Planning your summer sailing? Yachting Monthly experts share their favourite UK anchorages, with tips to make the most of your time afloat
Yachting Monthly’s cruising experts share some of the best spots in the UK to drop the hook and escape the crowds this summer
Many cruisers dream of selling up and heading off into the blue yonder, to sail in exotic waters far from home.
While we may dream of it, it doesn’t always happens.
However, it is easy to forget that some of the finest cruising in the world sits on our doorstep right here in the UK.
With uncertainty in the air due to Brexit and COVID-19, there has never been a better time to focus on the sailing do be done around our own shoreline for your cruising this summer.
Cruising offers us the historical romance of voyaging under sail, with freedom to choose how, when and where we shall travel over the summer.
Modern life is beginning to curtail our options and tax these pleasures to some extent, but most restrictions and charges are encountered in port.
By cruising from one anchorage to another this summer, you can minimise costs and enjoy endless peaceful nights on the hook.
Finding your own spot this summer
Here we have looked at four of the UK’s best-loved cruising areas and selected some of their best anchorages.
But there is nothing to stop you heading out and finding your own.
Besides, given wind and wave conditions, a good spot one week may well be unsuitable the next.
Nothing beats heading out and finding your own place and making your own judgements as to how good the holding is, how much protection it will offer to the current (and coming) weather.
You want to look for an anchorage that provides reasonable shelter in the prevailing wind, tucked in the lee of a weather shore.
A good spot will often be found tucked up inside a headland, but take care here because although you are directly sheltered from the wind and seas, waves have a nasty habit of being refracted around a headland.
This means that the swell coming in with the wind can change direction, causing the swell to impinge on your ‘sheltered’ anchorage.
You can also get this effect in the lee of an island when the swells come round each side.
If there is high ground immediately to windward of your anchorage you may get quite fierce gusts rolling down off the mountains and hitting you.
Thus what looks like a nice sheltered spot can, in fact cause you grief with only the slightest wind increase or direction change.
Some parts of the country offer quieter and more remote anchorages than others, but you don’t have to go to these more remote locations to find a quiet anchorage.
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Even on the busy South Coast there are quieter spots, but you may have to work harder to get to them.
Many cruisers tend to avoid those areas with a tricker entrance, but with diligent planning and a good pilot book you can find yourself in a peaceful spot this summer, far from the crowds without the need to sail to some remote part of the country.
Being sure of your depth and understanding tidal calculations are key factors.
Even in a busy anchorage, space can still be found with good seamanship.
It can be surprising how many boats will not venture near the shore, even if there is little need – in terms of tide and wind changes – to remain further offshore.
South Coast Anchorages
Recommended by James Stevens
The South Coast of the UK from the western Solent to Dover is full of anchorages and decent spots to stop, but it does suffer from a couple of issues.
The first is that if we are to take the above definition then we immediately lose a significant proportion of the coastline we are discussing.
The second is that what remains is both extremely popular and is a relatively small area.
To the west of Chichester good boltholes can be found but in terms of cruising, there can be little to see and so little in the way of cruising from anchorage to anchorage to be done.
Typically (perhaps unfairly) the view is that this is a coast to be sailed past rather than around.
There are several big marinas here that make for a decent spot to stop on a longer passage if you are making passage from the east coast to the south for the summer, before you look for something a little more picturesque and quiet.
Once you are nearing the Solent the options are reasonably plentiful at which point your main consideration is going to be the crowds, particularly during the height of the summer.
East Head (1) is a popular spot in Chichester harbour, located where the channel passes close to the sandy beach of the Head.
The beach is steep-to so you can get in quite close. When it’s crowded (and it does get crowded), you may find yourself exposed to strong tidal streams if you have to anchor on the edge of the channel.
In that case you might be better to head to the nearby anchorage off Pilsey Island (2) which is usually quieter.
It’s located at the west side of the lower end of Thorney Channel.
Don’t try to land on Pilsey Island in spring or summer as there are rare birds that nest there.
Probably the top Solent anchorage is Newtown River (3).
It has quiet beauty, is surrounded by nature reserves, offers near-perfect shelter from all directions, decent good holding and boasts a sandy beach.
