“You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!”
There are shades of The Eagles’ Hotel California at Brancaster Beach, if you aren’t careful with your timing. At high spring tides Beach Road can become flooded, trapping unwary visitors at the car park. It only takes about an hour for the tide to reach maximum height and recede, so it’s not exactly a permanent state of affairs, but it can be quite alarming if you’re not expecting it. Keep an eye on tide times and ask the car park attendant or at the kiosk if you have any concerns.
The car park at the end of Beach Road is owned by the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club. The carrstone-clad clubhouse with its white overhanging viewing gallery overlooks the course, sea and beach entrance. The car park is attended, with a toilet block on the opposite side of the road, and a beach kiosk nearby selling refreshments, ice creams and beach toys.
There are some sturdy sea defenses on either side of the entrance and surrounding the clubhouse, but as soon as you go any distance along the beach in either direction they’re replaced by grassy dunes backed by the golf course to the east, and saltmarshes to the west, fronted by a wide, soft, sandy beach stretching for almost 2 miles.
Along the beach to the east, and hidden away behind the dunes, are some well-camouflaged beach huts. Behind the huts lie the links of the golf course, and further inland the protected saltmarshes of the National Trust-owned Brancaster Estate.
This is a popular dog-walking beach, and from dawn until dusk there’s a steady stream of cars arriving with a cargo of canines raring to be released for a run and a splash around.
Brancaster Beach is beautiful and popular, although never crowded. It’s great for families with some fine, clean sandcastle-building sand, and perfect for a picnic on the beach. The natural, unspoiled dunes provide privacy, shelter and a useful windbreak, and you can walk or run for miles, with or without a dog, if you fancy a bit of keep-fit.
The beach is very shallow, exposing hundreds of meters of firm, wet sand at low tide. This has some positive and some negative consequences.
On the plus side, Brancaster is ideally suited to Kite Sports, including Kite Surfing, Kite Buggies, Landboards and Power Kites. The National Trust provide information on designated zones for the various activities.
On the downside, the tide comes in at a fair clip, quickly filling the creeks and depressions between sandbanks and cutting off unwary explorers. The RNLI regularly come to the rescue of stranded beach-goers, and in some tragic cases people have been swept out to sea and lost their lives. It pays to read warning notices and be aware of tide times when visiting the beach.
One of the reasons that Brancaster Beach sees so many incidents is the presence of the wreck of the SS Vina, a cargo vessel that later served as target practice for the Royal Air Force. The three dismembered sections of the ship rest on a sandbank on the far side of the creek that provides an entrance to Brancaster Staithe harbour. Unaware of the dangers, visitors are drawn, siren-like, to this mysterious distant feature, with sometimes fatal results.
A warning is posted at the wreck advising people to return immediately to the beach. If the tide is already coming in, you are advised to go eastwards to the sand dunes on Scolt Head Island, which remain above sea-level, rather than attempting to cross the fast-moving tidal waters.
Like a femme fatale in a 50’s film noir, Brancaster Beach is beautiful and mysterious with an air of danger. Will she entice you with her charms?
Large car park at the end of Beach Road owned by the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club.
700 spaces. Pay and display. Open 24 hours.
Daily rate: Cars £4, Cars/Trailers £8, Motorbikes £1.50, Coaches £10
Weekly Pass: £20
Seasonal Pass: £75
Address: Broad Lane, Brancaster PE31 8AX
During high spring tides, the road to the beach can become flooded, so check tide times and heights to avoid being stranded!
Brancaster is on the route of the 36 Coastliner service.
Nearest drop-off: The Ship.
Distance to beach: 1.5km (0.9mi)
More info: Visiting By Bus, lynxbus.co.uk
A council-operated toilet block is located opposite the car park.
Between the car park and the beach entrance is the Brancaster Beach Kiosk, selling seaside essentials including ice cream, teas, coffees, buckets and spades. It opens from Easter until 1st November every day, generally from 10am to 5pm. Opening times may be longer or shorter depending on the weather.
Brancaster Beach is dog friendly, with no restrictions across the vast majority of the beach.
Some areas may be roped off to protect ground nesting birds between March and September, so please be aware and keep dogs away from those sections.
Please read the information board at the main beach entrance for more details.
Dog waste bins are located near the toilet block opposite the car park.
No lifeguard service at any time of year.