31 March 2017

Best by boat: Four stunning locations to explore around our coast

As island nations, the UK and Ireland are surrounded by dramatic coastlines. The immense power of the sea has transformed many locations into stunning examples of nature’s power, often only accessible by boat. Here are four scenic treasures around the coast that can only be reached by taking to the water.

Fastnet Rock, Ireland

Fastnet RockPhoto: Shutterstock
Fastnet Rock
‘A very ghostly, remote, tremendously happy experience. Sailing to the Fastnet felt like an expedition.’
Paul Rose
Explorer and TV presenter

Rounding the iconic Fastnet Rock is high on any sailor’s bucket list. But bluejackets beware; the ‘teardrop of Ireland’ has a notorious history. Often shrouded in low cloud or buffeted by strong winds and stormy seas, some call it the northern hemisphere’s Cape Horn. And many a ship was lost before a lighthouse was built in 1854.

The current lighthouse, the highest in Ireland, is unmanned but there’s still plenty of life about. Visitors can include dolphins, seals and even the occasional humpback whale.

Used as the midpoint of the 603-nautical mile Fastnet Race, the rock is only 3 miles from the nearest pub on Cape Clear Island, where you can moor overnight. Approaching the harbour, you’ll soon be enclosed by the cliffs in the island’s almost land-locked cove. Visitors berth inside the breakwater - hard to starboard as you come in. It’s a bit of a miserly gap!

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Fingal's Cave, Scotland

The vaulted interior of Fingal's 'cave of melody'Photo: Shutterstock
The vaulted interior of Fingal's 'cave of melody'

According to legend, Fingal’s Cave forms the end of the Giant’s Causeway built by Ulster giant Fionn mac Cumhaill in order to fight his gargantuan Gaelic rival. And at 22m tall and 82m deep, its interior chamber is nothing short of colossal.

Columns of basalt shaped in neat, hexagonal pillars, give the cave a cathedral-like quality that has inspired visitors for centuries. It’s been painted by Turner, set to music by Mendelssohn, romanticised by Wordsworth, Keats and Tennyson, and even visited by Queen Victoria.

During settled weather, it’s possible to anchor and view the cave from either the island or a tender. Otherwise, you’ll need to lie off and view from afar. Chart a course for the west side of Mull, where a number of sheltered anchorages - mostly around the island of Ulva - can be found. You may even be rewarded with sightings of whales, basking sharks, dolphins or eagles.

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Pembrokeshire's islands, Wales

A puffin on Skomer IslandPhoto: Shutterstock
A puffin on Skomer Island

Famous for their incredible natural beauty and fantastic array of wildlife, Pembrokeshire’s offshore islands are a twitcher’s paradise.

The largest, Skomer, lies just half a mile off the coast. Visitors are welcome to land at North Haven, where you can anchor east of the stone steps between 10am and 6pm.

The island boasts one of the largest puffin colonies in the UK and Ireland and the largest Manx shearwater concentration in the world. If you’re able, stay overnight. The sound of thousands of shearwaters flying home to their burrow is unforgettable.

To the south, Skokholm teems with kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, and a host of other birds. Grassholm Island - slightly further offshore - is home to one of the largest gannet colonies on the globe. While you’re scanning the sky, keep one eye on the sea - if you’re lucky, you could spot a mola mola or basking shark.

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Mupe Bay, England

Looking down on Mupe BayPhoto: Shutterstock
Looking down on Mupe Bay

Between the impossibly overhanging Gad Cliff to the east and Purbeck’s fable-like fossil forest to the west lies the magnificent and secluded Mupe Bay.

Dorset’s chalk cliffs, rolling hills and Jurassic strata are definitely best viewed and explored by boat. And Mupe - once the haunt of rum smugglers - is a must. There are no facilities, which only adds to its quiet charm, and when the sun’s ablaze you could be forgiven for thinking you’re on a Greek island.

Entry from the east is easy. Just give the drying shoal, inside the mini-stacks that shelter it, a sensible berth. This is an open anchorage so don’t expect flat water, but if you’re lucky enough to stay overnight the sight of moonlit white cliffs towering over your mast is breathtaking.

This is also a ‘big fish’ venue. Whether you're under sail, motor, or paddle, big bass await eager anglers in September and October.

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Sailing around our coasts is one of life’s great pleasures. But would you know what to do in an emergency? Book a free Advice Onboard session today to get professional guidance from a trained RNLI volunteer.


What do you love about the coast?

Maybe there's a favourite place you like to visit. Maybe it's walking your dog along the beach. Or enjoying family time at the seaside.

Show us how you celebrate our stunning coastline by taking part in our My Coast photography challenge. Share your favourite seaside snaps on Instagram using the hashtag #RNLIMyCoast.