Britain’s best boat trips – from Henley to the Scilly Isles

    30 July 2020

    With seabound cruising now firmly off the cards for the foreseeable future, Britain’s smaller – and more manageable – waterways beckon for late summer adventures on the water. Whether you fancy a Cornish potter upon the Fal, akin to John, Titty and Roger’s adventures (of Swallows and Amazon’s fame) or a swashbuckling sail around the rugged edges of the Scottish coast, our beautiful isle offers an excess of boating adventures for veteran mariners and green seafarers alike.

    Get lost in the Norfolk waterways

    Charter a boat or take a guided tour with Coastal Exploration, Norfolk

    With wild, expansive beaches, secluded creeks and mesmerising sunsets, it’s no secret that Norfolk is one of the UK’s most beautiful corners. If you’re hoping to get up close to its sprawling waterways, few know the area’s tides, sand ripples and muds flats better than Henry Chamberlain at the Coastal Exploration Company. The proud provider of three traditional, clicker-build crafts – a crab boat, a whelk vessel and a mussel flat – former Royal Marine Chamberlain and his team have patched up these beautiful boats with help from local craftsmen and offer explorative, skippered sails through North Norfolk’s wilderness.

    From gentle pottering across Warham’s salt marshes in the nifty mussel flat to sailing over unforgiving North Sea waters in a red-sailed whelk boat (with the option to sleep in a hammock overnight under canvas cover), Chamberlain and his crew with organise an adventure around the coast to your liking, providing locally-sourced suppers, knot-typing tips, crabbing lines and foraging advice for keen cockle-pickers along the way. From £340 for 4 in an exclusive charter of the Mussel Flat.

    Skim around the Scottish coastline

    The Eda Frandsen

    Keen to feel the rough slip of rope between your hands and experience the empty seas of Scotland’s West Coast? Consider jumping aboard the Eda Frandsen. Skimming along rocky shores under cherry red sails, this elegant vessel is small enough to explore the coastline near-at-hand but still fits a full crew of three and up to eight guests on board. There’s no experience necessary when stepping onto the vanished decks of this 56ft gaff cutter, an heirloom vessel built in Denmark in 1938 before being refitted during the 90s.

    Experienced sailors can book a whole boat charter or join a crew for a solo adventure as the plucky cutter progresses along an annual schedule that takes it end-to-end along the British isles, starting and ending in Cornwall (but spending much of its summer in Scotland). If your sea-legs aren’t quite up to scratch, chose a skippered holiday: even on fully-manned sails, sea-worthy amateurs are invited to get stuck in hauling up the 2210sq ft sails, learning the ropes or just popping the kettle on. Below deck, you’ll find eight guest berths, a living space and a small bathroom plus a miniature galley where Chloe the Cook whips up meals using the best Scottish produce for communal dinners on deck, Scottish skies permitting. From £510 for three nights.

     Take life at a slow-pace with a canal cruise

    Black Prince canal hire

    Once the transportation backbone of Britain’s industrial heartlands, the vast network of canals up and down Britain now offer idyllic passages of travel between the country’s Northern cities. Serviced by plentiful waterside pubs and suitably spaced-out market towns (offering canal-dwellers the bounty of daytrips to farmer’s markets and historic sites), a holiday aboard a barge offers a slow paced holiday – and not just because of those necessary lock stops.

    Of Black Prince Narrowboats’ isle-crossing routes, their Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire ones provide some of the UK’s best self-skippered boating adventures. Meandering along the Four Counties Ring, you’ll explore the heart of pottery country with Wedgewood tours and Emma Bridgewater plate painting experiences in Stoke-on-Trent, while a circumnavigation of the Cheshire Ring ends under the impressive Victorian arches of Manchester’s inner-city waterways. All their tours come with pre-departure training, too – so you won’t be banging hulls with any fellow canal-dwellers.

    Pleasure cruise through the Fermanagh Lakelands

    Le Boat’s Emerald Star, Ireland

    With waters ripe for an afternoon of angling and a birdlife population primed to be spotted, the island-specked waters and sheltered coves of Northern Ireland’s Lough Erne offer a playground for laid-back cruising. Technically two lakes – the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ Lough Erne, joined up by a meandering river which takes their name – this vast body of water is surrounded by the textbook landscapes of the green isle – swathes of gentle undulations in a million shades of emerald.

    Starting in Carrick-on-Shannon, which – unsurprisingly – sits on the Shannon River, hire a cruiser from Le Boat to explore the waterways around the Lough– known as the Fermanagh Lakelands. Book for 11 nights, and you’ll make it to the Northern corner where the historic pottery town of Belleek provides a pivot for a return trip. Along the way, there’s opportunities to reel in a few roach and pike, moor up beside the lough’s picturesque villages for afternoon tea waterside and even attempt some gentle hiking around the area’s historic sites, including abbey ruins and town castles. The 18-hole green at Ballyconnell is worth a few swings, too. From £719 for an 11-night adventure on a Le Boat’s Tower Star.

    Set sail for the Scilly Isles

    Hugh Town, St Mary’s, The Scilly Isles

    Less crowded than the Solent’s popular sailing spots and offering Poldark-worthy scenery, the micro-climate warmed waters around Cornwall’s south coast are – probably – some of Britain’s best sailing waters (just don’t tell the Hayling Island-based brigade). Start in Falmouth, where Bowman Yacht Charters offering day sail and overnight adventures in shipshape yachts for experienced, bareboat sailors and land-legged newbies looking for skippered sails alike, with a pick of four yachts, including a racy 35’ Jeanneau Sun Odyssey and a stable Dufour Classic.

    Depending on the wind, you could be skimming the shoreline eastward, heading for a fresh crab roll at Captain Hank’s in Fowey, or taking to the Atlantic in the West, map marked for the Isles of Scilly, a cool 50 nautical miles and 12 hours’ sailing away. Choose the former and you’ll pass St Mawes’ barrel-shaped castle, the candy-coloured terraces of Mevagissey fishing village and Dodman Point’s imposing crucifix enroute while the later takes in Frenchman’s Creek and the sandy landscapes of Kynance Cove before dropping anchor in the sheltered waters behind Lizard Point. When sunrise arrives, join the dolphins and seals venturing over the Atlantic towards the Scilly Isles’ where soft-sand beaches and azure waters await. Daysail costs from £710 including lunch and a bottle of wine.

    Cruise with royalty down the Thames

    Hire a boat with Hobbs of Henley

    Home of the royal regatta Henley-on-Thames may be, but for the rest of the year this Oxfordshire town is a quiet boating idyll primed for cruising. Jump on board the boat hire Midsomer, a classy water-bound steed from Hobbs of Henley, to snake through green and pleasant landscapes along the Mighty Thames.

    Head north and you’ll be cruising through Cotswold countryside into the waterways of Oxford, dodging collegiate rowers practising their strokes in the early morning mists, passing honey-coloured buildings and flowering meadows during hazy summer afternoons before mooring up as dusk falls among the dreaming spires and yellow-stone towers.  Head south and you’ll be heading to the capital, following the wake of Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VII’s riverboats as you cruise by Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and through the verdant gardens of Kew before heading back to Henley for a riverside pint at the The Angel on the Bridge. Private boat hire from £1900 per week.