Llŷn peninsula, Gwynedd
Parts of the Llŷn peninsula still feel wild and remote – head to its tip along single-track roads for some splendid isolation and a glimpse into its mythical and holy past. The south coast is more popular with holidaymakers: it’s all about surfing, sailing and sandcastles on its long, sandy beaches.
Day one Shop for fruit and veg and all manner of worldly goods at the popular Wednesday market in Pwllheli – handy if you arrive by train, as it’s right by the station. Alternatively, wait until Sunday when the market stalls sell more local produce. Stop for fish and chips at Allports, where the chips come double-fried to order. Pwllheli boasts sandy beaches, Plas Heli – the Welsh National Sailing Academy – and the Hafan Pwllheli Marina, so there are plenty of sailing and yacht-ogling options.
Day two See the work of Welsh artists, sculptors and ceramicists at Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in Llanbedrog, a historic arts centre in a fine Victorian Gothic building overlooking Cardigan Bay. Wander around the exhibitions or buy jewellery, textiles and ceramics made by local craftspeople in its shop. Stop for coffee and cake in the glass-roofed tearoom, then walk its network of woodland paths that join the Wales Coast Path on the cliffs above Llanbedrog beach, with its colourful beach huts, shallow water and bucket-and-spade-friendly sand.
Day three Surf the waves rolling in from the Irish Sea at one of the long bays on the peninsula’s south coast. Hell’s Mouth (Porth Neigwl), between the headlands of Mynydd Penarfynydd and Mynydd Cilan, has the most reliable surf breaks. Its long, gentle, shelving beach suits swimmers, body boarders and kayakers, too. At the sheltered beach at Porthor, on the north coast, body boarders may even come nose-to-nose with a seal. Porthor has “whistling sands” – slide bare feet along the beach and listen to it squeak.
Day four Be a pilgrim and walk part of the 135-mile-long North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (Taith Pererin Gogledd Cymru) to the end of the peninsula. Pick it up at the last leg, from Porthor to Aberdaron (about three miles). Then catch a ferry to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) from Porth Meudwy (£32.50 adult, £20 child, book in advance on bardseyboattrips.com), where, according to legend, 20,000 saints are buried. Be warned: the strong tides and currents mean that the crossing can be choppy and infrequent.
Day five Walk to the Tŷ Coch Inn (no cars allowed, park in the National Trust car park a 20-minute walk away), which is right on the beach at the tiny hamlet of Porthdinllaen. One of a string of buildings protected by a headland, with the sea a few feet away, the pub is a perfect lunch stop. Refuel with sandwiches and pasties, then go for a stand-up paddleboarding lesson, running every Thursday and Saturday throughout the summer holidays. Learn about Porthdinllaen’s surprising shipbuilding and fishing past at Caban Griff, the National Trust centre in the village.
Stay Bert’s Kitchen Garden (three-nights from £133 to £145 per pitch based on four sharing, pre-pitched tents also available) in Trefor is an eco-campsite with 15 pitches, communal campfires, a private shingle beach and a cafe in a converted campervan.
A solitary road alongside Loch Sunart runs through this remote peninsula in the north-west Highlands. Wild, sparsely inhabited and unspoilt, it is the westernmost point of the UK mainland and the place to go for unhurried exploration of beaches, mountains, forest and moorland, taking in wildlife along the way.
Day one Gen up on local wildlife at the Ardnamurchan natural history visitor centre. The area is rich in wildlife, including otters, pine martens, golden eagles and wild cats. Some – pine martens, field voles and swallows – make their way to the Living Building, built to encourage a variety of creatures to make it their home. Visitors can walk through this turf-roofed timber building to experience simulations of various habitats, including a wild cat den and a wood at night. Its Lochview Tearoom serves full Scottish breakfasts and light lunches, or buy sandwiches and cake to take away.
Day two Hire a bike from Sunart Cycles (£20 a day) and either pedal independently or ask for a pre-planned tour. Bikes can be dropped off for no extra charge in the towns of Acharacle and Salen. Cycling on the peninsula itself is restricted mostly to the main road, which can get busy in summer. There are cycle paths on the other side of Loch Sunart in Morvern, however, which include routes through nature reserves and the ancient forest of Ariundle Oakwood. Suitable for hybrid and mountain bikes, there are several challenging off-road tracks.
