Sun. The TV adaptation of the latter was also filmed there.
The Hotel’s design flaunts the clean lines and bright colours that make Art Deco stand out and this is arguably one of Europe’s most standout examples of the style.
Blackpool’s North Pier
Blackpool – Lancashire – England
All three of Blackpool’s piers are worth checking out in their own right. The North Pier, however, is the longest, oldest, and arguably most impressive of the three. Despite its long history in which it has had to survive fires, boat collisions and storms, it is still a popular local attraction that is now designated as a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.
When it was built all the way back in the 1860s, it was only intended for use as a promenade. The vibrant coastal life of Blackpool meant there was always fierce competition for visitors’ time and attention and so the North Pier was forced to up its game to stay relevant. It even started to market itself as the higher-brow choice of the three piers and went as far as to have orchestra concerts, which are rare to find on any pier around the world.
Anyone who loves a great day of fun on the British coast needs to visit Blackpool, and the Northern Pier is the most essential part. How many piers can offer bars, a two-tier carousel palm reading, an arcade, there town’s largest beer garden and most impressively a theatre, all in one!
St Michael’s Mount
Mount’s Bay – Cornwall – England
Here is another one of those rare tidal islands which has arguably even more striking architecture sitting upon it than Burgh.
Starting as a Benedictine abbey before even the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, there is now a gorgeous well-kept castle that sits atop this island which itself is full of spiritual and local history.
At night time the lights are often turned on and if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse past sunset you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in a fairytale. Despite the old age of the building and the challenging location, there really has been a fantastic effort to keep the structure looking spectacular and pristine.
If you’re lucky enough to get booked in at one of the few surrounding cottages then this small island can be a perfect way to spend a couple of days taking in one of the most amazing architectural preserves in Britain.
Whitby – Yorkshire – England.
This centuries-old structure was originally a Christian monastery all the way back in the 7th century before becoming the Benedictine abbey that it remained as before falling into disrepair when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1545 and confiscated most possessions.
As well as since becoming a Grade I listed building under the English Heritage’s care to which swathes of people are drawn in awe every year, it also became an important landmark for sailors approaching the headland, even as the once-proud abbey quickly became ruins.
A lot of the original structures external shape has weathered nature and the disrepair well. Its outside appearance becomes even more impressive once you learn that the German battlecruisers Von der Tann and Derfflinger shelled Whitby Abbey during WWI in 1914. (They were aiming for the coastguard station, the ruins of an old unused abbey probably didn’t actually bother them too much).
Overall this is a fantastic spot for anyone who appreciates gothic architecture and good views of the sea. There aren’t many places that can offer both to such a great level. At night time the installed illumination system really comes into its own and you can look at the centuries-old building with a striking, modern green and red glow.
Whitby Abbey was said to be a core source of inspiration for the author of ‘Dracula’, Bram Stroker. The revamped museum means that there’s plenty more fun learning to be soaked in upon arrival.
Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru)
Cardiff Bay – Cardiff – Wales
This spot is a lot more modern than many on the list. The first phase of the building was opened in late 2004 and the second phase was opened as recently as 2009. It has been used since this to host a whole range of different art forms such as contemporary dance from National Dance Company Wales, opera, ballet, musicals and theatre.
It has everything needed for a fun afternoon such as restaurants, bars, and shops in the smaller halls as well as the eight residentials art organisations that you can get tickets to see.
There’s a tonne of space for the live performances too, with the Donald Gordan theatre holding 2,479 seats, and the BBC Hoddinott Hall and Weston Studio Theatre holding 350 and 250 seats respectively.
The Wales Millenium Centre was designed by a local architect, Jonathon Adams who also designed the Sherman Theatre, Falmouth University’s Penryn Campus, and the striking WJEC building. As opposed to the preceding rejected concept, the Cardiff Bay Opera House project, which was criticised for showing little intention to reflect local culture, Adams said he envisioned an instantly recognisable building that exemplified ‘“Welshness”. The materials used to construct the Centre are a testament to Wales’ proud industrial history, with metal, glass, wood and slate all playing a key part in the structure. All materials used came from Wales, which is a rare feat for a project of such scale in such an internationalised world. It won the Engineering Excellence Award from the Association for Consultancy and engineering.
The inscriptions at the dome’s front are two lines by Gwyneth Lewis, a Welsh poet. Creatively, the inscriptions are also the windows for the upstairs bars.
The Wales Millenium Centre is an essential spot to visit for anyone who wants to soak in what South Wales wants to show off about itself and also bask in an impressive modern structural achievement.
Brighton Royal Pavillion
Brighton – Sussex – England
This building looks like it was built for royalty – which it was – but if you had to guess which royalty you’d probably think of the Raj. However, even with its Chinese and Indian influences that make it reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, the Royal Pavillion was actually built for King George IV, who was the Prince of Wales at the time. He was unwell at the time and was advised by his doctor that the fresh coastal air and seawater would be good for his health, a philosophy many beach visitors would still swear by today.