In recent years its popularity has increased to the point that it is almost a no-go in the height of the summer, but if you are looking for a spot during the quieter months it is still tough to beat.
Many Solent anchorages have drawbacks – shipping wash, indifferent shelter, no public landing, shallow water – but Hurst Point (4) has few of these drawbacks.
It enjoys protection from all winds except NE and is right next to the tidal gate of Hurst Narrows, making it the ideal jumping-off point for a cruise to the West Country or France.
Poole Harbour is a great place to spend some time and there are plenty of anchoring spots here.
It can get very busy in the summer months, but if you head round the back of Brownsea Island you can find a very fine and usually quieter Whiteground Lake (5).
The main problem here for some will be depth.
Once round the back of Brownsea and following the red poles between the island and the smaller Furzey Island things can get pretty shallow.
If you draw 1.5m or less it’s usually okay but if you draw much more than that you may struggle.
Just over a mile west of Brownsea, the beautiful anchorage off Shipstal Point (6) is a Poole Harbour gem, a shallow creek behind Long Island at the head of the Upper Wych Channel.
There are moorings here but also room to anchor between the saltings.
Neap tides are best and you need high water to get in, but there are reasonable low tide depths opposite the north end of Long Island.
Goathorn Point (7) is located on the southern shores of Poole Harbour.
It does tend to gut busy during the season and especially so during fine summer weekends.
Remember that there is no landing permitted at Goathorn Point.
The channel is only marked with steel posts/buoys but there is more depth of water to the south side of this channel to moor in. The north side shallows up quickly.
Given the area’s popularity generally many of the best anchorages will be well known to many.
In strong blows from SW or NW, Poole Harbour becomes unpleasantly draughty, but Studland’s hills and trees usually weaken the wind without causing violent gusts and even a strong southerly may not send in much swell, possibly because the approaches are shallow, as such Studland Bay (8) is a decent option.
When the wind fades, this reverts to being a superb holiday anchorage.
A little further along the coast to the west are the popular spots of Chapman’s Pool (9) and Lulworth Cove (10).
Both of these I find can be a bit rolly, but with diligent planning and anchoring are nice spots all the same.
Chapman’s can be a little difficult as there is really only space for a couple of boats, so it is not necessarily a reliable stop – you may well find it full already.
The same is true of Lulworth, with the added inconvenience that if there is a building sea overnight it can be difficult to get out of.
In the best conditions when not busy they do remain great spots.
South West Anchorages
Recommended by Ken Endean
Britain’s south-western home waters – the coast from The Solent to Scilly plus the Channel Islands – have dozens of bays and inlets that make good temporary havens.
There are far too many to cover in a single article but I’ll try to illustrate their different qualities by describing ten good examples, beginning with passage anchorages.
For a family yacht heading towards a summer cruising ground, probably in a series of day sails, the quickest way to get there is by choosing overnight stops that are close to the direct track, rather than making diversions to estuary marinas.
In westerly winds, Swanage Bay (1) is ideal for a pause on passage and also serves as a perfect departure point for long legs towards west or south.
When bound west, setting off with the first of the Channel ebb should boost the boat right around the tidal gates of St Albans Head and Portland Bill, and well into Lyme Bay.
When bound south, the Channel crossing to Alderney is only 55 miles, which can be encouraging when fair weather is only coming in brief spells.
If it is necessary to wait at Swanage for a wind shift, the bay has good holding in most areas and all the facilities of a small town, with showers available at the friendly sailing club.
Further west, Plymouth Sound’s most popular summer anchorage is Cawsand Bay but swell sometimes enters in strong SW winds and there is a quieter alternative in Barn Pool (2), immediately north of the Bridge reef, which stretches between Drake’s Island and the Cornish shore.
Care is required when anchoring, as parts of the sea bed slope steeply into very deep water, but there is good holding towards the northern end of the beach.
On shore, the Mount Edgecumbe Country Park has splendid walking trails and there are two eateries: the Edgecumbe Arms and The Orangery in the park.
Continuing westward, let’s assume we have an east wind and need another anchorage but with full shore facilities for re-stocking our stores. St Mawes (3) will be perfect, with lots of swinging room, shelter from all directions except south west, a Co-op store and a real butcher, showers at the sailing club and – most important – pasties sold on the harbour wall.