Day three Climb Ben Hiant to get 360-degree views of the peninsula. Not as forbidding as it might sound, this extinct volcano is easy to scale – it’s a mere 528 metres high and there is a clear path to the top. As you ascend, look out for signs of pine martens and red deer. If visibility is good, you can see the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum, Mull, Coll and Tiree from the top, as well as the rest of Ardnamurchan spilling out before you. Ben Hiant is loosely translated as Holy or Blessed Mountain, which may be a nod to the ancient burial ground nearby, at the bay of Camas nan Gaell.
Day four Otter Adventures can guide you on a variety of kayak and canoe outings on Loch Sunart, including a Sea Kayak and a Family Canoe Adventure. With a guide (and other canoeists), you get to stop off at otherwise inaccessible islands and forests, or light a fire and brew a cup of tea. There may also be seals. Journeys take up most of the day and cost £80 adult, £50 child.
Day five Pack provisions and head to Sanna Bay, at the tip of the peninsula, as there is nothing to buy when you arrive. A remote and lovely spot with soft white sand beaches, turquoise seas and flower-rich machair in spring and summer, it is easy to spend hours here doing nothing very much apart from a spot of rockpooling or beachcombing. There are plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities, too: sand martens nest in the dune cliffs; otters forage along the shore; butterflies feed on wildflowers; you may even spot a white-tailed eagle.
Stay Keeper’s West cottage (sleeps four, from £428 to £676 a week) sits beneath the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at the edge of the peninsula. Tir Nan Og (sleeps six, from £340 to £640 a week) is a simple whitewashed stone cottage, minutes away from the white sand beach of Sanna Bay.
Morecambe Bay, Cumbria/Lancashire
The vast, shimmering sands of Morecambe Bay may look beguiling but the quicksand and mudflats are notoriously dangerous. Best to admire these from the shore and explore its estuaries, islands and resorts instead.
Day one Stop for coffee at the Ravilious Rotunda Bar at the Midland Hotel – non-residents are welcome. This art deco smasher, with its curvilinear white facade, has become a destination in its own right. Sit by a window and look out over Morecambe Bay’s seemingly never-ending expanse. On 31 August–1 September, Hemingway Designs is holding its annual Vintage By The Sea Festival (free entry) at the hotel. Expect many moustachioed and red-lipsticked retro enthusiasts enjoying the vintage fairground, live music, market and classic cars.
Day two Walk south on Morecambe’s promenade to the very end – about three miles, depending on where you start. This flat and undemanding route, also ideal for cycling, skirts Morecambe Bay. You might see wading birds such as oystercatchers and turnstone digging around in the mudflats for food – especially at low tide when they are driven closer to the promenade. You’ll definitely see the wonderful statue of Eric Morecambe in one of his characteristic poses with a pair of binoculars around his neck (he was a keen ornithologist). At the prom’s end, walk up to Heysham Head and the ruined eighth-century St Patrick’s Chapel (rumoured to be where St Patrick came ashore following a shipwreck), which has great views of the bay. And look out for the body-shaped pre-Norman graves, carved out of rock and facing towards the ocean.
Day three Fortify yourself with breakfast at View Café, decorated with vinyl and music memorabilia. A designated Spam Menu includes Spam fritters, but there are other, more contemporary – and more appealing – options. Hire a bike at Morecambe station from Bike and Go (£10 for an annual subscription, then £3.80 a day), then join the Bay Cycle Way and pedal part of the route out of Morecambe, heading north along the coast. (Its entire length, from Walney Island in Barrow-in-Furness to Glasson Dock in Lancaster, is 81 miles.) Plotted by Sustrans, it takes cyclists on traffic-free paths and quiet lanes wherever possible (get a map, which includes several day rides at sustrans.org.uk, £13).
Day four Catch the train from Lancaster to Grange-over-Sands (or from Morecambe and change) and travel over the 505-metre-long viaduct that snakes across the estuary of the River Kent. On arrival, check out the station, with its elegant red-and-green wrought iron pillars supporting glass platform canopies. Grange-over-Sands was a popular resort during the Victorian sea-bathing craze and still has a rarefied air. Its sheltered position means it also has many subtropical plants along the promenade and in the Ornamental Gardens. It’s not the place to swim, however: at extreme low tides, the sea can be around 10 miles away.
