The Yacht Set
Yachting in South West, UK
Yacht Charter in the UK’s Devonshire and Cornish coast is the ultimate English holiday. The sea reaches out to visitor with blue waters, warm enough to swim in the summer and ideal for water sports, with an incredible variety of special places to visit and explore.
Guide to cruising the UK West Country
The West Country is packed with enticing boating spots and hidden gems. I can honestly say that the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall have always provided our most magical summer cruises. The fabulous estuaries and colourful harbours are discreetly served by well-spaced marinas from where you can explore paradise anchorages and secluded beaches only accessible by sea. The pace of living is languid down here and you can potter as the mood takes you. West Country rivers are ideal for this, soothingly laid back but with constant activity to entertain. Anchored in the Dart, the Salcombe estuary or River Fal, you need hardly move from your flybridge or cockpit except to rustle up lunch and open the wine.
Three miles wide, Tor Bay is an evocative landfall after a Lyme Bay crossing. On a clear day, you see the humped tors of Dartmoor well inland, before the outer headlands come into focus. Berry Head is a bold sheer cliff 200ft high, capped by England’s shortest yet most commanding lighthouse. Hope’s Nose slopes to a low snout and has two craggy islets just offshore – the flat-topped Ore Stone to seaward and the humped Thatcher Rock further in. With two good marinas and its back to the west, Tor Bay is a magnificent sheltered expanse for day cruising. Large ships anchor here and the bay is a mass of sails when racing is in full swing.
Pleasure boats shuttle out from Torquay and the heady mix of light and colour and warm salt spray can feel like the Gulf of St Tropez. Tucked into the north-west corner of the bay, Torquay is shielded from chilly northerlies, rather like Antibes. The marina in the heart of town (pictured above) caters particularly well for larger boats. Known as the English Riviera, Torquay does indeed have palm trees and a genuinely mild climate. Opulent villas perch high above the sea in spacious gardens, still casting an air of Agatha Christie style. Huddled behind its long breakwater, Brixham is a busy fishing port with a marina in its east corner. The colourful old town stacks around the harbour, a warren of narrow streets, tread-worn steps and smugglers alleys. The quays feel alive and purposeful, with trawlers and crabbers landing at the fish market, and pilot boats bustling in and out.
Not far round Hope’s Nose you can anchor at Babbacombe Bay (pictured above) or use a buoy off the Carey Arms, with its bar, restaurant and garden terraces overlooking the sea. Fishcombe Cove is a delightful wooded inlet west of Brixham entrance.
Number 7 Fish Bistro is situated behind Torquay Harbour on Beacon Hill.
Berry Head Hotel is a pleasant stroll from Brixham Marina, with a brasserie terrace overlooking Tor Bay.
Friendly Brixham Yacht Club is set back from holiday mêlée on the west side of the harbour, and offers superb views and good bar suppers.
A cruising classic, Dartmouth’s grand port is cocooned in a steep-sided valley with fantastic layers of houses climbing above the river on both sides. Kingswear village faces Dartmouth from the east bank and ferries shuttle between them. The inspiring facade of Britannia Royal Naval College overlooks the harbour from its rolling acres of park. Dartmouth has three marinas: Darthaven on the Kingswear side, Dart Marina just past the Higher Ferry, and Noss Marina further upstream near an old shipyard. Darthaven has a chandler and travel-lift, and you visit Dartmouth by dinghy or ferry. Dart Marina (pictured below) is next to a comfortable hotel, bar and restaurant and you stroll into town along the embankment.
You can cruise two miles inland at any tide to visitor buoys off
Dittisham village, handy for the welcoming Ferry Boat Inn and Anchorstone Café.
Above half-flood, the river is navigable another six miles to the old port of Totnes. The peaceful Dart valley winds past mysterious creeks, ancient oaks, a few choice manor houses and a vineyard!
You glimpse Stoke Gabriel village and pass Duncannon quay before the river snakes away into secret country. Arriving at Totnes near high water, you can turn just opposite the Steam Packet Inn.
