Guide to sailing around Britain

Sailing means different things to different people. To some, it’s all about the competitive cut and thrust of the racing circuit and the camaraderie of the club bar. To others, it’s the simple, sensual joy of piloting a vessel powered entirely by the wind. Some sailors lust after long ocean passages to distant shores. Heading out into the deep blue yonder, they watch with misanthropic glee as the land disappears over the horizon. Lots of people use their boat primarily as a platform for parties afloat. But for many, sailing means time spent at anchor in a remote, rocky cove, on a bucolic, rural stretch of river, or lost in a maze of salt-marsh with curlews and cormorants for company. An anchorage gives you a unique perspective on the coast you and your boat become part of the scenery. Sailing gives you access to beautiful, wild places that others cannot reach. Here are some of the best places to relax and contemplate the beauty of the British coastline.


Classic Hebrides

Tinker’s Hole, Erraid (off Mull), Inner Hebrides

Tinker’s Hole captures the very essence of the Hebrides: dramatic, sheer crags of pink granite plunge into deep blue water. The all-round shelter afforded by this little chasm promises a peaceful night at anchor a rarity in these northern waters. There’s a magnificent cave to explore by dinghy, not to mention an unspoiled sandy beach. If the weather permits, thread your way through the shoals north of the main anchorage and drop your hook in a wild seascape of rocky islets, where seals bask in the sun and the view stretches west to Iona.

Modern history

Hallsands, near Start Point, Devon

A dramatic and spookily atmospheric anchorage, off the ruined fishing village of Hallsands, which was almost completely destroyed by a winter gale in 1917 after the Admiralty removed thousands of tons of gravel from the foreshore, to be used in the construction of Portland and Braye harbours. The villagers’ pleas to the authorities not to remove their natural breakwater went unheeded, with dramatic and disastrous results. Even today, this remote and beautiful spot has an air of poignancy about it. It’s also a very useful passage anchorage as a place for boats bound west around Start Point to shelter from the Atlantic swell and wait for the tide to turn in their favour.

Ancient history

Holy Island (also known as Lindisfarne), Northumbria

The little bight between Holy Island and the Northumbrian coast is one of the few places on this stretch of coast where you can escape the ever-present swell and it’s also one of the most beautiful places in which to sling your hook. The pretty village of Lindisfarne nestles in a hollow and a small, well-preserved castle looms over the anchorage. The turrets of Bamburgh dominate the skyline to the south. Holy Island’s history stretches back to the Dark Ages, when it was an important seat of learning.


Pinnacle Haven or The Kettle, Outer/Inner Farne Islands, Northumbria

The rugged Farne Islands support Britain’s largest colonies of grey seals, puffins, eiders and many other rare birds. This uninhabited, rocky archipelago rises abruptly out of the North Sea?looking more like the west coast of Scotland than northern England. The savage beauty of the anchorages and the abundance of wildlife are reason enough to go, but there’s also Grace Darling’s cottage to visit. The heroism of Grace and her father, the lighthouse keeper, who lived out their lives on these barren rocks, led to the creation of the RNLI.

Blue water, white sand

New Grimsby Sound, between Tresco and Bryher, Isles of Scilly

With crystal-clear turquoise waters beneath your keel and the warm scent of tropical flowers in the air, it’s hard to believe that this ravishingly beautiful anchorage is only 20 miles from the British mainland. Perfectly sheltered in most weather a real rarity in the Isles of Scilly this idyllic anchorage is the highlight of many a summer cruise.

Quayside restaurants:

six of the best

Winteringham Fields

It’s a surprise to find one of Britain’s very best restaurants according to Michelin and The Good Food Guide lurking out here in the boondocks of east Lincolnshire, a short stroll from Winteringham Haven, a muddy creek filled with yachts on the south side of the Humber estuary. Chef Robert Thompson’s cooking style is complex, elaborate and unique pairing pig’s trotters and scallops, or chicken, veal and crayfish, for instance, on the same plate but it is soundly rooted in provincial French and Swiss culinary traditions and the dishes raise top-notch ingredients to incredible heights.

