Most visitors to Britain know it as a green and pleasant land, of historic cities and peaceful countryside, yet Britain is ultimately an island nation surrounded by vast, turbulent seas. Yet unless you venture down to the beach, many of which are frigid, cold and windswept, or take the ferry to France in order to catch a glimpse of Dover’s white cliffs, you would never know it. In all there are easily over 1,000 islands making up Britain, adding up, by some measurements, to over 19,000 miles of diverse, splendid and exciting shoreline. Here is a look at some of the very best ways to experience the isolate, island nature of this beautiful nation.
Hire a Boat
At heart Britain is a seafaring nation. This is why the Brits conquered much of the world, heading overseas in ships and barques to distant lands. It is why vast port cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle grew up next to the sea, and how Britain grew rich on overseas trade. Even the unofficial national anthem, Britannia Rule the Waves, refers to the glorious past of the Royal Navy. So the single best way to experience Britain from the sea is to become a seafarer yourself and hire a boat. Head to cities with vast marinas, such as Portsmouth and Southampton on the sunny south-coast, and haggle for the best deal on a yacht charter. Head out to see, to the Isle of Wight, Seven Sisters rock formation and the singles of Chesil Beach to discover some of the United Kingdom’s prettiest seaside landscapes. If you are up for something a little more exciting, purchase access to a sturdy sailing vessel up in the Highlands of Scotland, and head out into the fearsome waves of the North Sea, one of the world’s toughest sailing spots.
Yacht charters aren’t the only way to head into the water and look back at Britain from afar, as plenty of coastal areas are ideal for swimming. While much of the coast can be fairly dangerous, with rip-tides and undercurrents pulling you far out at sea, there are plenty of calm, still and even warm waters in which to enjoy a bit of splashing around.
In recent years adventure sport enthusiasts have turned sea kayaking into a major activity, with Brits flocking to the seaside into order to paddle out in the open sea. But you do not need to be a dare-devil to partake in a bit of kayaking. Find a provider who can offer brief introductory lessons to kayaking as well as basic equipment, and you will find yourself heading out into the Oceans within half an hour. Particularly popular places to kayak include the seas off Cornwall in south-west England, as well as the crenelated West Coast of Scotland, where seals, dolphins and migratory birds make sea-kayaking a great place to see the native wildlife.
Arrive by Boat
The vast majority of visitors to Great Britain arrive in grim, soulless and congested airports, but there is a far more romantic alternative. Ask the French about their favourite way to enter Britain and they will tell you that the ferry from ports such as Calais and St Malo is far more relaxing. Rock up at Southsea beach on a hovercraft, dock in at Dover on a cross-channel car ferry, or take the catamaran to Plymouth from Santander in Northern Spain to approach Britain as the ancient traders, migrants and warring invaders would have thousands of years ago. Those with sea-sickness, however, are perhaps best advised to check out the Eurostar.
A travel writer by trade, John has a love for yacht charters in the Caribbean, boating adventures off Gibraltar and water sports in the Irish Sea.