Newfoundland Cove is a handy lunch anchorage just outside Dartmouth. Blackpool Sands (pictured below) is a splendid beach two miles west of Dartmouth. Anchor in the east corner outside the swimming buoys and dinghy ashore to Venus beach café.
Redlap Cove is a ‘locals’ hideaway between Dartmouth and Blackpool. Hallsands is in the south crook of Start Bay, near an old ruined village.
The Seahorse seafood restaurant is my star choice on South Embankment. Chef Mitch Tonks also runs the Rockfish fish and chip café further along the quay.
Pubs Worth a Visit
Don’t miss The Ship Inn just above Darthaven Marina. The Floating Bridge is next to Dart Marina, with cask ales and hearty cooking.
My favourite is the pleasantly ‘lived in’ Windjammer Inn (pictured right) run by yachtsman Andy Coombe – a great choice of beers and excellent food.
Although Start Point has a tidal race, in fair weather near slack it’s an easy run from Dartmouth to Salcombe, looking welcoming from offshore despite the rugged grandeur of Bolt Head on the west side.
As you peer in through the narrows, the sun often catches the desirable residential slopes of this peerless Devon town. A few gleaming sails usually show where the channel jinks to starboard past Wolf Rock and Sunny Cove. Salcombe has no marina, a luxury which has preserved the old style atmosphere of this fun-loving harbour. There are visitor buoys and water taxis, and from a prime site swinging mooring you can watch all the comings and goings. Landing at Whitestrand pontoon you are right in the centre of things and the convivial summer hubbub is rather relaxing. The town is an agreeable blend of traditional Devon and metropolitan chic on hols.
Sunny Cove (pictured above) is just inside Salcombe entrance with a golden sandy beach.
Elender Cove is a dramatic cleft in the cliffs near Prawle Point, snug overnight in offshore winds.
Hope Cove is an ideal lunch stop between Salcombe and Plymouth, tucked behind Bolt Tail.
dickandwills waterside brasserie is on Fore Street (turn left after landing) with a deck overlooking the estuary.
Pubs Worth a Visit
The Ferry Inn (pictured right) has bars on three floors, estuary views and a waterside garden.
Don’t miss lunch at the stylish Hope and Anchor in Hope Cove.
A dozen miles from Salcombe, the Yealm is probably Devon’s most restful estuary, completely hidden from offshore behind Yealm Head. As you approach this coast, it so well hidden you even doubt there could be a river here at all. The cliffs were deserted, with hardly a house in sight, but then you spot the leading marks and assumed they must go somewhere… The shallow entrance has a drying bar jutting well across from the north, but is simple enough an hour before high water.
Inside this secret river you can lie alongside a pontoon on the south side of Yealm Pool, beneath a wooded shore. Then Newton Arm forks to the east while the main channel continues north through moorings towards another pontoon. You’ll see a packed dinghy landing leading to Newton Ferrers village and its jumbled riverside houses.
Pubs Worth a Visit
On the north side of Newton Arm, The Dolphin has super views and is next to Yealm Yacht Club with its cosy bistro. On the south side, Noss Creek has The Ship Inn on its west bank and The Swan on the east.
Plymouth Sound is a historic naval roadstead, which catches the imagination as you pass the outer breakwater. To port is Cawsand Bay, where sailing fleets once anchored.
Ahead is Drake’s Island, the elegant seafront and famous grassy ‘Hoe’ where the great man finished his game of bowls before chasing after the Spanish.
Passing the island you branch to starboard to reach Plymouth Yacht Haven or the two marinas nearest the city – Queen Anne’s Battery and Sutton Harbour.
Sutton is a fascinating locked basin in the heart of the Barbican old quarter, surrounded by restaurants, cafés and salty pubs. Queen Anne’s Battery is outside the lock, set back from the bustle.