The Indo-Islamic exterior makes the grand pavilion really stand out in the lovely town of Brighton and was also against the mainstream for the time it was built, between 1787 and 1823, when neoclassicist and regent styles of architecture were far more popular in Britain. Photography and video is prohibited inside the building but the Chinese and Indian influences are worth being checked out in person.
The building has a rich history, being used by various royal figures including the legendary Queen Victoria, as well as providing vital medical services as a military hospital during WWI at which great care was also given to retraining and rehabilitating amputees who couldn’t return to service.
More recently, it also became of the first venues to host a same-sex marriage in the UK on 29th March 2014.
The Grade I listed building and the Grade II listed gardens are an essential part of the visit for anyone who’s lucky enough to have some free time in Britain’s most famous seaside town, Brighton.
Canterbury – Kent – England
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most important religious sites in all of Britain. Justin Welby, who is the current Archbishop of Cathedral, calls this magnificent structure home.
One could be forgiven for thinking that due to how well maintained the cathedral is and how actively it’s still used that it was constructed recently. In fact, work on it was started as far back as 597, although it took them almost 500 years to finish! Various setbacks like fires have since necessitated rebuilding certain parts of the Cathedral, which is why some sections now have a gothic style.
The work required to keep the now-ancient cathedral is likely to be ongoing as long as it stands, much as is the case with other similar sites like Winchester Cathedral. The roof, in particular, requires great amounts of attention whilst the beautiful stained glass is also fighting against time.
Despite all that it’s been and is going through, however, Canterbury Cathedral is still a sight and experience like no other. Whilst it’s not directly on the seafront like most of the other picks here, it’s only a very short drive to the sea.
The fact that 800 volunteers help to maintain the cathedral show just how much it can move the people who see it. There’s also fantastic things to hear too, with a choral tradition stretching back 1400 years and a history of well-renowned organists playing the grand instrument.
Dover – Kent – England
This breathtaking castle is over a millennia-old and in many ways is the most impressive of its kind in the whole of Britain. Due to its geography, being on the tip of Dover and therefore being the gateway between Britain and Europe, it has consistently played vital roles throughout British (especially military) history. It has earned itself the title as the “Key to Endlag” due to its strategically important position and all that it’s been through.
There is even some evidence that a preceding castle stood on the same site as far back as AD 43, showing that people have recognised the site’s importance since before even the Romans crossed the channel.
Its current structure owes a lot to the time of Henry II. The great keep, as well as the inner and outer baileys, come from the time of his reign. It has been recorded that over half of his annual revenue was spent on the castle’s maintenance and upgrades between 1179 and 1188.
It is now considered a Grade I listed building and the Norman castle is a massive architectural feat, especially to those with interest in pre-modern structures.
On the castle’s grounds, there are two sacred places, the Royal Chapel and St Mary in Castro. There’s also a guest hall, a Roman lighthouse, a Regimental Museum, and even tunnels that have had various intentions at times including defence against French invaders, anti-smuggling operations and air-raid and nuclear shelter.
Significant expenditure has been laid out in modern times on recreating the castle’s exterior so when visiting you can have an accurate experience of what living in some parts of the castle was like.
Visitors are recommended to climb to the roof for jaw-dropping views of the English Channel. It’s also a great place to go with kids on the weekends, as costumed characters help tell and perform the medieval story of the castle. Many people call it the largest castle in England (Windsor Castle being the alternative possibility) and so there’s plenty to explore, learn, and stretch your legs at one of the world’s most impressive historical structures.
Tintagel Castle and Camelot Castle Hotel
Tintagel Island – Cornwall – England
These two are grouped so close together that they’re better explained as one but both are great architectural landmarks in their own right. Tintagel Castle is one of the top five English Heritage attractions, with up to 3000 visitors a day in summer, and for good reason!
The spot has long been associated with the legends of King Arthur but whilst excavations have found pieces dating back to the dark ages, archaeologists are still having a tough time providing a concrete link. Whilst the castle is now in ruins, the original’s scale is still clear from what remains standing. As well as being able to check out the Victorian courtyard walls, visitors can have a great view over the Cornish coastline and steep edges.
From the castle, it’s also easy to see the Camelot Castle Hotel which in modern times is the prominent building in the surrounding skyline. It dates back to 1899 and was designed by architect Silvanus Trevail initially with the intention of being a terminus hotel for a planned branch railway line that never came into fruition. The unmissable hotel has a grand five-story tall entrance tower, and four-storey corner towers whilst on the inside is a Great Hall surrounded by Romanesque arcades with Italian marble piers, and even a replica of Arthur’s round table to set the scene!
Isle of Portland – Dorset – England
This blocky architectural achievement is one of the best-preserved buildings of its type in the world. Although it was built all the way back in 1539, it’s been kept in fantastic knick and it wouldn’t be hard to convince a newcomer it was constructed in the 1900s.
Henry VIII initially had this fort built after he became certain that the Holy Roman Empire and France would invade Britain at the Pope’s request, who Henry had recently angered by breaking off with the Catholic Church.
The moat and drawbridge from that time don’t remain, except for the door’s slots, but the imposing wall surrounding the courtyard still stands alongside the gun platforms protecting the keep in the castle’s heart.