Day five Have an audience with the King of Piel Island. This 50-acre kingdom off the tip of Furness peninsula, Barrow-in-Furness, comprises a ruined 14th-century castle, a row of houses and the Ship Inn. The landlord, Steve Chattaway, is also the king – a title he inherited with ownership of the pub. You can camp here (£5 per tent, must be pre-booked) and the pub also serves food, but most visitors come for the day. In high season (April-Sept), catch the ferry from Roa Island, which is connected to the mainland by an isthmus (daily 11am-4.30pm, weather permitting, adult £5 return, child £3). Piel Island is also accessible on foot at low tide from Walney Point, but be warned: it’s risky as swift tides can leave you stranded.
Stay Gibraltar Farm campsite (from £14 per tent) in Silverdale is a working farm in the Arnside & Silverdale AONB, with views of Morecambe Bay and its own ancient woodland. For groups, camping in a designated area in the woods is £160 a night for up to 10 tents. Wolf House Cottages are two self-catering properties near the village of Silverdale: the Coach House sleeps six, from £575 to £795 a week; the Old Cottage sleeps four adults and two children, from £495 to £580 a week.
Saltburn-by-the-sea, North Yorkshire
Often overlooked in favour of its neighbour, the quainter fishing village of Staithes, or the mighty harbour that is Whitby, Saltburn-by-the-Sea is a Victorian seaside resort that remains steadfastly unchanged. It still has its original pier and lift, a funicular railway that takes passengers from the clifftop town down to the massive, sandy beach.
Day one Step into the imagination of Henry Pease, a Victorian Quaker and industrialist, who literally dreamt up Saltburn in 1858: a celestial vision prompted him to create a town on the edge of a cliff and turn its glen into pleasure grounds. The result is a dignified town with substantial houses overlooking the beach, streets named after jewels (Pearl Street, Ruby Street, Emerald Street) and a very long pier (see below). It also has a variety of independent shops – check out Chocolini’s for handmade chocolates, and Lillian Daph for Scandi-style homeware. Then promenade through the Valley Gardens, whose winding paths cross a stream, go through woodland, and pass formal gardens and a colonnaded gazebo.
Day two Plummet to the beach from the town in the Victorian, water-powered lift. The cliff lift deposits passengers at the entrance of the 200-metre-long pier, which extends across the wind-blown sand at low tide and over rolling waves at high. It has absolutely nothing on it except dog walkers and the occasional seabird – a place to go to clear the head and gulp salty air. The beach is a well-regarded surf spot, and although the sea can get lively, there are good beginner’s waves on either side of the pier. Saltburn Surf School has been teaching folk to surf here for over 30 years and offers private lessons (£50 an hour for one person, £60 for two).
Day three Hunt for fossils among the rocks and shingle on the beach. The entire coast between Saltburn and Scarborough is the stuff of geography field trips, and packed with Jurassic geological interest. Saltburn beach is backed by the sheer rock of Huntcliff, whose erosion has revealed ammonites, crinoids and belemnites, and fossilised wood. Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay and Runswick Bay are all good fossil-hunting grounds.
Day four Spend a few hours in the village of Sandsend, a 30-minute drive along the coast. There is not a whole heap to do here except enjoy its massive (four mile) sandy beach and look around its well-scrubbed village: stone cottages with red roofs, some of which are holiday accommodation, sit in front of immaculate lawns beside a stream that rushes towards the sea. A sprinkle of shops includes a good general store and cafe. Eat well for a reasonable price at the Bridge Cottage Bistro, which serves an imaginative menu including many dishes involving locally caught fish. Alternatively, plump for a Whitby crab sandwich on the deck of the Sandside Cafe, inches from the beach.
Day five Visit Staithes to see why it has inspired so many artists, past and present. Park at the top of the town and walk down its steep main street to the harbour, wandering into intriguing-looking alleys along the way. Call in at Dotty’s Vintage Tearoom for a buttered tea cake and a pot of tea among vintage collectibles. The Cod and Lobster Inn on the harbour wall is as close as you could get to the sea: waves lash against its front door at high tide. At low tide, the rocky shoreline platform outside is exposed – good rockpooling territory.
