Bantham Beach is one of South Devons most spectacular beaches, renowned for its surfing reputation and multitude of beach awards, including ranking top 10 in the Lonely planets top ten beaches in Europe 2015 (being the only UK beach in this list), and a coveted Blue flag award form the Marine conservation society. The beach lies within the Southams area of outstanding natural beauty, and consists of sheltered sand dues, slopping down to a large golden sand bay and lapping waves. The beach is South Devon’s main surfing break, but the beach provides the perfect spot for most water based activities including SUP, kayaking, and on windier days wind and kitesurfing. There are also a range of beautiful costal walks to be undertaken from Bantham which showcase the sensational South West coastline.
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Car park and Facilities
The car park at Bantham is privately opened and has seen a sharp increase in prices over the last few years, the car park itself is an old field, tacks are well worn into it and bays are marked out, there is space for over 1000 cars but bare in mind at high season these quickly fill up. Prices range throughout the season, with high season costing £8.50 a day, dropping to £4.00 after 15:30, and low season costing £4.00 a day, however Weekly and seasonal passes can be purchased for those planning to visit regularly. One major note of the car park is that it closes at roughly 9pm ( check the signs at the entrance or check with the gate keeper as this can vary), if any cars remain in the car park after this time there is a £25.00 release fee.
There are a small range of facilities including toilets, the gastrobus Cafe serving delicious street food which is all locally sourced and produced (there stone baked pizzas are next level) and Bantham surfing academy who offer equipment hire and surfing lessons for beginner to advanced abilities. The beach is life guard protected daily May to September between 10:00 to 18:00 and on weekends form mid April till May, and September till Mid October. This makes it perfect for those with families or looking to try a new sport safely.
The beach itself is a expansive natural bay sheltered by sand bars and rolling sand dunes, set with the iconic Burgh Island in the background. The beach is also dog friendly however restrictions apply between May to September when dogs are only allowed along the estuary section of the beach also called river beach, this area is signposted.
Bantham is South Devons most popular surfing beach, notorious for its consistent swells and diverse conditions due to waves breaking both on the beach and along the river mouth of the Avon. The beach is supported by lifeguards presence throughout the summer months and the Bantham surfing Academy offers hire and tuition all year round.
Bantham is a rivermouth and beach break, with consistent surf produced by the sand bars resulting in long reeling waves. The break tends work best during the winter months at low tides with a Southwesterly swell, producing both ground swells and windswells. Swells can reach over 10ft, however are most consistently 4-6ft in winter months. Waves in the bay and the river both break left and right, with the river waves reeling all the way up the mouth on good days. The mouth fires out some pretty hefty breaks in winter months and is more suited for experienced surfers due to the strong rip currents caused by the river. The beach area provides more mellow ‘ankle snapper’ waves for beginners to learn on.
When surfing here be aware of strong rip-currents pulling you into or out from the river mouth dependent on the tide, these are most concerning when the tide is dropping as you risk getting pulled out to sea. Keep an eye on the life guard flags and warnings and know your ability. Other issues arise from the popularity of this beach making it easily overcrowded in peak seasons, be aware of other surfers and swimmers and keep to your area of the beach.
Bantham is also a popular spot for those wishing to SUP or kayak, most commonly in the summer months when the swells drop and create a clam and still Bay Area.
A popular paddle from Bantham is over to Bigbury-on-sea and around Burgh Island this relatively short paddle allows an alternative perspective of the Infamous island and the Pilchard inn provides a lovely Pitt stop for a pint or icecream.
For those more experienced paddlers there are a range of longer routes including up the River Avon to Averton Gifford, around the coast to Mothercombe beach, or up to Hope cove via Thurstone. These paddles are much longer and do require more fore-planning with tide times so as not to get cut off, as always ensure you have the correct safety equipment and the weather conditions are suitable, not too windy or choppy and ensure you know your ability.
Another popular route is up the mouth of the river Avon up to Averton Gifford, however personally I prefer to start at Averton Gifford and paddle downstream as explained bellow.
A peaceful paddling route is from Averton Gifford paddling downstream with the outgoing tide to Bantham or Bigbury. This extremely scenic route is oftentimes overlooked by its neighbouring estuary at Kingsbridge meaning you may be blessed with some solitude on this paddle. This relaxing route flanked by rolling Devonshire hills and wooded banks can require very little effort if timed correctly. allow the tide to do all the hard work by paddling downstream with the outgoing tide, at narrowing points and the right time you can paddle at four times your normal speed (bliss). If timed to perfection you can spend a few hours playing on the beaches at either Bigbury or Bantham, maybe catching a few waves, before paddling back upstream with the high tide. Or alternatively use a second vehicle for a pick up.
I’ve made timing mistake a few times and it’s a right polava here especially due to the tidal nature meaning you may have a long slog though the mud and maybe in the dark if you really mess up like me...
Banthams award winning beaches are best viewed from the miles of costal paths surrounding the bay. A personal favourite walk is a 6.5km route right around the headland to the neighbouring bay of thurlestone or South Milton sands this walk makes the most of the stunning cliff top views. From the left hand side of the beach start by ascending the steep slope from the life saving club, the costal path track is well worn in and well signposted follow the sings for Thurstone. Keep following the costal path around the headland here you’ll pass next to the 9th hole of the Thurlstone Golf club on your left, watch out for shouts of four mind. (there are many scrambly paths down to secret beaches and coves here ideal for busier summer months when you want to avoid the crowds.) Continue around the parameters of the golf course to Warren point here you will see the first glimps of the magnificent Thurlstone rock arch lying 500 meters off shore at the end of the reef (I still remember the first time I saw it and I couldn’t quite believe it was real, it seem so out of place and secluded in the vastness of sea around it). Keeping the sea on your right you will pass Leas Foot sands a beach privately owned by the golf course, before reaching the car park for South Milton sands. Take in the beautiful views of the bay or grab a bite to eat in the delicious Beach House there mussels are just incredible. For the return journey head back Leas Foot and either return the way you came of make a circular route by turning right up the sandy track and through the Golf course car park, continue on the road towards Thurstone passing tennis courts on your left. Continue into the village to the war memorial, here take a right at the sign stating footpath to Bantham 3/4 mile. This path will stile several fields before dropping steeply into the valley revealing spectacular views of the Avon estuary bellow. Finally you’ll reach the village of Bantham passing The Sloop Inn another great local pub follow the county lane back down to Bantham beach. The circular walk takes about 3 hours, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it on a really winding day, but almost any other conditions it’s just incredible.
For more information about Bantham visit https://www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk/things-to-do/bantham-beach-p271883 or https://www.thebeachguide.co.uk/south-west-england/devon/bantham.htm
Images by Rhi Dumper @wetsuits_and_hikingboots, Neill Richardson @falselights15 and Luke Lane Prokopiou @lukelaneprokopiou
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