This castle stands out from most others because of how clearly it was focused on military defence when designed. Others that lay a claim to such focus tend to date from centuries earlier.
However, the modern experience isn’t just large imposing walls to scare away Europeans. The Governor’s Garden is one of the highlights now in fact, which was designed by horticulturalist Christoper Bradley-Hole in 2002. Although it takes inspiration from the castle’s circular designs, its use of maritime themes and local stones makes for an experience that is anything but military.
Walmer Castle and Gardens
Walmer – Kent – England
Walmer Castle holds many similarities to Portland Fort in its appearance, and that’s because they have such similar origins. Like in Portland, Henry VIII saw Walmer as an important point of defence from potential European invasions and constructed another brutish-looking point of defence.
It has again been fantastically well-kept but has been subject to more changes since the time of Henry VIII with various adjustments made for royal visits over the centuries.
The gardens are once again one to look out for, with the 32 acres of surrounding land being split between relaxing parkland and fancy ornamental gardens. Within you can find the Queen Mother’s Garden and pristine glasshouses as well as a tennis court from the 1920s. You’ll be able to see Islamic as well as classical influences when taking a stroll in the greenery surrounding the castle.
Great Theatres & Musicals on the UK coast
The Minack Theatre
Porthcurno – Cornwall – England
This stunning theatre has a location like no other. You’ll want to check the weather forecast before visiting the Minack Theatre since not only is it in the beautiful outdoors, it’s also right on the ocean’s edge! It’s only 4 miles away from the famous Land’s End but you’ll feel just as on the edge here with productions taking place just metres away from the Celtic Sea
It has its origins in the 1920s when a group of local village actors performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare in a closeby meadow. Shortly after, Rowena Cade offered the garden of her newly built house for their next performance where they fittingly performed The Tempest in front of the rollicking sea.
It is now used between Easter and September every year during which time around 20 plays are put on by both companies from all around the UK as well as sometimes visiting companies from other countries such as the United States.
Productions currently in rotation for the Minack Theatre include The Kiss that Missed and a variety of the Horrible Histories productions. It’s also possible to book tours and classes for those who want to learn more about theatre or are even looking to get involved themselves.
Royal Hippodrome Theatre
Eastbourne – East Sussex – England
Eastbourne’s oldest theatre is The Royal Hippodrome Theatre, which dates all the way back to 1993. Charles J. Phillips, who in his time made a reputable name for himself with his theatre designs, was the brain behind the Hippodrome’s design, which was named the ‘Theatre Royal and Opera House’ on its initial opening.
Despite many of the surrounding buildings being turned to rubble during the second world war, the Royal Hippodrome Theatre somehow managed to survive mostly intact.
Visitors now can see shows such as La Voix, as well as catching family events like sing-alongs.
Cromer Pier & Pavilion Theatre
Cromer – Norfolk – England
Cromer Pier is a grade II listed building that stretches a whopping 151 metres into the sea. There are only five seaside piers in the UK with a fully functioning theatre and one of them can be found here. Cromer is a beautiful place to visit not just for the charming quality of the quaint town but also for the beautiful greenery that surrounds it.
Town locals proudly speak of the Cromer Pier Show, which is the only full season end of pier show in the world. Up to 500 can be fit into the seats to catch a show that describes itself as “a magical experience with a fusion of traditional and contemporary variety”. Included are contemporary ballet, unforgettable vocal performances and some side-splitting comedy.
Norfolk is one of the more sparsely populated parts of England but word still easily gets around that the Cromer Pier Theatre’s show is not one to be missed.
Theatre Royal Margate
Margate – Kent – England
This grade II listed building opened as a theatre all the way back in 1787, although it had a break from its theatrical duties between 1963 and 1988. Its auditorium has been compared to the London Old Vic auditorium which was also designed by Jethro Thomas Robinson, although the Margate design is certainly a smaller version.
The Theatre Royal Margate was actually the home of the first drama school in England, named the School of Acting which was opened in 1885 by Sarah Thorne.
Visitors to Margate have no excuse not to check it out as it’s only around the corner from the train station and also sits close to the Eclectic Art Gallery and the stunning Shell Grotto. There are so many great things situated so close to each other that you can spend a great afternoon soaking loads of things in and only need to walk a few hundred steps!
The theatre is also a great place to grab some food or a tipple before or after your show and can be the perfect venue for breaking up your afternoon before getting comfy for some great theatre in a historical spot.
Lyme Regis -Dorset – England
Lyme Regis has been called “The Pearl of Dorset”, and for good reason. It has beautiful views, cliffs and beaches to explore, and a tendency to pop up with great fossils.
One of its many gems to show off is the Marine Theatre, which stands proudly above the British channel and gives stunning views of Lyme Bay. Although technically it calls itself a theatre, you can find all sorts of different performances here to be seen and heard. Depending on when you go you may be able to catch comedians performing, films being displayed, community-participant events, music from bands and artists, screenings, and of course some fantastic plays.