Wheelers Oyster Bar, Whitstable, Kent

A tiny gem of a restaurant with only three tables, Wheelers has been going strong for 200 years, staffed more or less continuously by the same family. It’s unquestionably one of the very best places in the world to eat oysters and other molluscs. Despite all its history, the food is bang up to date. The Creel, St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay, Orkney Britain’s best fish restaurant, bar none. The cottagey dining room looks out over the imposing grandeur of Scapa Flow. The menu teems with unfamiliar fish species, such as sea witch, megrim and tusk. Alan Craigie’s cooking style is understated, but, after 20 years, his commitment to quality and attention to detail as expressed in a superlative fish soup are still unsurpassed.

St Martin’s on the Isle, Isles of Scilly

Possibly the remotest restaurant in Britain, it is certainly the furthest west. Located in an attractive boutique hotel on the shores of Tean Sound in the Isles of Scilly, this is perhaps the ultimate yachtsman’s restaurant, with its own mooring buoys for visiting boats. The Good Food Guide sums it up eloquently: ‘Highly crafted cooking, which tacks to a classical country idiom with no violent shocks, just a high degree of polish, refinement and pleasure.’

36 on the Quay, Emsworth, Hampshire

A neat, diminutive former smugglers’ inn right at the water’s edge, as its name suggests with commanding views over a beautiful stretch of Chichester Harbour, this is a smart, Michelin-starred establishment serving up high-class modern French fare, with one of the best wine lists outside London. The menu might offer a meltingly tender quail, perched atop a gigantic crouton filled with Gruyère, pancetta and grapes, topped off with a salad of pea-shoots.

The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Cornwall

Rick Stein made his name in this strikingly modern yet charming quayside dining room, which is still going great guns after many years. A gastronome’s tour of Britain would be incomplete without it. The fish is exclusively local, but the menu draws inspiration from the far-flung shores of Spain, southern India and Singapore. The prices are swingeing, but somehow it’s still worth it.

classic sailors’ pubs

Jolly Sailor, Bursledon, River Hamble, Hampshire

Much of the 1980s television series Howard’s Way was shot in the wood-panelled bar of this old inn near the navigable head of the River Hamble. It’s got a pontoon for visiting boats.

The Turf, River Exe, Devon

The cheery bar is the main draw at this attractive former bargemen’s tavern halfway up the estuary of the River Exe. The setting is so rural that you can’t get here by car, but there’s a ferry from Topsham and moorings in the offing for those who have their own boats.

Red Lion, Freshwater, Isle of Wight

A ‘gastropub’ of some note, the Red Lion serves up a first-class pint of real ale. Sailors tend to get there by dinghy, leaving their yachts in the beautiful Georgian port of Yarmouth. The trip up-river to Freshwater, between reed beds and salt marshes full of unusual wildfowl, is part of the appeal.

Shipwrights Arms, Helford, Cornwall

The Helford River is one of the loveliest spots in Cornwall many people come here to experience the landscape immortalised in Daphne du Maurier’s books. Just downriver from Frenchman’s Creek, the Shipwrights is a characterful place, patronised by most visiting sailors.

Butt & Oyster, Pin Mill, Suffolk

The quintessential East Coast smugglers’ tavern in days gone by, the Butt & Oyster retains much of its charm today, despite having become a destination in its own right. The food’s excellent, the beer is top drawer and the view across the traditional boatyards of Pin Mill, from which the Swallows and Amazons set sail for Secret Water, simply can’t be beaten.

The Anchor, Walberswick, Suffolk

An imposing Arts-and-Crafts-style inn facing across the dunes and the mouth of the River Blyth to Southwold Quay, the Anchor has gained a keen following for its no-nonsense food in recent years. The beer is worth shouting about, too. The Adnams house ale is delivered by horse and cart, and the cellar boasts an excellent choice of exotic foreign bottles.

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