The town is known for some classy, expensive hotels but the views from an anchored yacht are just as good.
That fine east wind is driving us on, towards the Isles of Scilly, but we want another overnight stop before tackling the crossing.
How about St Michael’s Mount (4)? On its north west side, between the Mount and the Great Hogus Rocks, there is a nice strip of sandy sea bed with good holding and the crew can get ashore by taking the tender into the drying harbour.
Next: out to the Isles of Scilly, where anchoring skills are essential because some visitors’ moorings may be fully occupied and all of them are poorly protected in certain wind directions.
If arriving late in the day, particularly if the trip has turned into a slog from the mainland against a westerly wind, I would NOT head for Hugh Town Harbour, which will be busy and agitated, but would aim to anchor somewhere straightforward and sheltered, such as off Watermill Cove (5) on the NE side of St Mary’s.
After a good night’s sleep and with a full day ahead, exploring within the archipelago will be much less stressful; the pilotage is complex but distances are short and there is no need to hurry.
A good anchorage for a prolonged summer stay is Old Grimsby (6), on the NE flank of Tresco, which has craggy scenery, perfect beaches and water taps on the shore, with pub, shop and even a laundry within easy walking distance.
In east winds, Old Grimsby can feel exposed but there is an equally attractive spot on the other side of Tresco, where New Grimsby Sound is often congested but Appletree Bay (7) has room for all – and another gorgeous beach.
The only snag is that the bay is very shallow at Low Water Springs, which demonstrates one general rule of Scilly cruising: for the best choice of anchorages, go there during neap tides, especially if your boat cannot take the ground.
Now, let’s rewind and assume that from Swanage we sailed south rather than west.
Atlantic swell tends to swing around the Channel Islands, so in westerly winds some of the nominally-sheltered anchorages become rather uncomfortable.
Under these conditions, visitors to Guernsey often anchor in Havelet Bay, immediately outside St Peter Port, but I fancy that Fermain Bay (8), a little further south, is likely to be more peaceful.
Jersey’s most popular anchorages are on its south coast but in winds from the SW quadrant the only one with flat water will be on the drying sands outside St Aubin harbour.
For yachts that need to stay afloat, by far the best shelter is in the remarkably under-used St Catherine Bay (9), north of Gorey on the island’s east coast.
There is ample space for anchoring, with good depths fairly close inshore during neaps.
A café at the root of the long breakwater provides refreshments, although for provisions and water it is necessary to go to Gorey.
For a final treat, it is only short hop from St Catherine Bay to Les Ecrehou (10), one of the Channel Islands most entertaining destinations.
At high water there is a scattering of tiny islets, some of them bearing huts that serve as holiday homes, but as the tide falls it uncovers a vast reef that protects a couple of anchorages.
Knowledgeable locals, many of them from Carteret, arrive during the ebb and spend the low tide period exploring or fishing.
To a stranger, all those rocks may look intimidating but once the natural breakwaters are exposed the water within the reef becomes flat, allowing boats to lie in quiet pools or nose on to the sandy patches.
That’s what competent anchoring is all about: having an adventure, safely.
Recommended by Brian Black
The West Coast of Scotland is rightly considered one of the finest cruising destinations in the world.
The possibilities for anchorages are almost endless and really your main concerns are just how remote you want to be and how exposed you might be.
There is a lot of weather on the West Coast.
When it is fine it offers some stunning scenery with weather constantly changing by the hour to provide some truly spectacular skies.
Of course when the weather is foul you can easily be up against whatever the Atlantic wants to throw at you.
The anchorage in Eilean Mor (1), in the MacCormaig Isles is a tiny inlet with room for only a couple of boats.
Strong tidal streams can make the approach a bit tricky at times but it is well worth a visit this summer.
There is a gut in the main islands where you can put a couple of ropes ashore to hold position, it’s a tight spot but it is a very seldom-used lovely little place.
Puilladobhrain (2) lies just south of Oban, on Seil Island, with spectacular views over Mull, framed by the rocks of the pool.
The sunsets here are glorious.
In the summer and at weekends it gets busy, but in early season you can enjoy it practically undisturbed.
Half a mile over the hill you come to the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ and the 18th century inn Tigh an Truish.
Around Mull there is a great deal of cruising to be done over the summer.