The theatre has been through many names since its inception 125 years ago including Drill Hall (whilst it partially shared its space with the army), The Drill Hall Theatre and now the Marine Theatre. Before that, the part of the building that now makes up the dressing rooms were used as baths filled via seawater since all the way back in 1806.
Nowadays, as well as being able to catch great shows such as The Marine Player’s Died in the Wool and The Little Match Girl, the venue hosts some of the most spectacular coastal weddings that can be found in Britain.
Teignmouth – Exeter – England
If you catch a train down to Exmouth you can sit through one of the most beautiful journeys that Britain has to offer. If you pop off at Teignmouth train station you’ll suddenly be spoilt for choice since as well as Teeignmouth’s stunning beach and the Grand Pier, you’ll have Pavilions Teignmouth just right around the corner.
At the venue, you can catch all sorts of art including film, comedy, dance, music, exhibitions, classes and, of course, theatre.
The Pavilions makes a real effort to showcase work put on by local performers and is very much engaged with its local community to ensure that the surrounding area’s art scene is always flourishing as well as it can be.
It’s where you’ll want to spend a significant chunk of your day when visiting Teignmouth, kicking it back at the bar and cafe before being able to catch one form of art or another, depending on what you’re into or in the mood for.
Some great performances you can catch at the Pavilions Teignmouth include the Teignmouth Players’ rendition of Peter Pan, Cult Figure, and I, Elizabeth.
The Flavel Art Centre
Dartmouth – Devon – England
Jump off the train at Kingswear station in Dartmouth and you’ll be able to see national trust greenery, the ocean, Dartmouth Castle and The Flavel Art Centre. If you’re exploring Great Britain’s south coast, there’s no excuse to miss this highlight.
The art centre hosts an impressive library, a cinema that not only shows new flicks but also important classics that’ll give you an opportunity to say ‘I saw that on the big screen’, lots of different clubs and classes, art gallery exhibitions, live screenings from the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, and if you plan well enough, some great theatrical performances too.
The Flavel Art Centre makes a welcome effort to boost the area’s cultural output and as part of that, it participates in the Dartmouth Music Festival every May, the Food Festival each October, and the lovely Candlelit Dartmouth weekend around every Christmas.
The institute’s self-proclaimed aim is ‘the advancement of the eduction of the public in the arts’, with a particular focus on the performing arts’.
Visiting theatre enthusiasts can see live productions such as Sing For Your Supper, which draws on the ‘colourful experience’ of Ian Bloomfield, one of the UK’s first singing waiters, who wrote and directed the show.
The Landmark Theatre
Ilfracombe – Devon – England
The architectural design of North Devon’s Landmark Theatre is certainly one of a kind and has earned itself the local nickname ‘Madonna’s Bra’ due to its unique double conical structure. A building named The Pavillion Theatre used to stand on the same land and did far less to challenge the status quo of the skyline but when it burnt down in the 1980s, the chance to replace it with something completely new and inventive wasn’t spurned, although the activities in the building have continued to be along the lines of striking art.
Although the building won numerous awards for its design, it tends to evoke a polarised response from viewers, who either see it as a striking building unlike many others or an odd-shaped eyesore.
The venue works to promote a variety of performances from dance, song, literature, drama and music. A small museum sits close by for those interested in the area and the venue’s history whilst for those who are really into their literature, there is a authors and writers group situated close by.
The live performances are arguably exemplified by the musicals that are put together, which can be very large scale when complete. If you’re heading down to Ilfracombe, make sure you get a chance to check one out.
Newport – Newport County – Wales
Newport’s proud standalone arts centre and professional presenting theatre is The Riverfront, which hosts a visual arts gallery, a recording studio, workshop rooms, a dance studio and two theatre spaces alongside a cosy cafe.
The riverfront hosts a dedicated team that aspires to supply creative opportunities for Newport residents of all ages and backgrounds. This takes shape through all types of mediums including dance, crafts, music and drama.
Visitors can catch performances like The Tigerface Show and Fagin, whilst the movie selection is often bold enough to stray away from the Triple-A blockbusters into more independent and thought-provoking areas.
Southwold Arts Centre
Southwold – Suffolk – England
Formerly St Edmund’s Hall, Southwold Arts Centre has now hosted the Suffolk Summer Theatres varied programmes and performances for several years between the months of July to September.
Southwold is a very well-kept and pristine location, which is why so much of the area is now used for second homes and holiday making. Once people visit, they tend to want their own place there!
If you’re visiting this posh part of Suffolk, you won’t want to miss Southwold’s art centre. Over the coming months, you can catch productions such as Ted X, Terrifically Terrifying Tales, and The Man with a Golden Pen, originally by the great Ian Fleming.
Hunstanton – Norfolk – England
This 19th-century resort town has remained a favourite of holidaymakers and day-trippers for decades even as interest in seaside holidaying in Britain, in general, has slightly declined in recent years.
Some of the reasons Hunstanton has retained its appeal include the Victorian squares, the fairground, aquarium, seal sanctuary, and the unmissable theatre.
