When people hear that Brighton is a seaside resort town, the first questions they have are about the beach.
Was Brighton Beach ever Sandy?
You’d be surprised to learn that there is a large amount of debate around whether Brighton Beach was ever sandy. Some say that they remember the beach being covered in sand and offer explanations as to why it was once sandy. Among those explanations are:
One individual claims that Brighton Beach was once liberally coated in sand but in World War 2 there was such a huge demand for sand that Brighton Beach was utterly depleted in order to make sandbags.
World War 2 Is To Blame
Then after the war, the sand wasn’t worth shipping back to Brighton and was sold off wherever it was left to be used in egg timers and golf course bunkers.
It’s Erosion’s Fault
Another story argues that there was once plenty of sand upon Brighton Beach, but the area was eroded by storms and that erosion meant that buildings on the cliffs were at risk of being washed into the seas below.
So, the local authorities imported a bunch of pebbles in order to protect the cliffs. They maintain that this along with other flood defence measures ensure that the beach remains covered in pebbles today.
Maybe It’s Down To Longshore Drift
A further tale alleges that coastal currents carried away so much sand that it wasn’t replaced over time and thus because there is a finite amount of sand, the beach was stripped away to become nothing but pebbles.
This theory also espouses the idea that one day the beach will be replaced by the sea if only there were a less energetic tidal current.
As I researched the idea of sand on Brighton Beach I’ve came across this charming story about Brighton’s residents waking up to discover that their beach had suddenly been restored (maybe by longshore drift?) and it was covered in sand.
Sadly, what gives this story away is its date of publication. April 1st, 2015. Yes, it’s an April Fool’s joke.
The Truth – Brighton Beach Is Not A Sand Beach
People may remember Brighton beach being covered in sand but sadly, it’s their memories which are faulty. Brighton’s beach has always been covered in pebbles and not in sand and before the pebbles there was mud.
That’s not to say that there is no sand on Brighton Beach at all. In fact, there is some sand as the beach meets the sea and it’s technically possible to build a sandcastle (though you will need to visit the large sand box, like you would see in a park, along the promenade to guarantee this) but the vast majority of the beach is pebbles.
In truth, there may be no beach in England that is farther from substantial amounts of sand than Brighton Beach.
Why is Brighton Beach Pebbled?
Brighton Beach is what is known as a shingle beach, which means it’s covered in pebbles. A shingle beach is covered in (or “armoured” as Geologists would say) pebbles or “cobbles”.
The majority of the world’s shingle beaches can be found in Europe, though there are some scattered across the rest of the world too.
This is good news for local wildlife because shingle beaches allow for the colonisation of the local area by rare and endangered species.
The reason why Brighton Beach is pebbled and has always been pebbled is simple. The rocks in the area up and down the coast from Brighton aren’t capable of being broken down into the sand by means of erosion in seawater.
The main rock in South East England’s coastline is chalk. Chalk cannot be broken down into the sand. The rest of the rock tends to be limestone. Limestone is highly soluble in water. Instead of being broken down into the sand, it either dissolves completely or it becomes a gooey mud. This mud has absolutely nothing in common with sand.
The pebbles on Brighton’s Beach are mainly composed of flint. (Yes, the kind of flint that you can strike to make a fire). The famous geologist and palaeontologist, Gideon Mantell, found that some of the earliest tools ever made in the British Isles were made from the same flint as you can find on Brighton’s beaches.
Flint’s a very useful substance in developing societies even if it doesn’t erode well into sand.
However, the pebbles don’t naturally land on Brighton’s beaches. Brighton’s beaches are naturally composed of that gooey mud from dissolved limestone. Which would make for a genuinely unpleasant experience underfoot and which people would hardly want to enjoy on a Summer’s day.
What brings them ashore are the “groynes”, artificial constructions which divide Brighton beach into distinct sections, and which divert pebbles from the water onto the land. A pebble beach is a much better place to sunbathe than a mud pit.
The first groyne was constructed in 1724 and thus, from a living memory perspective, Brighton Beach has “always” been covered in pebbles.
The pebbles stretch a long way out into the water and provide a solid shield from the limestone mud. They may not be quite as comfortable as the sand on a beach, but Brighton Beach is still very popular with holidaymakers in the summer.
How long is Brighton Beach?
Brighton Beach is one of the country’s longest and the shingle section runs for an unbroken (apart from the groyne divisions) 5.4-mile stretch. You can find both brick-walled chalets and timber beach huts running along much of the length of Brighton Beach.
If you really want to see sand, you should head to the area which is east of the Palace Pier. When the tide is low, you can see some sandy flats quite clearly when as the water flows out.
One of the big attractions on the beach is a sporting complex, which is dedicated to beach sports, and if you enjoy volleyball or ultimate frisbee, that might be the best place to spend your time in Brighton.
The section of the beach known as Cliff Beach is for naturists and clothes are strictly optional in this area. If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, there’s more than enough room on the other sections of the beach for you and your family.
If you want to see more of the area’s beaches you can try the Undercliff Walk from Brighton Marina to Saltdean. However, it’s worth noting that cliffside erosion can make this walk dangerous at times and lengths of the pass are subject to closure at any time to ensure the public’s safety.
Where is the nearest Sand Beach to Brighton?
The closest sand beach to Brighton is probably the beach at West Wittering which is considered to be one of England’s finest beaches. It is in Chichester and it’s a couple of hours drive from the city of Brighton & Hove.
Local parking fees are said to be steep but otherwise, the beach is not as busy as the one at Brighton and you may find that if it’s a holiday weekend that it’s worth a trip to escape Brighton’s crowds.
The good news is that if you do visit West Wittering, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be able to make a sandcastle or two.
Where is the best Shingle Beach in England?
We’d put Brighton in the Top 5 shingle beaches in the UK and it’s quite possibly the most popular shingle beach in the country but we’d be prepared to concede that the lesser-known Aldeburgh Beach which is a mixture of sand and shingle is quite fantastic too.
If you fancy leaving England and sunbathing isn’t the top item on your beach visit’s list then we can also recommend heading to Scotland to see the incredibly striking Elgol Beach on the Isle of Skye.
It’s worth noting that Elgol Beach is where Bonnie Prince Charlie cowered in a cave after the Jacobite Rebellion was put down at the Battle of Culloden.
If you walk up the beach you can find this cave and it’s completely open to the public.
Where is the best Sand Beach in England?
It’s fair to say that the decision on the best sand beach in England is completely subjective because what constitutes “best”? So, we threw the question open to the voters on Tripadvisor to make our decision for us and they said, Weymouth Beach in Weymouth Dorset. That beach offers 3 miles of soft sand fronting a very traditional British seaside town.
If you’re looking for a non-English option, then the folks on Tripadvisor say that another great option is to visit St. Brelade’s Bay Beach in Jersey. This won’t be cheap, but it will be very pleasant.
Does Brighton in England have a sandy beach? No, the rocks nearby just aren’t built for sand. Instead, it’s a shingle beach covered in flint cobbles. It may not be as comfortable as sand, but many tourists choose to spend their summers on Brighton’s long and pleasant beach.