Best coastal towns

Down by the seaside: Anthea Masey visits six of the top areas along Britain's glorious coast that are ideal spots for a beachfront home
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Sandy beaches, long walks, freshly caught fish, regattas and golf are just some of the pleasures of living by the English seaside. With global warming likely to produce warmer summers, more and more families are opting to enjoy the coast, both for weekend breaks and longer holidays.

In the most popular seaside locations, more than a third of all homes are holiday homes, with buyers happy to pay at least 50 per cent more than in adjoining, less popular, areas.

In Devon, average house prices in the Salcombe and East Portlemouth area are more than £490,000 - 57 per cent higher than in the surrounding area. A similar picture emerges in north Cornwall, where house prices in holiday hot spots Rock, Polzeath and Port Isaac average £380,000-plus - a 55 per cent premium in comparison with the surrounding area.

It is no surprise that these areas are so popular. They all offer the timeless appeal of the British seaside but without noisy amusement arcades or tacky gift shops. Instead, they offer metropolitan pleasures: smart shops selling fashionable outdoor gear, laid-back cafes and bars, top restaurants and gastropubs.

Top coastal hot spots are Salcombe, Rock and St Mawes in the West Country; Whitstable in Kent; Southwold in Suffolk; and Llantwit Major on the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales, where the demand for second homes keeps prices buoyant.

1. Salcombe

This was once a thriving shipbuilding town, famous for its fleet of fast schooners that raced fresh fruit from the Mediterranean and the Azores back to the UK.

On the Kingsbridge estuary in south Devon, known as the South Hams, Salcombe now owes its fortune to tourism. Pretty, winding streets are lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. The beauty of the area, with its rugged coastline, is said to have inspired Kate Bush's hit 2005 album Aerial.

The town is surrounded by small sandy beaches. A ferry operates from the town centre to South Beach. Up on the hills that surround the town, large houses have stunning views over the estuary and sell for more than £1 million. One, Overbecks, now owned by the National Trust and open to the public, was home to an eccentric collector called Otto Overbeck.

Distance from London: 238 miles
Journey time by road: five hours
Nearest station: Ivybridge is 12.7 miles away
Fastest train: three hours and four minutes from Paddington

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2. Rock

Rock, on the north Cornish coast, is on the Camel estuary. Quiet, almost suburban in feel, with houses dotted around manicured estate roads. Yet Rock is very smart. For families there are sandy beaches, golf courses and the foodie delights of Padstow across the estuary.

Carrick Water, St Just-in-Roseland, Near St Mawes, South Cornwall
Carrick Water, St Just-in-Roseland, Near St Mawes, South Cornwall
Daymer Bay is where windsurfers hang out and Polzeath is one of Cornwall's best surfing beaches. St Enodoc Golf Club is a renowned 18-hole links course and the nearby St Enodoc church is where Sir John Betjeman is buried. The village of Padstow is reached by the Black Tor ferry or water taxi.

Distance from London: 270 miles
Journey time by road: five-and-a-half hours
Nearest stations: Roche is 9.5 miles away; Bodmin Parkway is 12.5 miles
Fastest train: from Paddington it takes four hours and 17 minutes to Roche, and three hours and 41 minutes to Bodmin Parkway

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3. St Mawes

With an almost Mediterranean climate, sailing and fishing are the principal activities in St Mawes, situated on the beautiful Carrick Roads, a natural harbour loved by sailors. It lies opposite Falmouth, on the southern tip of the picturesque Roseland Peninsula, reached by foot ferry.

Henry VIII built a castle here after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Quiet villages on Roseland Peninsula, such as Veryan, Porthscatho, Tregony and Portloe, seem in a time warp. Without the King Harry ferry (one of the most beautiful ferry trips), it would be a 27-mile round trip by road from St Mawes to Falmouth.

Distance from London: 290 miles
Journey time by road: six hours
Nearest stations: Falmouth Docks is two miles away; Truro is 11 miles
Fastest train: from Paddington it takes four hours 45 minutes to Falmouth Docks, or four hours 17 minutes to Truro

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4. Whitstable

Whitstable has a busy port, a pebbly beach, seafood restaurants and attractive shops, and is only 60 miles from London. Known as the Pearl of Kent, it imported coal from Newcastle after the arrival of the railway in the 1840s.

Today, the port still bustles; there is a huge fish market below the famous Crab & Winkle fish restaurant. There are pretty weatherboard houses along the Island Wall and the shopping street is full of independent shops selling everything from French antiques to locally produced art.

Distance from London: 60 miles
Journey time by road: 90 minutes
Nearest station: Whitstable
Fastest train: 80 minutes from Victoria)

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Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk
Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk

5. Southwold

Southwold on the Suffolk coast feels caught in a Fifties time warp. Shops still sell buckets, spades, windbreaks and giant jigsaws for when it is wet. Southwold owes its distinct layout to a fire that devastated the town in 1659; it was never rebuilt, leaving many open green spaces.

The sandy beach is backed by colourful beach huts with witty names and the restored pier features automata made by engineer and cartoonist Tim Hunkin. The town is dominated by its lighthouse and Adnams 4 5 brewery, which also runs a number of local hostelries, including The Crown and The Swan Hotel.

Distance from London: 125 miles
Journey time by road: three hours and 15 minutes
Nearest station: Brampton is seven miles away; Halesworth is nine miles
Fastest train: from Liverpool Street it takes two-and-a-half hours to Brampton, and two hours 20 minutes to Halesworth

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6. Llantwit Major

Llantwit Major, or Llanilltud Fawr in Welsh, is a pretty seaside town on the 14-mile-long Glamorgan Heritage Coast, 20 miles south-west of Cardiff. There is a 15th century town hall, a medieval gatehouse and 16th century houses and pubs.

The rugged coastline is good for walking and mountain biking and there are surfing beaches.

Distance from London: 170 miles
Journey time by road: three-and-a-half hours
Nearest stations: Llantwit Major, or Bridgend, which is seven-and-a-half miles away
Fastest train: three hours and 10 minutes to Llantwit Major and two hours and 25 minutes to Bridgend from Paddington

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