Winning tip: Great Glen paddle, Scottish Highlands
The best boating experience we had was paddling an open Canadian canoe with friends across the lochs and canals that make up Scotland’s Great Glen Trail. We were amazed by the breathtaking scenery and much-appreciated tranquillity of this wonderful route. If you catch the wind in the right direction, like we did, you can even try a spot of canoe sailing with a spare paddle and a group shelter put to good use! You can paddle part or all of the trail, with plenty of hire and guided options available from this helpful trail website.
Lundy life, from north Devon
Sailing from north Devon to Lundy is (nearly) always a lovely trip. You pass along the north Devon coast before heading out the 20-odd miles to the small rocky island. Watch out for dolphins and, closer to the island, seals. Once we saw a submarine being towed but never found out why. It can occasionally be rough though. If you suffer from sea sickness, take a pill and stay on deck if you can – the bar can get busy.
Book with the Landmark Trust, day returns £44 adult, £22.50 4-16 years
So good we didn’t get off, Mull
We took a drive to Oban for the day with our two young daughters on a day when the weather wasn’t great. When we arrived there was a CalMac ferry about to leave for Mull and the kids wanted to go, so we bought return tickets. We didn’t get off the ferry in Mull: the boat trip alone was fantastic, and the kids saw dolphins. It may have been raining nonstop but we enjoyed the trip and the fantastic views. The skipper on the ferry laughed at us for not getting off, but it was a perfect way to spend the day in our UK weather.
Puffins and gannets, Yorkshire coast
The Yorkshire Belle has used the Covid closure for a spruce-up and has been back in action since 17 May. Last week our family enjoyed our annual family trip on this lovely vessel, sailing from Bridlington harbour out to the lighthouse in Flamborough Bay (adult £8, child £4), on surprisingly calm, sheltered waters. The local company offers a variety of cruises from an hour to half a day, and you can even hire it yourself. Our favourite is the afternoon tour to the Filey Bay heritage coast, where you can see magnificent groups of puffins and gannets on the clifftops and near the rocks. On evening ghost cruises in the summer holidays, onboard “ghouls” recount the adventures of ancient pirates. Great fun.
Over the sea – the best way to get to Skye
The Glenelg-Skye ferry is a very short journey (five minutes, about three an hour) but has to be my favourite boat trip. There are very fast currents in the Kyle Rhea between Glenelg and Skye, which has affected the design of the MV Glenachulish. It is unique in that the deck is a turntable, and can only take six cars. But oh, the views and the wildlife. I’ve seen seals, otters, dolphins and a huge sea eagle. It costs £15 for a car – excellent value.
Du Maurier and D-day, Cornwall
Go back in time along the Helford River and Frenchman’s Creek on the Roseland peninsula with Helford River Cruises. This creek was the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s book. It’s also the spot where thousands of soldiers left for the D-day landings. See seals, birds and, if you’re very lucky, dolphins. End with a pint of Proper Job Cornish IPA at the Ferryboat Inn. The cruise is around two hours long and makes a perfect lazy afternoon.
Fairy ferry, south Devon
Hopping aboard the cheery South Sands ferry is one of the pleasures of a trip to the South Hams resort of Salcombe. The “fairy”, as my daughters call it, sails regularly between the town centre and South Sands beach. As you chug along, there are glorious views across the estuary and of millionaires’ waterfront mansions. When you near South Sands, the famous ‘ea Tractor travels out to greet you, and delivers you to the beach.
One-way adult £4.50, child £3.50
Extraordinary Shetland island
A boat tour with Shetland Seabird Tours from Lerwick, Shetland’s main town, to the uninhabited island of Noss provides extraordinary sights and sounds. As the boat nudges out of the harbour, an inquisitive Atlantic grey seal may watch you. Sailing beneath the imposing sandstone cliffs at Noss, armies of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and skuas occupy every available space. The cacophony of raucous cries and the smell of guano are unimaginable. Witness flotillas of more than 25,000 gannets in a feeding frenzy. Two experienced ecologists will guide you through memorable wildlife encounters.
Shaken and stirred, central London
For my husband’s 40th birthday I wanted to do a James Bond-themed weekend in London and spotted a deal that fitted right in. A Thames Speedboat tour (from £43) got us a rib boat ride on the Thames and a vodka martini – perfect. Just wow! It certainly exceeded expectations. We ambled up the Thames having various sites pointed out to us before a call came through on the radio from the “police” to get us to help catch a criminal. The driver opened up the throttle, the James Bond theme played on the stereo, and off we went in pursuit at breakneck speed. So exhilarating. The addition of a martini opposite the MI6 building finished it off perfectly.
Pond life, east London
It may be a DIY job, but a rowing boat on Hollow Ponds in Leytonstone is a perfect way to spend a lazy summer afternoon. Scatter bird feed as you row and you’ll be surrounded by a variety of squarking gulls, quacking ducks, gaggling geese and serene swans – and if you’re lucky you might spot the rare black swan. Afterwards, visit the Log Cabin for a reviving cuppa or, if you’ve been scared by “The Birds” try the newly refurbished Hitchcock Hotel over the road for a Leading Lady cocktail. An hour’s boat rental costs £15 and parking is free.
Power boat from Padstow, Cornwall