Stay Coastguard Cottage (sleeps four, from £320 to £650 a week) is one of a row of houses perched above Saltburn beach on the Cleveland Way. The Spa Hotel (doubles from £109 a night B&B) sits above the beach, has views of the sea and cliffs, and offers Surf and Stay packages which include lessons.
Traces of Orford’s past can be detected in its ex-fishermen’s cottages, busy quayside and hulks of old boats sinking into the mud. This pretty village is a mixture of the delightful and the beguilingly sinister: the former military testing site and shingle bank, Orford Ness, stretch out alongside.
Day one Pick up breakfast from Pump Street Bakery in Market Square: all of its naturally leavened bread and pastries are made in the village, and it makes its own small-batch chocolate. Nip into Pinney’s for picnic supplies – the shop beside its smokehouse sells its own smoked fish, and wet fish caught daily on its boats. Orford General Store is an excellent village shop selling local cheese, fruit and veg, and just about everything else you may need, including maps.
Day two Catch the little ferry from Orford quay to Orford Ness, a strange and rare shingle spit running parallel to the coast. The fragile, shifting bar of pebbles, dunes, reeds, saltmarsh and brackish lagoons is populated by avocets, redshank, oystercatchers, brown hares and Chinese water deer among many other species. Barn owls also nest in several of the buildings built from 1913-1987, when Orford Ness was used as a military test site. Follow waymarked trails to see these and the wildlife.
Day three Motor south along the coast towards the estuary of the River Deben, stopping at Shingle Street – a lonely row of ex-fishermen’s cottages (now holiday accommodation) evacuated in 1940 under mysterious circumstances. Sit on the beach, soak up the atmosphere, or go for a swim. Stop for lunch at The Ramsholt Arms (the lunch menu includes handmade faggots, local ham steak and veggie options), and watch yachts sail by from its deck overlooking the estuary.
Day four Tune into your animal spirit with a goat yoga session – the goats wander among you – at Skylark Farm (£15, book in advance) in Bawdsey, held on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings. Goat petting/milking sessions can also be arranged as a child-friendly option. Drive on to Felixstowe, and either marvel at the Tetris-like dexterity of the crane drivers at the container port, stroll through the recently restored Seafront Gardens, or swim in the sea (rated “excellent” water quality by the Environment Agency). The beach is a mixture of shingle and sand.
Day five Climb aboard the Lady Florence, a lovely wooden second world war supply ship, for a lunch or supper cruise. Departing from Orford Quay, the three-hour trip along the rivers Alde and Ore goes past Orford Ness to Shingle Street and the North Sea, before returning. It also circumnavigates Havergate Island bird sanctuary. Alternatively, a breakfast cruise will take you upstream to Aldeburgh and back, as you eat hot muffins on deck. Twelve passengers per cruise, £22.50pp, meal extra, rivercruiserestaurants.co.uk.
Stay Daphne Cottage (sleeps two, from £485 to £795 a week) is a Grade II-listed Victorian cottage with a small garden at the front and a patio at the back.
Lynton and Lynmouth, Exmoor coast, Devon
The twin towns of Lynton and Lynmouth peer over the sea from the precipitous cliffs of the north Devon coast. Exmoor is close by, to the south, and the cliffs and gorges are threaded with numerous walking trails, rocky coves and hidden beaches.
Day one Ascend from the Esplanade at Lynmouth to its sister town of Lynton on the Cliff Railway. There’s no better way to get up a cliff than sitting in a bottle-green carriage of a Victorian funicular railway as it steadily makes its way to the top. Two carriages work in tandem – one goes up as the other goes down – propelled by the gravity pull of water discharged from tanks fitted to each. At the top, a giant scone awaits in the cafe as part of a Devon cream tea, plus views of the coast curling out of sight.
Day two Walk to the Valley of Rocks. A 20-minute walk from the Cliff Railway along clearly marked paths will take you to a U-shaped dry valley that runs parallel to the coast. A spectacular smattering of shattered rocks populated by feral goats (and, in high season, coachloads of tourists), it has inspired Romantic artists (Samuel Palmer), poets (Coleridge, Wordsworth) and novelist RD Blackmore, who set parts of Lorna Doone here. Free guided walks to Hollerday Hill and the Valley of Rocks leave Lynton Town Hall throughout the summer.