The Sunset Wine Bar is a relaxing spot to grab a drink at the venue before the show starts and you’ll get a whole range of different types of live shows to choose from. Great ballet such as The Snow Queen is often playing, vocal workshops are offered in all different famous styles such as Elton John, Buddy Holly, and Celine Dion, and the pantomime is always entertaining, with Aladdin being the current show of choice.
Bridlington – Yorkshire – England
Bridlington Spa shows off a whole wide range of different art forms with particular highlights often being in dance and theatre.
The venue can hold more than a whopping 1,700 people sitting and up to 3,800 when standing. The building includes The Royal Hall, a spectacular Art Deco Ballroom, and an elaborate Edwardian theatre with two tiers and a proscenium arch.
When the original venue opened as far back as 1896, it was a huge success with the local community, who often attended for the ballroom dancing especially. Only ten years after its opening, a fire burned it down. The original glass dome, which was a particular draw for attendees did survive at the time though and only nine months later the venue was back in action.
When a fire ravaged the building again in the 1930s, it only took 52 days to have the Bridlington Spa up and running again! You can tell how much people love this spot by the dedication given to getting it open every time something goes wrong. Damaging fires can take years to be recovered from in most cases if a recovery ever happens at all.
Big names of all types come to the Bridlington Spa in modern types, perhaps most notably Oasis in 2009, whose tickets sold out within two minutes of them going on sale.
YMCA Theatre and Open Air Theatre Scarborough
Scarborough – Yorkshire – England
Scarborough is the Yorkshire coast’s largest holiday resort and consistently attracts tourists from all around Britain with its limestone cliffs, spacious beaches, and impressive architecture. It is supposed to date all the way back to 966 AD when it was founded by a Viking raider named Thorglis Skarthi.
At one venue, the YMCA theatre, people can come and see family-friendly productions. The organisation has been getting involved with the local community in Scarborough for over 174 years and still, fun productions are put on.
The Open Air Theatre was originally built in 1932 but only took on its modern grand form in May 2010. It now holds up to an impressive 8000 people. As well as great drama such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race, this spot is full of great choices for fans of music with The Wombats, Lionel Richie, Lewis Capaldi and Westlife all due to headline the venue.
Britain’s Coastal Writers and Artists
Newquay – Cornwall – England
Sir William Gerald Golding, CBE FRSL is most commonly known for his first novel The Lord of the Flies but also wrote other at least books in his time as well as being a poet and playwright. His literary work earned him a knighthood in 1988.
He was born and died in Cornwall, coming from a small town named Newquay which is now primarily known for its summer holiday magnetism and its great surfing scene.
His mother was a prominent campaigner for women’s suffrage, which was still a hotly debated topic when William Golding was born in 1911 on September 19th. The author would later claim that his childhood was filled with Cornish ghost stories that his mother had also retained from her childhood.
Golding’s connection to the sea was deepened and altered by his joining of the Navy during the Second World War on 18th December 1940 and he would go onto command a landing craft four years later on D-Day.
He openly discussed his tumultuous relationship with alcohol throughout his adult life, which he described as a “crisis” matter at points. Whilst he began his career as a prolific writer, producing six novels in thirteen years, when he released The Darkness Visible in 1979 in his 60s it had been a whole 12 years since his previous work The Scorpion God had been published. In his later years, he turned to the works of psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung, who’d he’d go on to develop a self-described ‘discipleship’ of. This change in mindset also coincided with a new habit, the keeping of a journal, which he would go on to fill prolifically until his death over twenty years later. His journal had thousands of pages and millions of words filling it by the end and went on to be the invaluable source for the biography written by Oxford University emeritus professor of English literature John Carey titled William Golding: The Man Who Wrote the Lord of the Flies. The interest in Carl Jung and devotion to journaling did much to help Golding alleviate his alcohol problems and he returned to prolific writing, producing six impressive novels in his last 22 years.
His magnum opus The Lord of the Flies is still widely taught in British schools today and is developing a more mixed legacy than the overwhelming praise which it received during much of the 20th century. It tells a truly coastal story of a group of young boys who are being evacuated during wartime when their aeroplane crashes upon a tiny isolated island with no adults surviving. The group start with some decent intentions but spiral into barbarism and away from their humanity as the story develops. It is often seen as a comment on human nature and people’s supposed natural tendency to selfishness and the pursuit of power, with British establishment institutions showing a strong tendency to pass this message on. BBC News listed the book in its 100 most influential novels list on 5th November 2019.
Interestingly, we do have a real-life comparison of a similar tale, which evolved very differently! In 1966 a group of six Tongan castaways in their teens were found on an islet by Australian sea captain Peter Warner after being lost there for more than a year. They had co-operatively set up rotas and cared for each other during sickness. Once rescued, the group even stuck together as a friendly crew upon a travelling fishing boat in the following years. Things certainly developed very differently to Golding’s imagination!
It undoubtedly remains interesting to see the settings that developed the ideas and message of Lord of the Flies though, which have continued to strongly influence British culture very strongly since its publication. The white gate to the house (arguably a mansion) named Tullimaar can be seen from the road between Falmouth and Truro and is built right next to the beautiful Carrick Roads estuary that opens up onto the English channel.
