For those wishing to explore on foot and by sail, the UK offers a broad range of stunning coastal walks all within easy reach of an anchorage or marina
Uncertainty about sailing overseas due to COVID-19 will see many of us cruising closer to home this season. New experiences at home are likely to be key for an enjoyable summer, so why not sail to one of the many UK coastal walks?
The diversity of the British Isles means this is not a hardship; in fact narrowing down your
cruising ground and then your choice of harbour or anchorage will be your biggest dilemma when planning your passage.
In the first of a new Yachting Monthly series celebrating our rich home waters, we look at the best cruising destinations for UK coastal walks and climbing mountains from your boat. These trails are aimed at all abilities ranging from gentle undulating rambles along the coastline to challenging ascents of some of the highest peaks in the British Isles.
Depending on where your boat is based, each of these UK coastal walks could be a long weekend cruise or the end destination for a longer voyage, and we have included suggestions of other UK coastal walks nearby for those who want to explore further. Don’t forget to pack the Kendal Mint Cake!
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Loch Coruisk, Skye
Local expert: Miranda Delmar-Morgan
There are hundreds of great UK coastal walks on Skye, making it an ideal cruising destination for rambling. The circular 3-4 hour walk around Loch Coruisk, said to be the finest of all the Scottish freshwater lochs, has the spectacular backdrop of the Black Cuillin mountains.
The ancient magma chamber drains over smooth glacial rocks into Loch Scavaig. From the bothy near the jetty this wild 4.25-mile walk has stunning views and is well worth the wet feet you get from boggy parts.
If impassable at the head and foot after heavy rains, the south side has the best views and easier walking. www.walkhighlands.co.uk/skye/lochcoruisk.shtml
Loch na Cuilce anchorage provides access to the walk. It has good holding in sand in 2.2-4m, but large quantities of kelp, and midges. Powerful down-draughts can uproot your anchor. Run lines to mooring rings set in rocks on En Glas and ashore if squalls threaten.
Keep 0.5 cable off En Reamhar off the western shore to keep midway between a rocky outcrop from En Reamhar and the Sgeir Docha rock which is awash at LW.
Maintain a NNW’ly course, leaving Sgeir Doigich 0.5 cable to port. Beware sunken rocks SW of En Glas then swing north to pass 20m off the NW tip of En Glas island inside the drying Seal Rock, 50m off the NW end of En Glas. Pass between them on a northerly heading then swing just E of N.
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Corpach for Ben Nevis
Local expert: Sarah Brown
Standing proud over the Fort William and clearly visible from Corpach, Ben Nevis is an impressive sight, tempting more than 100,000 walkers every year. The summit (1,345m/4,412ft) often sits above the clouds, lending it an ethereal look as tendrils of mist cling to the mountain’s flanks, flowing like wave-blown spume about the gulleys.
The walk up Britain’s highest mountain is no small undertaking; words like strenuous, challenging and unrelenting are used to describe it, and that is the ‘easy’ route up the well-worn Pony Track.
The www.walkhighlands.co.uk website suggests leaving up to 9 hours to complete the 11-mile route (OS Explorer map 392), so it is a long day out from the boat.
There are more challenging routes up the mountain, including the renowned Carn Mor Dearg Arete which is suitable for more experienced mountain walkers. Nearby Glen Nevis and The West Highland Way offer other walking routes.
The sail up Loch Linnhe is stunning with mountains on each side. The NE/SW trend of the landscape funnels the wind, however, so it can be close haul all the way! Take the tidal gate at Corran Narrows seriously; springs offer upwards of 4kts, more after heavy rainfall. The Achintore Mooring Association and Lochaber Yacht Club (firstname.lastname@example.org) welcome visitors.
Those entering the Caledonian Canal (www.scottishcanals.co.uk) can use Corpach Sea Lock. Ensure you plan well ahead as canal staffing levels mean there is no guaranteed assistance to single-handers.