Plymouth Yacht Haven (pictured above) is on the south side of the Cattewater, a short ferry ride from the city. But my Plymouth favourite is Mayflower Marina, just into the Tamar a mile past Drake’s Island. The pontoons face some fine old naval buildings, now part of a smart development at Royal William Yard. Across the river is a leafy country park.
Jolly Jacks is a great cruising bistro at Mayflower Marina. Breakfast from 0900. Rockfish seafood café is on the east side of Sutton lock and Quay33 on the west. The Bridge restaurant overlooks Plymouth Yacht Haven just across the water.
Pubs Worth a Visit
The Barbican has pubs galore. I like the Ship Inn, on the west side of the harbour north of the lock. If you anchor in Cawsand Bay, don’t miss the delightful Devonport Inn.
Tamar River to Polperro
From Mayflower Marina, follow the channel past two high bridges. Then it’s not far up to Cargreen Quay, where you can usually find a mooring.
This is the real rural West Country, with patchwork fields sloping to the river and the tides slowly changing the scene.
High water brims up to the farm hedges and mud flats creep out during the ebb, exposing tasty morsels for herons and egrets.
West of Plymouth you enter Cornish waters, where the coast looks lush and tempting behind Whitsand Bay. You see Looe Island off the entrance to Looe’s long tidal harbour (pictured above) and then the cliffs feel slightly more rugged and remote. Polperro comes next, a picture-postcard fishing village hidden until you reach its gap in the cliffs. Then you see a bright jigsaw of cottages above the tiny harbour. There are visitor buoys here or you can anchor off for a lunchtime stop.
Cawsand Bay is a classic anchorage on the west side of Plymouth Sound, where Cawsand and Kingsand villages merge along the shore.
Dandy Hole is an amazing low tide pool three miles up St German’s River. An hour before HW, head west off the Tamar just below the bridges.
Beyond Polperro, Fowey entrance is marked by a striking red-and-white daymark on Gribbin Head.
Inside two 16th century forts, Fowey opens to an impressive harbour still used by real ships.
No marina here, but plenty of visitor buoys and a detached pontoon off the east shore.
Fowey’s streets and alleys are fun to explore and there are pubs and bistros near Albert Quay landing.
Polruan faces Fowey on the east shore, a very Cornish village with its own special character.
Mixtow Pill (pictured below) is an attractive wooded inlet half a mile above Fowey, with a long pontoon linked to the shore. A riverside path leads south to Bodinnick village.
We invariably make for Sam’s Bistro in Fore Street and immediately order the bouillabaisse and a bottle of house red!
The Quay Café at Mixtow Pill is a gem for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Great Fowey Pubs
Take the quaint car ferry across to Bodinnick and The Old Ferry Inn.
This historic packet port is tantalising to approach, with tongues of sheltered water stretching away in all directions.
To starboard St Mawes village looks exquisitely English, like a colonial outpost in a far-flung land.
Straight ahead, Carrick Road glides up to Mylor Yacht Harbour and the Truro and Fal Rivers (pictured above).
To port past the dockyard lies Falmouth itself, with Port Pendennis next to the Maritime Museum and Falmouth Haven off the town quays.
Further upstream, Falmouth Marina (pictured below) is a safe place to leave a boat.
Falmouth’s old winding streets give unexpected glimpses of the harbour, which has tourist launches, ferries, tugs, fishing boats and large ships moving about. Be sure to stroll out to Pendennis Point for views across Falmouth Bay and along the coast past Helford River.
Channels Creek is a shallow inlet on the Fal two miles above Mylor Yacht Harbour. Anchor off its mouth just above Turnaware Bar.
The Shed is a lively bistro behind Port Pendennis.
Hunkydory Restaurant is near Falmouth Haven in Arwenack Street.
Don’t miss Castaways Bistro at Mylor Yacht Harbour. From Falmouth, take the ferry to Flushing and walk there around Trefusis Point.
Pubs Worth a Visit
From the north end of High Street, climb to The Boathouse on Beacon Street for great views, beers and cooking. I like The Seven Stars over in Flushing village – take the dinghy or harbour ferry.
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