Boscastle – Cornwall – England
Thoms Hardy OM was a poet and novelist best known for his Victorian realist style and his romanticist influences, especially that of William Wordsworth. Whilst possessing these literary skills he also found work as an architect, which is what first brought him to Boscastle in Cornwall.
He was tasked with reinvigorating St Juliot church where he met his future wife. Emma Lavinia Gifford. She is said to have introduced him to much of Cornwall and was particularly fond of taking him on long walks along the coastline.
Some spots they’re known to have frequented include Strangles Beach, Trebarwith, Bude, Tintagel and Beeny Cliffs.
The couple’s troubles are said to have begun after their honeymoon when they returned from France and moved away from the gorgeous Cornish coast to London. The two slowly drifted apart and were estranged when Emma died. Her passing inspired him to return to the Cornish land and he had a plaque commemorating her erected at St Juliot church where they first met.
The first book he published under his own name A Pair of Blue Eyes is based on Hardy’s experiences courting Emma and is said to be the source of the now-common term ‘cliffhanger’. It was initially published in a serialised version and one section ends with one of the protagonists Henry Knight literally hanging from a cliff.
Hardy’s works often took critical aims at aspects of life in Victorian England including the institutions of marriage, education and religion and also regularly lamented the status decline of people living in Britain’s rural areas, which he had grown fond of especially during times on the Cornish coast with his wife.
Daphne du Maurier
Fowey- Cornwall – England
Although she was born in London, Daphne du Maurier spent almost her entire life on the Cornish coast, which was the usual setting for many of the stories she wrote whilst on the seafront.
Her family’s varying occupations in the arts meant she always seemed likely to end up leading such a life with both of her parents acting, her grandfather being an author and cartoonish and her older sister Angela de Maurier also being a writer whilst her younger sister was a painter. Talk about a talented family!
One of her early novels Rebecca was a huge hit upon its release in 1938, selling 3 million copies from 1938 to 1965 and to this day it has still never gone out of print.
Although during her life she was often caricatured as a “romantic novelist” she was not a fan of the term, often giving her stories unsettling ends and unashamedly producing works of horror at times.
Many of her novels were adapted into movies, including numerous Alfred Hitchcock adaptations. The legendary director was at the wheel for film adaptations of Rebecca, The Birds, and Jamaica Inn.
The real Jamaica Inn at which the book and film are set, still proudly stands in Cornwall to this day.
She lived in many enviable coastal Cornish spots including one house that looked over St Austell Bay, which inspired her novel House on the Strand. The Du Maurier Society that is dedicated to the author hosts the Fowey Festival in May of every year. Fowey is where Rebecca is set and the town precedes even Norman times. A popular legend persists that Jesus of Nazareth even visited the town when he was just a child and a cross currently marks the river mouth to commemorate this.
Other artists and writers who have also taken inspiration from Fowey include Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Kenneth Grahame, Fred Yates and Andrew Litten.
Lelant – Cornwall – England
Rosamunde Pilcher was a British author who continued producing great literary works for over half a century. She was born in the quaint Cornish village Lelant in 1924 and was only fifteen when she had her first short story published there.
The quiet area is passed through by the South West Coast Path which follows around the Cornish coast and much further and it also has one of the world’s sweetest railway stations sat right on the beachfront.
Her work really took off decades later, though, in 1987 when more than fifteen novels into her career she published The Shell Seekers, a family saga about the elderly Penelope Keeling and the flashbacks of her life throughout the rapidly and constantly changing 20th century. The novel was hugely successful, selling over ten million copies and being translated into over forty languages. She was one of Britain’s highest-earning women in the mid-1990s thanks to her broad popular success.
Her work was often set in her Cornish home county and the regular TV adaptations of her books meant many keen fans got a glimpse on the silver screen of how beautiful the Cornish coast can be. The German TV adaptations proved a particularly big hit and Pilcher’s success is Germany is often cited as one of the key reasons a whopping quarter of a million German travellers visit Cornwall every year.
An astounding 16 productions of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels star Prideaux Palace, which is a 1500s manor that displays art and antique which sits right by where the River Camel opens up into the eastern Celtic Sea. Of the estimated 25,000 visitors that come to the palace every year, 40% are from Germany. That many people really travel from central Europe to come and see some of the best coastal spots associated with Rosamunde Pilcher!
Perranporth – Cornwall – England
Winston Graham OBE, born Winston Grime was a British author who was born in Manchester in1908 but moved to the Cornish coast to focus on writing before he even turned 18.
The best known of his work is the Poldark series of historical novels that take place in Cornwall. Arguably the most famous books from this series are the opener Ross Poldark, The Black Moon. The Twisted Sword and Bella Poldark. They take place from the year 1783 in Cornwall up to 1820 and were written over a period exceeding 50 years between 1945 and 2002. The Poldark series also inspired two adaptations from the BBC, the first coming out as a 16 part and 13 part series from 1975 to 1977 and a five series edition coming out between 2015 and 2019.
Winston Graham has claimed that many of the characters and events in the series are based on real people and events from Cornish history.