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Whitehaven for the Lake District
Local expert: Jonty Pearce
Whitehaven is an excellent nautical gateway to the hills of the Lake District offering stunning UK coastal walks and impressive walking further inland; indeed, this combination forms the second section of The Three Peaks Yacht Race whose entrants sail into Whitehaven Marina before a 20-mile cycle to ascend Scafell Pike via Wasdale Head. The climb to Scafell Pike’s 978m (3,210ft) peak may appeal to many.
Transport to the Wasdale Head start of the UK coastal walk will need to be organised; this could be by hire car or taxi.
A taxi bus leaves Whitehaven at 0840 on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; pre-booking on 019467 25308 is essential. A sensible route up the mountain from Wasdale is by the Brown Tongue Path to Lingmell Col and thence to the summit and its notable views.
Return the same way, but check you are in time to catch the return bus at 1749. Ensure you are properly dressed and equipped for the mountain.
Historic Whitehaven Harbour was developed during the 17th century to service the coal trade, and was considered as important as Bristol and Liverpool. Invaded by the Americans in 1778, it now peacefully comprises a drying outer harbour with a sealock-protected inner harbour where Whitehaven Marina is housed.
The approach is straightforward with no off-lying hazards, and the lock is accessible four hours either side of HW. Beware of stiff onshore winds creating turbulence against an ebb tide, but even these conditions should not prevent entry.
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North Antrim, Northern Ireland
Local expert: Norman Kean
The path along the clifftops above the World Heritage Site of the Giant’s Causeway has been listed by The Guardian as one of the top 10 UK walks anywhere in the UK, let alone UK coastal walks. It’s part of a 32-mile track (OSNI The Causeway Coast and Rathlin Island Activity map) that extends from Portstewart to Ballycastle, and you can cover as much or as little of it as takes your fancy.
From Portballintrae to the Giant’s Causeway is 3 miles, and another 4.7 miles of track reaches Dunseverick Castle. The scenery is breathtaking, with spectacular cliffs and stacks of columnar basalt.
Bands of red clay show where an older lava flow weathered for thousands of years before being covered by a later one, and slow cooling and cracking over eons of time produced the columns. The views along the coast, out to Rathlin Island and across to the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura are stunning. www.causewaycoastway.com.
This part of the coast is 60 miles by sea from Belfast Lough and 12 from Ballycastle or Rathlin. The horseshoe bay at Portballintrae provides anchorage in offshore winds, but the safest harbour is Portrush, four miles further west.
A two-hourly bus service in summer links Portrush with the Causeway and Dunseverick Castle,
and also calls by Bushmills, home to the famous whiskey distillery. A narrow-gauge railway, part of the Giant’s Causeway Tramway, runs for two miles between Bushmills and the Causeway.
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Caernarfon for Snowdonia
Local expert: Jonty Pearce
Whenever considering North Wales UK coastal walks, thoughts immediately turn to Snowdonia, and especially the famous peak that gives the area its name. The highest mountain in Wales and England, Snowdon dominates its surrounding family of jagged peaks and forms an impressive backdrop when looking east from the Menai Strait.
Six established paths lead up the 1,085 metre (3,560 ft) peak; the 3.4 mile Pyg Track is the shortest walking route and involves the least amount of ascent (800m/2,624ft). It can be steep and rocky in places but is uncomplicated to follow and good underfoot.
Allow three hours; more if your fitness is in doubt or you dawdle admiring the excellent views. Don’t forget to dress for the mountains and wear proper footwear. Starting at Pen y Pass, there is always the option of booking the Snowdon Mountain Railway down if preferred. The Snowdon Sherpa Bus takes you from Caernarfon to the start of the six routes.
Nestled under the castle walls, Caernarfon’s Victoria Dock makes a good place to berth. Assuming that a transit of the Menai Strait’s Swellies is not planned, Caernarfon Bar has to be crossed.