The challenging entrance to Arisaig (3) does require some knowledge or a careful reading of a pilot book.
There are poles marking deep water placed by the Clyde Cruising Club, though they do often go missing after storms.
Once at anchor or on a mooring buoy, not only do you have a sense of achievement but also superlative views to Rum and Eigg and sheep grazing on the beach.
Loch Scavaig (4), Skye is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular and dramatic anchorages on the West Coast, tucked in beneath the towering Cuillin Mountains.
There is a rewarding walk over to Loch Coruisk for stunning views of the ridge.
You’re likely to see deer and possibly sea eagles.
However, the impressive scenery can be matched with equally impressive squalls and katabatic downdrafts at night, so it makes a better lunch stop than overnight anchorage.
Rum is the largest of the Small Islands; some find it an unpleasant place to stop but it’s well worth a visit in the summer.
The main anchorage and moorings are in Loch Scresort (5) and it provides good shelter except with an easterly wind.
Killmory Bay on the north west coast of Rum is worth considering for a stop particularly if the wind is easterly.
In the narrow slot of Kyle Rhea, between Skye and the Scottish mainland, lies Isleornsay (6).
Passage planning is controlled by the fast tides here, which can shoot you along.
It is a beautiful sheltered spot – unless there are strong easterly winds blowing in.
You can anchor to the sea side of the visitor moorings here.
Access ashore is relatively easy – unless it is low tide when you might need to walk across the muddy bottom and tie off your dinghy with a long line.
Wizard Pool (7) is on the island of South Uist, where towering mountains give way to some of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere in Scotland.
It is one of the finest spots to spend some time on the West Coast.
Drop anchor in the secluded, and aptly-named Wizard Pool in Loch Skiport and explore the island’s many bays, lochans, and – particularly on its western coast – unspoiled white sand beaches.
The pool is a tight loch enclosed on all sides with a narrow entrance and you do need to navigate a number of other pools on the approach.
Many Scottish anchorages suffer from poor holding, on rock or weed but the holding in Loch Ewe (8) is generally good.
Selected your spot well and you’ll anchor in the light green of submerged sand.
On Scotland’s northern rim, the prevailing winds in summer are from SSW and the bay at Talmine (9) has natural barriers on both sides.
The houses are widely scattered, on their own croft plots, but we found a well-stocked shop and even a rough campsite with hot showers.
For yachts sailing around Cape Wrath, Loch Laxford (10) is a practical alternative to the nearby harbour at Kinlochbervie and has branching inlets to suit any wind direction.
There are no shops or pubs and the scenery is equally primitive.
People who sail here expecting to see raw, desolate geography won’t be unhappy.
East Coast Anchorages
Recommended by Toby Heppell
The attraction of the East Coast’s mudbanks often puzzles berth-holders on the South Coast, but these fascinating backwaters have a desolate charm every yachtsman should experience.
They have inspired some of the most enduring sailing literature, from Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water to Maurice Griffiths’ The Magic of the Swatchways.
Fin and bilge-keelers will find plenty of empty anchorages – with only curlews and seals for company but you do not need to take the ground to enjoy this stunning coastline.
Shifting banks do mean you will want up to date charts and an eye on the depth is advised.
At the eastern end of the Swale, between the Isle of Sheppey and the coast of mainland Kent, Harty Ferry (1) is at a cruising T- junction between the Thames approach channels and the north-south track up the East Coast.
It has landing hards and pubs on both shores, plus high water access to the town of Faversham.
Heading up the River Roach is a typically east coast adventure.
There are plenty of good spots on the Roach and the deepwater runs fairly centrally southwards. As the river bends round to the west the best water favours the outside of the bend.
This is Quay Reach (3) and there is plenty of room to anchor here with good shelter from strong winds, particularly those with a westerly component.
The south-east shore of Osea Island (4) on the River Blackwater, on the downriver side from the ruined pier, offers a secure anchorage that is sheltered from wind with any north in it.
The island itself is private and often rented out for parties and weddings but it remains a stunning spot to spend a summer night on the hook.
Vessels bound for Maldon have probably anchored here for many years while waiting for the next tide to take them further upriver.
A favourite spot for many to anchor on the East Coast, the Pyefleet (5) offers great holding in thick mud, as with much of the Essex coast.