The county remembers him fondly too with the regional capital Truro having hosted an exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum which was dedicated to his works and his life on the centenary of his birth.
Whilst the bungalow from which he wrote much of his most popular work no longer stands, the Winston Graham Memorial Bench now stands close by and offers a similar fantastic view of the ocean and is close to some of the most memorable filming spots for the 2015 Poldark adaptation. From the bench, you can follow along Perranporth beach to reach Holywell Bay, which is another stunning spot that was used as a filming location and also proves to be a popular destination for surfing and bodyboarding.
Newquay is only a few miles along from Perranporth and was a popular beach holiday destination for Winston Graham, his wife Jean and their children and grandchildren in their later years.
Rochester – Kent – England / Portsmouth – Hampshire – England
Arguably the most famous British writer of all time, probably in contention with William Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling, Dickens was a hugely successful critic of Victorian England and played a more important role than anyone else in pioneering the serial publication of narrative fiction. The trend of the illiterate poor paying a halfpenny to have new episodes read to them also helped a brand new class of readers to get involved with the art form.
Dickens lived in numerous areas by the sea after his birth in Portsea Island, Portsmouth on 7th February 1812. He also spent time residing in Sheerness in Kent and afterwards in Chatham, also in Kent. It is here in the South East of England he is supposed to have drawn the most inspiration.
The house where Dickens was born is now the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum and it sits just metres from the Portsmouth Harbour. Despite the often bleak depiction of his character’s worlds in his book, the building was actually a cosy terraced house in which you can still see the room where he was born and the couch that he died on in 1870. The city also has an 8 mile long Dickens trail that takes visitors to all the buildings, statues and resting places linked with the author in Pompey.
The famous book Great Expectations is said to have had its beginning scenes inspired by a churchyard in Cooling close to Rochester, where it is hard to tell at which point the marshes become the sea.
His most autobiographical work The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) is said to have been started when he was renting a place near Ventnor on the Isle of Wight in1849, however. He called the area “the prettiest place I ever saw in my life”.
Fans of the works Bleak House and ‘Dombey and Son will also be pleased to hear that the former Bedford Hotel in Brighton where Dickens wrote the books still remains, although it is now a Holiday Inn. There is a blue plaque at the building’s entrance celebrating this fact.
Just as there is a museum now by the sea in Portsmouth to celebrate Charles Dickens’ birth, one also stands proudly in Broadstairs, Kent. One of his closest friends, Miss Mary Pearson Strong, lived here and he visited her often. Her former home has now been converted into this great attraction by the sea. It has personal items and letters from his time there between 1837 and 1851 and provides guided tours. The former cottage is said to have inspired Betsey Trotwood’s home in David Copperfield. Visiting this museum means you’re not far from Viking Bay, which is a great family beach that has classy buildings right around its edge and offers surf schools in the summer.
It is probably fitting that one of Britain’s best and most prolific writers has ties to so many places around England’s south coast. Fans can go from Brighton to Portsmouth to Kent to catch many of the seaside spots where Charles Dickens left his mark.
Sheerness – Kent – England
Uwe Johnson is unlike many of the authors, writers and artists listed here because he was not born in Britain, but in Poland and principally called himself German whilst also claiming Swedish heritage. He found life on both sides of divided Germany uncomfortable even after the international acclaim that came with the publication of his book Speculations About Jakob.
However, he is fondly remembered in the unlikely town of Sheerness. The author did not call it a pretty place when he was there in the 1970s when he was in his 40s. He lived in a Victorian terraced house on Marine Parade with his wife and daughter, who could see the water from their residence. Whilst he was often harsh with his descriptions of the area, calling it an “ugly, living community”, there’s no doubt he found an attraction in the open ocean views, which may have been a reminder of the landscape in Northern Germany.
Some have theorised that after living on both sides of Germany where figures such as authors were thrust into the limelight for political means, Sheerness offered an opportunity away from the mainstream literary world from which to write without public pressure and influences.
Whilst Sheerness has come a long way from its rather desolate ways in the 1970s, some of the things that drew Johnson to the town in Kent still remain. The ocean, firstly, will of course always remain a beautiful view and experience regardless of how the local area is dealing with industrialisation and the era that comes after its usefulness is claimed to have come to an end. The author was also a big fan of boisterous conversations in the local pubs, which he’d often take time recording in his notebooks. Whilst you’re unlikely to find world-class writers hanging off your every word after a pint in Sheerness today, it still has fine venues by the ocean to grab a drink and chat with locals.
Faversham – Kent – England
A contemporary writer who’s still producing works, Gary Budden’s stories do a good job of capturing the sometimes ghostly nature of the marshy parts of Kent that run along many of its coasts where he grew up. His Hollow Shores short story collection from 2017 is set by the Shipwright’s Arms pub which is a real spot that sits right by where the canal welcomes The Swale and the ocean.
