Let’s be fair. Watersports in the UK, with its well-renowned chilly weather that descends on its shores, unfortunately doesn’t pack the same tropical punch as the bare foot-sun-clad waters of say, the Med or Caribbean. But when it comes to sailing, there’s something about Britain that attracts locals and visitors year on year. Exploring the inland and offshore waters of the UK isn’t just an investment in fleeces, it’s a chance to visit remarkably diverse waters and landscapes that has largely slipped under the radar, by publications focusing on the hot climate ideals of sailing travellers. So with that said, here are the top 10 sailing destinations in the UK.
Host to national regattas, world championships and not least, the London Olympic sailing events in 2012, this is an ideal place to start learning and draw inspiration from this bustling sailing town.
For sailing with a view, the west coast of Scotland offers some fantastic sailing. The largest stretch of inland water in Great Britain, Loch Lomond comprises Ben Lomond to the north, Balloch to the south and the Conic Hill to the east. Milarrochy Bay on the eastside is an ideal place to launch, hosting nice open waters with the option to venture to the wilder loch which hosts races against a stunning backdrop.
Windermere is the largest lake in England, with 10 miles of prime sailing waters housed in the beautiful national park The Lake District, in the north of England. Lined with fells, woods, inlets and some of the best countryside in the UK, it’s worth a trip even for the scenery.
Cowes, the hub of performance yacht racing, hosts the oldest regular regatta in the world, Cowes Week, which has become the largest event of its kind on the planet. Over 8,000 competitors and 100,000 spectators congregate to watch the world’s best set sail. With the sailing season starting in May, there are plenty of ways to get your sailing fix outside of Cowes Week, and if you want to learn, the challenging tides but array of instructing schools, will mean that once you learn to sail here, you can sail almost anywhere.
This seven-mile lake takes you on a journey past some pretty awe-inspiring views, with dramatic fells leading you down to the bottom of the Lake, where the picturesque town of Glenridding is host to many a wedding, for its stunning setting. Ullswater hosts the Lord Birkett Trophy which is an annual competition attracting keen sailors from around the world.
Pwllheli is a market town in northwest Wales, where Cardigan Bay, its sailing hotspot, provides weak tidal currents, predictable winds and stunning scenery for all sailing abilities to enjoy. The backdrop is no less than the Snowdonia National Park, a range of craggy peaks and lakes that are a bonus to visiting this part of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland has a great range of sailing areas, which if you’re seeking coastal waters, head for Belfast Loiyd, Strangford Lough, Carlingford or the Antrim Coast. For inland sailing, the best areas are Upper and Lower Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. For inland sailing, Lough Neagh and Upper & Lower Lough Erne are the two best areas to head for.
The water is engrained in this fishing town’s identity, with Port Solent home to nearly two thirds of the Royal Navy’s sea-level fleet. The Solent is known as the water separating the Isle of Wight from the English mainland. Yachts here generally sail west to take in the famous locations that have rendered the Solent rich in centuries of nautical history. Steady winds but thrilling conditions make it an ideal destination for experienced sailors.
If you’re northern bound, Tynemouth offers great facilities with a full sailing club just round the corner from the mouth of the Tyne. Down the coast, Alnmouth in Northumberland hosts a marina and plenty of watersports and sailing activities.
The appeal of this Tudor sailing port in Aldeburgh in Suffolk is its versatility, with heaps of opportunities along the river Alde for some dynamic sailing in dinghies, catamarans or yachts. With plenty of wildlife (in particular, birds) to take stock of, there’s a boating lake and rowing hire for a more low-key alternative. A 40-minute drive away will take you to Suffolk Yacht Harbour, one of leading independent, privately owned Marinas in the UK and home to 550 berths and a RYA training centre. The harbour is a hub of activity hosting courses (including shore-based) in dinghy, yachting and power boating, to name a few.
The chance for sailing enthusiasts to merge their passion for sailing with the buzz of a city is rare, but once found, like at St. Katharine Docks in central London, encapsulates the needs of any cosmopolitan sailor to a tee. St. Katharine Docs is in the heart of central London, accommodating both visitors and long berth contracts holding 185 berths for vessels up to 40m long. The iconic location paired with the chance to sail up the Thames and moor next door to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, cements its place in the top 10 sailing destinations in the UK.
Sailing among the dramatic coastlines and national parks of the UK can be enjoyed as full-time sailing holiday, weekend break or simply a day sail. For more information on destinations, a list of sailing clubs in the UK and events, visit the Royal Yachting Association where you’ll be able to find all the help you need. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some pearls of wisdom by Mark Twain, “In twenty years you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail… Explore. Dream. Discover.”