Once your anchor is set here, it is well and truly set.
The Pyefleet lies opposite the entrance to Brightlingsea Creek.
There are a lot of moorings owned by the Colchester Oyster Fishery.
Some of these are white buoys with a ‘Visitor’ tag pointing out that you may be charged £10 for the privilege of a night’s stay but anchoring is the free option.
The Pyefleet does shallow the further up you go.
Walton Backwaters in the Essex inlet made famous by the Swallows and Amazons books is still suitable for entertaining youngsters – just don’t forget the pemmican.
The anchorage within the entrance to the Walton Channel (2) is right alongside the beach, within easy rowing distance of the town and has shelter from most wind directions.
When the wind is in the north, a sheltered anchorage can be found off Erwarton Ness (6) on the north bank of the River Stour, about two miles upriver from Shotley.
In fine summer weather this is a popular destination but there is usually plenty of space.
Bear in mind, though, that this anchorage is not at all protected in either easterly or westerly winds.
Blakeney (9) offers the nearest shelter to Lowestoft though it can be tough to get in an out, and depth can be an issue.
Although it has no official harbour authority the approach channel is normally well marked and gaining entry may be less stressful than the nearby Wells-Next-The-Sea.
Off Far Point, banks of shingle act as the natural dam and dry out, retaining a pool known as The Pit.
The drying, dog-legged entrance to Burnham Harbour (7) in north Norfolk is unmarked and hardly any yachts try their luck, although the sand dunes conceal a lovely pool that is a deep-water anchorage.
Pool depths need to be measured with an echo sounder and a bit of arithmetic.
Five miles north-west of Whitby, in the right conditions Runswick Bay (10) is an ideal overnight summer anchorage for anyone cruising the north-east coast.
Stay outside the 20m contour line. Only turn into the bay when it comes abeam and sail up the middle.
The deep anchorage south of Holy Island (8) in Northumberland is shielded from northerly swell but uncomfortable in strong west winds, when the use, the drying bay by the small harbour is much snugger.
Despite the name, the bed is firm sand, with a little ooze around the shoreline.
One of the great joys of finding an anchorage is that it is remote.
But if you want to enjoy the remoteness that an anchorage offers, you should be able to live without it at least for a while.
While an overnight is simply a case of having enough battery to keep the lights on, spending much longer away from a marina or other source of shore power does need thinking about.
You’ll either need a good alternator (and extra diesel) or a wind generator. An accurate battery monitor is essential.
An inverter can be useful to charge items such as camera batteries, cordless drills, laptop etc, which all require 240v and therefore shore power for recharging.
It is also worth converting lighting to LED if you haven’t already, as this will save power onboard.
Collapsible water containers, hoses, a good reliable tender and a secure ladder to be able to climb back in board after swimming all make things much easier for getting off the boat once you’ve found your anchorage.
You will be relying heavily on your anchor and chain for security so check that all of the shackles are moused and check the chain carefully.
Anchor chains wear in the part where two adjacent links rub together where wear is not normally visible.
Open up the chain when it is slack and look for any wear in this area that can considerably weaken the chain.
For a few days away, passage planning is generally a matter of catching fair tides, but you will often need to think about the depth you will have when you arrive at your favourite spot.
Entering new harbours
These days there is a wealth of information available about harbours and many anchorages.
The way they look and what you can expect going into a strange harbour for the first time can usually all be found ahead of time.
Of course, it can be a daunting experience because you are not only trying to pick up the next buoy or two but you are also looking for the spot you are going to drop the hook and coping with the local traffic on the water.
For the navigator, coming in from seaward into a new destination can be quite a challenge.
You could do a lot worse than getting a satellite view of the harbour on Google Earth and possibly even an eye level view thanks to the wonders of modern electronic charts.
At least you will be armed with what to expect.
Overhead views, however, can be difficult to replicate in your mind when sailing in at eye level, so try to visualise what the scene may look like before setting out.
Night-time can be a different matter because you cannot replicate what the shore lights might look like and trying to see the lights of buoys, beacons and other vessels against the shore lights can present a very confusing picture to the inexperienced newcomer.
Enjoyed reading Summer cruising: the 40 best UK anchorages?
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