The channel over the sands is well buoyed. Only attempt the bar three hours either side of HW in favourable tide and wind. Even moderate southwesterly winds combined with an ebbing tide can make it impassable. The latest chartlet and buoy positions are available at www.caernarfonharbour.org.uk/caernarfon-bar. Once over the bar, follow the marked channel to Caernarfon.
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South West Coast Path, Plymouth Sound
Local expert: Jane Cumberlidge
The South West Coast Path is a well know Uk coastal walk, which passes through Plymouth’s seafront making it an ideal base. Start the 6.2-mile Plymouth to Rame Head walk (OS Landranger 201) by taking the Cremyll ferry across the Tamar into Cornwall.
The path from Cremyll to Picklecombe passes through Mount Edgcumbe Country Park overlooking Drake’s Island, the city and the Hoe. At Picklecombe Fort, you often see ships anchored inside the breakwater. Carry on through Kingsand and Cawsand. Cawsand Bay’s beach and anchorage can be crowded, so stay away at weekends.
You climb up from Cawsand through a wooded section. As you round Penlee Point, stop and look at Queen Adelaide’s Grotto, once a lookout. After this the path is a more open, gentle rise towards Rame Head. A track to the left leads you to St Michael’s chapel with stunning views west towards Lizard Point, east to Bolt Tail near Salcombe or south to the Eddystone and its famous lighthouse.
Entering Plymouth Sound, pass west of the breakwater and then follow the buoyed channel round Drake’s Island for Mayflower Marina. You can use the Bridge near high water, or bear right in front of the Hoe for Queen Anne’s Battery or Sutton Harbour.
For a shorter walk you could anchor in Cawsand Bay and land by dinghy or during the summer take a ferry from Plymouth.
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Jurassic Coast, Dorset
Local expert: Theo Stocker
For dramatic cliffs, undulating walks and cosy pubs, Dorset’s Jurassic Coast is hard to beat and is a huely popular UK coastal walks destination. In settled weather a range of anchorages give access to unspoilt coastline. Weymouth to the west and Swanage, Studland and Poole to the east offer protection and a base from which to continue exploring ashore.
The South West Coast Path (www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk) can be picked up at various points, with inland loops for variety. From Weymouth, Bowleaze Cove to the Smuggler’s Inn at Osmington makes a nice morning circuit, or continue to the Ringstead coastguard cottages for the view – also walkable from Lulworth.
Walking east of Lulworth Cove, you’ll pass the fossilised forest, Mupe Bay and Arish Mell with its iron age fort above before descending into Worbarrow Bay and the abandoned village at Tyneham.
St Aldhelm’s Chapel and the NCI lookout on St Alban’s Head make a lovely circuit from Chapman’s Pool via the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers. Dancing Ledge is a good objective from Swanage via Durlston Head.
Anchorages with sufficient depth abound – Lulworth Cove, Mupe Bay, Worbarrow Bay and Chapman’s Pool. Tidal streams around Anvil Point and St Alban’s Head should be given due consideration. Don’t attempt the anchorages in anything other than settled weather or gentle northerlies.
Check the Army gunnery ranges are open to the public (www.gov.uk/government/publications/lulworth-firing-notice) – generally at weekends and holidays. Anchoring off Weymouth or Swanage offers shelter from the west, though a bit of a dinghy ride ashore. Weymouth Harbour offers all-tide access if a SW blow is approaching.
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Yar Valley, Isle of Wight
Local expert: Jason Lawrence
The Isle of Wight has 68 miles of UK coastal walks as well as plenty of trails inland.
Located at the west end of the island, 5 miles from the Needles and 2.5 miles north of Freshwater, Yarmouth is a fabulous cruising destination with plenty of walks just outside of the marina.
Walking west takes you along the coastal path, through Fort Victoria, past Fort Albert and on through Colwell, Totland and Alum bays towards the Needles. The chalk grassland of Tennyson Down and its monument to the Poet Laureate who found inspiration here are a short detour south.