He’s also featured the creepily named Deadman’s Island in his books, which is said to have once housed convicts who carried the bubonic plague. Now, hundreds of years later, erosion means coffins and bodies are slowly rising from the mud (this is real, not from the novel!). At the moment it’s not possible to step onto the island as a member of the public but you can get pretty close to the spot where old bones are reappearing. It might not be everyone’s first thought when they think of coastal days out but it’s certainly a change and can be an interesting part of Kent if you’re open to something a bit new and possibly slightly unsettling.
It’s very possible that once it’s been worked out what to do with the changing geography, the area could get something like a museum to go over the history of Deadman’s Island. Saying you went close by before they had the gift shop set up could be a pretty impressive albeit niche badge of honour!
Folekstone – Kent – England
Bernard Jocelyn Brooke was an author and naturalist from Kent, best remembered for the novels he wrote in The Orchard Trilogy and some poetry.
A range of coastal places including Dover and Folkestone are accurately portrayed in his novels, which he preferred to set in reclusive, rural places. Brooke was a keen botanist and this often aided hugely in his depictions of the rural landscapes he wrote of.
In The Goose Cathedral, Brooke writes about the old Seabrook Lifeboat Station, which now remains as The Boathouse Cafe, which can still be visited.
Phyllis Dorothy James
Southwold – Suffolk – England
‘Suffolk’s queen of crime’ as she was locally known was sure her whole life that she wished to be a writer but only got the opportunity upon her retirement from hospital administration at the ripe age of 60. By the time of her death 34 years later she’d managed to get an induction into the Crime Writing Hall of Fame at 2008’s Crime Thriller Awards.
Her most famous work is The Children of Men, a book that depicts a dystopia where all adult men have become infertile and humanity is faced with imminent extinction. It received huge praise for its social criticism and theological reflection and in 2006 was adapted into a popular and well-received movie. The novel was included on the BBC News list of the 100 most influential novels in 2019.
James spent much of her life standing up for Southwold, where she owned a house. She spent her later years fighting unsightly gentrification attempts in her “truly unique town”. Her former home can still be booked as a holiday home for those visiting the seaside town, with some claiming a full bookshelf still remains. So anyone who wishes to see some of Suffolk’s lovely coast and have a rummage through the bookshelf of one of Britain’s greatest ever authors should seriously keep an eye out for any booking availability here!
Aldeburgh – Suffolk – England
Ruth Rendell CBE was an author from England who’s most commonly known for her fictional character Chief Inspector Wexford. Her novels included many of Suffolk’s prettiest spots including, Nayaland, Polstead, Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Orford and, of course, all of the locals’ favourite beach town, Aldeburgh.
The seaside spot, which serves Britain’s best blood orange flavoured ice cream, was the author’s hometown for a number of years. In her novel, No Light is Too Long from 1994, the main setting ‘The Tall House’ is the home of her next-door neighbours in Aldeburgh. She loved the county dearly and produced a book with photographer Paul Bowden showing off the sparsely populated and rural land named Suffolk.
Fellow author Ian Rankin once described her as “probably the greatest living crime writer”.
Glasgow City – Glasgow – Scotland
Born in Australia in 1962, Judith Bridgland came over to train as an artist at Glasgow University from which she graduated with a Masters degree with Honours in Fine Art in 1984. She still works and lives in the city.
Her paintings have often been described as being in the vein of the Scottish colourist tradition and they often focus on the luscious local landscapes which she often uplifts with bold colour palettes.
She’s won numerous awards for her art over the years including the 1999 MacRoberts Open Price, the House for An Art Lover Award in 2009, and the 2016 Glasgow Art Club Award. Exhibitions of her work have been featured all around Britain and have also proved hugely popular abroad including in Russia, The United States of America, and Sweden.
Scottish seascapes have always been a popular subject among the country’s artists and that is because it has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Judith Bridgland is continuing to push this area of speciality forward and many of her works can be seen at the Red Rag Scottish Art Gallery, which shares the enthusiasm for seascape art that is still benefiting from the innovations of contemporary artists.
Pembroke – Pembrokeshire – Wales
Clive Gould has had a long and varied career that has seen him study graphic design at Cardiff College for art, take on various roles at the BBC including Head of Graphic Design, and more recently dedicate his attention to painting art and sculpting full time.
Many of his early works focused on the Gower Peninsula and the Vale of Glamorgan Heritage Coast
The Gower became the United Kingdom’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956, and the reasons it was given the designation are many of the same reasons it is such a popular area with walkers, outdoor enthusiasts and surfers. There are plenty of caves to be found and strange natural cliff structures to see. Most of the area has remained free from urbanisation and the majority of the population live in villages and communities. Despite being only 70 square miles, there are six castles to be found on the Gower Peninsula.
In recent years, however, the Pembrokeshire coast has become a primary point of interest. In 2011 the area was voted the second-best coastal destination in the world for sustainable tourism by the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. For those who want to catch as much of this gorgeous coastline as they can, there is 186 miles worth of National Trail that primarily runs atop cliffs from which the views are unbeatable. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park surrounds much of Wales’ most westerly part and was established in 1952. It holds the right to call itself the only national part in Britain that is entirely made up of wild and maritime landscapes.
Many of his paintings, often brought together with acrylics, tend towards photorealism although technical skill isn’t their only artistic merit.