As winter approaches, a trip to the beach is likely to be the last thing on your mind. Surprisingly, getting to the seashore could be just what you need to blow away the cobwebs and shake off the stress of the festive season.

For both adults and children, the pressure and excitement that surround the Christmas holidays can build to uncomfortable levels. Adults often feel the pressure to make it a memorable, exciting time. For children, the thought of time with family, parties, presents and Santa is so exciting it can become overwhelming.

For hundreds of years, the beach has been a staple of the British holiday time, but less so during winter. You may see pictures of bathers gathering in Hunstanton for a freezing Christmas Day dash into the sea, but that may be more likely to make you stay at home. 

Luckily there are lots of other things you can do on the beach in December without stripping down to your swimming costume. With a little preparation and several layers of clothes, a trip to the beach may turn out to be the perfect family day out. Here’s why:

1. Coastal environments have been found to improve health, body and mind.

In 2013 a study on happiness involved over 20,000 participants taking part in wellbeing surveys throughout the UK. Through the surveys, their happiness was measured and compared to time and location. This built up a picture of when and where people felt best. Incredibly, coastal and marine areas returned higher levels of happiness and wellbeing, both for visitors and coastal residents. 

A closer look revealed that being at the seaside shares the same benefits as being in the countryside but to a greater extent. It was also thought that people who visit the coast regularly consequently experience better health throughout the week. Dr Lewis Elliott, an Environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, reported “We find people who visit the coast, for example, at least twice weekly tend to experience better general and mental health.” 

2. Deserted winter beaches offer more opportunities than in summer.

The UK has hundreds of great beaches that are well worth a winter visit. You may still find yourself amongst a crowd of fellow beachgoers, but you will likely get a stretch of sand all to yourself. Being on a deserted beach is an incredible experience and one that encourages exploration and imagination. 

While you don’t get to put a towel down and lather on the sunscreen, Winter beaches are no less enjoyable. When you’re tripping over beach balls and sunshades you never really get to explore your surroundings, but in December you can go wild. There are dunes, rockpools and tide lines to discover as well as a host of birds and animals:

Birds and animals: Beaches are packed full of wildlife, but the summer crowds can make it harder to see. A quiet winter beach is an excellent opportunity to get to know the wildlife found on our coasts. There are lots of bird species who stopover on their way south for migration. Seaweed, crabs and shellfish can easily be observed as well as some incredible species of plant that can be found close to the tideline.

Objects washed ashore: Winter storms can wash interesting items ashore. They may appear all over the beach, but mysterious objects can often be found close to the tideline. Beachcombing should be done carefully and with adult supervision but can reveal many exciting treasures. Why not use your tideline treasures to make a giant beach picture or sculpture?

Things to look for on a winter beach:

Birds and animals

  • Grey seals – Particularly around the north Norfolk coast.
  • Starling murmurations – Large flocks of starlings creating beautiful patterns in the sky.
  • Pink-footed geese flying overhead.
  • Snow Buntings may be visiting from the continent.
  • Seagulls – try identifying the different types: yellow-legged, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, greater black-backed gull and black-headed gull.
  • Crabs – there are 62 species of crab native to the UK, and many can still be found during winter.

    Plants and objects

  • Seaweed – there are 650 species found in UK waters. Join in the big seaweed search here.   
  • Snow on the beach – A rare but beautiful experience.
  • Seafoam – Great for kicking around the beach. It is made from agitated seawater containing dissolved organic matter.
  • Seashells – Why not have a go at identifying what you find?
  • Driftwood and other exciting objects washed ashore – Great for making beach sculptures or pictures. If you find more rubbish than treasure, you may like to join one of the many well-organised litter-picks run along the UK coast.
  • Fossils- There are several excellent guidebooks available on what fossils you can look for on the coast. An entire woolly mammoth skeleton was found in 1990 on West Runton beach so you never know what you may find.

3. Being on the beach encourages physical activity.

Standing on a cold beach in the middle of December requires one of two things; either lots of warm clothing layers, or vigorous activity. Even if you choose to wrap up, you may need to keep active to stay warm. The need to keep moving encourages you to get going and enjoy some of the physical activities that are impossible if you’re stuck indoors. 

A winter beach is a perfect place to ‘let off steam’; running, shouting, playing ball games, flying kites and exploring are all encouraged. With a little bit of research, you can visit a beach at low tide, giving you a flat expanse that will tire out even the most energetic of beach enthusiasts. 

Whether you want somewhere for a vigorous family game of football or prefer a quiet walk along the seafoam, beaches have a bit of everything. Why not try one or two of these great Winter beach activities:

  • Scavenger hunts – Create a list of items to look for, and challenge your family to find them all.
  • Ball games
  • Field games like ‘40, 40 in’ (I know you remember this one! Now’s your chance to introduce it to your children.) These are great on sand flats, or if you want to make it trickier, try playing tag in some dunes.
  • Take the dog for a walk.
  • Bird watching – There are some great RSPB reserves based on the beach. See which birds you can spot, and you may even find a wooden hide to shelter from the wind.
  • Digging – Winter digging can be more energetic than in the summer. Don’t mess about with plastic spades, break out the big ones from the garden and get some real digging done.
  • Beachcombing – This is more suited for those who are wrapped up warm because it requires moving slowly along, looking for washed-up treasures.

4. With the right clothes and preparation, you can enjoy the weather

It may be tempting to avoid the beach in the wind or rain, but these can be some of the most exciting times for a visit. It’s important not to go in extreme or dangerous weather, but in less severe conditions it can still be a great day out. 

The key to enjoying a wet and windy beach day is clothes, preparation and enthusiasm. Dressing in layers that can be added or removed in response to weather will help to keep you warm and happy. Once you’re appropriately dressed and have a change of clothes ready back at the car, you’re prepared to enjoy some of the most unique experiences available in the UK:

  • Waves crashing onto the beach. 
  • Rain splashing into the sea.
  • A rainbow over the seashore.
  • Snow falling onto a sandcastle.
  • Seafoam being blown across an empty beach.

Conclusion

Beaches can be magical places full of excitement, adventure and discovery. This gets even better in the winter. If you can brave the weather, pack spare clothes and find an open fish and chip shop, you’re on to a winner. It may not be the easiest day out, but it is sure to be one of the most memorable and the most rewarding.

Don’t stay in this winter, get outside and head to the beach, you won’t regret it. At least the sand isn’t going to stick to your sun cream!