It’s time to rediscover the simple pleasures of a beach-hut holiday    Words: Lucy Clarke  Photographs: James Bowden

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to the charms of a holiday abroad – long, lazy days by the beach and balmy evenings set to a chorus of crickets – but when I started to plan this year’s summer trip, there was an extra factor to take into consideration: I’d be almost six months’ pregnant. Since the idea of airport queues, narrow plane seats, and stifling transfer buses wasn’t terribly appealing, I began to think of what we could do closer to home.

In Dorset, a stunning natural sandbank stretches between Christchurch Harbour and the open sea – and, perched along the length of it, are 346 brightly coloured beach huts. Most of them are well equipped with kitchen facilities, beds and a lounge area, but what makes them really special is that you’re allowed to sleep in them from March until November. My family have owned one of these beach huts for 25 years, since I was eight years old. Growing up, I spent my summers there, crabbing, body-boarding, playing Frisbee and beach rounders with friends. My parents, brother and I all still live locally, so we tend to congregate there on weekends for family barbecues. This is also where I met my husband, James. He owned the beach hut next to ours, so we grew up together – and spent our honeymoon at the beach hut.

So, after just a couple of phone calls, it was all arranged. We’d leave our passports at home this summer and take our holiday in a hut.

A mixed weather forecast lay in store for our week off: sunshine, rain, thunderstorms and wind – the full British spectacle. We packed our bags, making sure we took wet-weather clothes as well as swimwear, fishing rods, paddleboards, windsurfing kit, books, playing cards, and lots of delicious food. Within an hour of shutting our front door, we were sitting on the deck of the beach hut watching terns dive on the incoming tide.

The magical simplicity of beach-hut living hits you immediately: laptops are left at home, phones are switched off, and the only traffic noise is the sound of kids wheeling by on skateboards, or the light padding of flip-flops across the beach. Even though home was just down the road, watching the sun go down over the water on that first night, we felt as if we were thousands of miles away from the demands of day-to-day life.

On our second day, we were joined by our good friends, Hannah and Bowdy, who cycled down from their home in nearby Southbourne. The wind arrived with them, so the men eagerly rigged up their windsurfing kit and raced onto the water, spending hours sailing in front of the hut. By evening, the sea breeze had quietened to a murmur, so Hannah and I took our turn on the water, paddleboarding happily as dusk settled over a brooding sea.

The next day, fresh mackerel was promised for the evening’s barbecue. James and Bowdy set off on the paddleboards with hand-lines, feathers and high hopes. Two hours later, they returned salt-soaked and grinning – but completely empty-handed. Luckily, we had some back-up supplies for the barbecue, however, overshadowing our plans, we noticed a dark weather front charging in from the east, bringing a foreboding bank of black cloud.

It was a race against time to get the food cooked. But what we learned that night is that you can never outrun Mother Nature. The heavens opened halfway through the cooking, and we managed to get the barbecue lid on just in time. Our complaints didn’t last long though, because once the rain had passed, the sandbank looked washed clean in the shimmering light and, as we ate our meal, a beautiful rainbow stretched across the horizon.

After the unsuccessful fishing attempt, we decided to see whether we’d fare any betterwith a lobster pot. Not owning a boat, James headed out with our lobster pot on the nose of his paddleboard – a tricky feat made even more ambitious by his decision to do it fully clothed.

Needless to say, there was much hooting and laughter from the rest of us when he fell in, only six feet from shore. But, not one to be defeated, he dragged himself back onto the board and paddled out with the pot, dropping it off a couple of hundred feet offshore, marking it with a buoy.

The following morning we woke up early and paddled out to see if we’d had any luck. James hauled the pot onto his board and I whooped with delight to see two gleaming lobsters and a brown crab lurking inside. We took them to shore, deciding to release the crab, but keeping the lobsters for lunch.

We built a small fire of coals on the beach and set a pan of water on it to boil. The lobsters were killed as humanely as possible with an incision into their heads, before they were put into the pot. (If we’d had a freezer to hand, the best way would have been to freeze the lobsters first so that they become insensible, and then make the incision. Never put live lobsters in a pot of boiling water.) We watched, amazed, as their iridescent blue shells swiftly turned to a rich red as they cooked. We ate on the beach with a fresh salad and hunks of bread, sucking the sweet lobster meat from the claws – and feeling grateful to the sea for providing for us.

In between the fishing and paddleboarding, the windsurfing and barbecuing, I discovered that one of my favourite times of day at the beach hut was dawn. Just before the rest of the world woke up, when the sun’s weak warmth was stretching across the sand, I’d slip out of bed with my notebook and pencil, and spend a few quiet moments writing what was to become my new novel, The Blue.

As I sat on the shore on the final morning with the sun shimmering over the water, with the sound of the kettle being filled in the beach hut behind me, I honesty couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a holiday than in a hut on the sand.

Lucy Clarke is the author of The Sea Sisters and A Single Breath, both published by HarperCollins.

There are more than 20,000 beach huts in the UK. Most of these are council-owned and can easily be rented for a day, a week or a season from as little as £10 per day. Here’s my top pick of the best places to rent a hut:

1. Shaldon Beach Huts, Devon. For five-star luxury in a traditional seaside setting, you can rent one of these well-equipped little huts, as featured on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Prices start from £90 per night.

2. Studland Beach Huts, Dorset. These National Trust huts sit either on the shore, or nestled away in the dunes, and are available to rent from £12 per day, although you can’t sleep in them.

3. Fisherman’s Huts, Kent. More than 130 years old, these converted huts stand directly on the front at Whitstable. Prices start from £75 per night, including a full English breakfast.

4. Mudeford Sandbank, Dorset. Some of these privately owned beach huts are available to rent on either a nightly or weekly basis. Expect to pay around £700 for a week. Keep an eye out for ‘To Rent’ signs in beach hut windows, or visit


1. Be prepared. Even if the weather doesn’t play ball, you can still have fun in and out of the water – so pack the wet-weather gear and wetsuits.

2. Leave gadgets at home. Laptops and tablets don’t gel with sand. Get into the swing of hutting: light the candles, get a stack of good books and board games out, and slow down.

3. Enjoy the sea. If you love swimming, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, windsurfing, skimboarding, bodysurfing – bring your gear. Make sure you’ve got lifejackets for children as the currents and tides around our coastline can be strong.

4. Where possible, cook and eat outside. Beach-hut kitchens are basic. It’s all about the freshly caught mackerel sizzling on the barbecue, or the quick salad thrown together and eaten on a rug.

5. Leave only footprints. Sweep out the sand, take your rubbish home to recycle, and leave the collected shells on the beach for someone else to discover…