A shady stroll to the south takes you along the east of the Yar valley towards Freshwater. At All Saints Church turn to stroll back on the west bank, or continue on to Freshwater and Tennyson Down. Heading east along the coastal path winding through Bouldnor and Hamstead takes you to Newtown Creek. OS Explorer Map OL29.
Approaching from the west, Yarmouth is 2 miles from Hurst Narrows, so with a fair tide the distance is covered quickly. From the east it’s an easy run down the Solent. Watch out for the ferry on approach.
Prior booking is strongly advised as the marina, which has full facilities, is popular. On arrival, contact the berthing master on VHF Ch.68 and you will be met at the breakwater entrance and guided to your berth. There is a maintained depth of 2m below chart datum which should accommodate most Solent cruisers.
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Milton Creek, the Swale, Kent
Local expert: Nick Ardley
Milton Creek was an industrial powerhouse for bricks, cement and barge building for two centuries. Production ceased around 1980, leaving a cleaved, reshaped land.
To explore, the Lillies is a delightful, quiet anchorage surrounded by mudflats and saltings. Seals and many wading species abound, adding to the mix of old and modern industrial charm.
Ashore, several part-dismantled Second World War minesweepers sit either side of the hard. Walk up Ferry Lane past flooded pits forming the bird reserve, and continue to the ancient Old Murston Church.
At the creek, join the Saxon Shore Way. Downstream are evocative decaying wharves. A cordgrass cocooned spritsail barge awaits before reaching the seawall.
The circular route of 4 miles is easy walking, following an OS Landranger 178 map. The 153-mile Saxon Shore Way runs from Hastings to Gravesend, offering varied walking and a choice of anchorages and harbours including Chatham, Whitstable and Faversham.
Queenborough Harbour (VHF Ch.8) with swinging and alongside berths is a grand base. South Deep or Swale Marina, up Conyer Creek are alternatives to consider.
The passage to Elmley Ferry is well buoyed as is the East Swale channel. Buoyage changes direction at Elmley Ferry. Allow yourself plenty of time to navigate the Swale Lifting Bridge (VHF Ch.10). Anchor in the pool between Lillies south cardinal and the North/South Ferry buoys. A delightful spot in
a westerly blow.
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Norfolk Coast Path, Wells-next-the-Sea
Local expert: Julia Jones
Once you’ve survived the Wells bar, moored alongside the pontoon and eaten your first fish and chips you may never want to leave again.
The mile-long raised promenade will take you to the beach. Walk on westwards to Holkham, either via the astonishing sands or sheltering behind the Holkham pines (important when the north wind reminds you there’s no land between here and the Arctic).
A popular UK coastal walk, the Norfolk Coast Path runs 84 miles from Sea Palling to Hunstanton. It connects with the ancient Peddars Way and includes many short circular routes, among them a 6.75 mile tramp between Holkham and Wells (OS Explorer Map Active 251).
There is a salt marsh on the east of Wells harbour reachable by dinghy with the tide. The flood comes in fast so make sure you carry a tide table.
This stretch of coast is protected by a formidable sandbank outside which the flood builds. Entry HW
-0200 to +0100. Call Wells Port (www.portofwells.co.uk) on VHF Ch 12 for advice.
Visitors shouldn’t attempt entry in any onshore wind over Force 4 or with heavy northerly swell. It’s a drying harbour which can become crowded. Rafting up necessary in high season.
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Pick up a copy of Sail the British Isles book from Yachting Monthly
From the makers of Yachting Monthly comes this essential guide to sailing around the UK and Ireland. Every iconic location in the British Isles is covered here, from peaceful ports like Dartmouth to sailing hotspots such as the Isle Of Wight. Perfect for planning a long weekend getaway or an ambitious break on the waves, Sail The British Isles is perfect for any boating enthusiast who is itching to discover their next adventure.
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