Day three Breakfast on shakshuka or eggs benedict at in Lynton. Then head for Lynmouth car park and follow the East Lyn River to Watersmeet (click on the link for downloadable circular walk). A pleasant two-mile stroll will take you along the river, through a thickly wooded gorge lush with ferns and over bridges to the fairytale-like Watersmeet House. Now a cafe, this ex-fishing lodge sits at the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. It is still possible to fish here for salmon, sea trout and brown trout (permits available from Watersmeet House), but most choose to drink tea on the lawn and listen to the river rushing past.
Day four Discover a secret(ish) cove. Pack lunch and a book, and scramble down to Wringcliff Bay, following a path from the roundabout in the Valley of Rocks. It takes a bit of effort to reach it – it is accessible only by a steep footpath, so children should probably avoid it – but the peacefulness of the place is worth it. The small sandy beach is sheltered by steep cliffs all around and is often deserted. Strong currents mean it is not advisable to swim far out but paddling is highly recommended, as is sitting on a rock and watching the waves. Dogs are allowed.
Day five Explore Combe Martin, a seaside resort that runs ribbon-like along the bottom of a valley with a sheltered (and popular) sandy beach. Pick up some homemade pork pies and pasties from the Combe Martin Farm Shop, then spend the day rockpooling, or hire a kayak or two from Surfside Kayak Hire and go looking for hidden coves and dolphins. Alternatively, take the South West Coast Path out of town and walk to the vertiginous Hangman Hills, the highest sea cliffs in England. (Combe Martin is also where the Hunting of the Earl of Rone – a custom involving villagers dressing up and chasing the Earl of Rone through the town – takes place every May.)
Stay Bayview Tower in Lynton (sleeps four, from £560 to £2,129 a week,) is a rather grand apartment (with four-poster bed) looking over Lynmouth Bay. Countisbury Hill Cottage (sleeps four, from £309 to £819 for two nights/£559 to £1,479 a week, dogs welcome) is a stone cottage with an enclosed garden in a remote hamlet near Lynton. Foreland Bothy (sleeps four, from £21 to £27 a night) is a simple, windowless room with wooden platforms for beds (no mattresses or other amenities), right on the South West Coast Path near Lynton.
Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex
Tucked behind a shingle ridge, a stroll from the soft sands of Camber and three miles from the cobbled lanes of Rye, the village of Winchelsea Beach still feels undiscovered. Pre-war railway-carriage homes sit beside wooden beach huts, bungalows and smart, contemporary dwellings, giving the area an appealingly ramshackle and curious air.
Day one Stock up on supplies for the week at Salts Farm Shop just north-west of Rye, which sells Kentish Mayde pies, free-range eggs from a farm in Battle, and beer from Romney Marsh Brewery. Head up the hill to the Winchelsea Farm Kitchen for good quality meat, wine and other deli delights. On the way back, drop in at The Clam, a new Camber cafe serving all-day brunch – tasty sourdough toast toppings include tahini, blood orange, pistachio and honey – and steak tacos.
Day two Stay local and make the most of Camber Sands on your doorstep. This four-mile stretch lined with dunes is one of the few sandy beaches along this coastline, and the place to head with a picnic and a beach towel. Even at busy times it’s possible to find a quiet spot to put up a windbreak (advised – it can get very blowy). The Kitesurf Centre and Rye Water Sports offer kitesurfing and paddleboarding lessons.
Day three Head out to Romney Marsh and explore its 14 medieval churches, rising in splendid isolation from the flat land. Built by lords of the manor to serve now-vanished communities, and also as a display of wealth, most are open to visitors. Don’t miss St Thomas à Becket at Fairfield, which has appeared in various TV programmes, including Great Expectations. End the day in an open-sided carriage of a one-third size steam locomotive on the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway. Buy a return ticket and hop on at nearby Dungeness for a sweet little chug along the coast to Hythe and back (rover ticket £18.60 adult, £9.30 child, less for shorter journeys).
Day four Walk to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve – a land of gravel pits, lagoons, marsh and shingle. An important conservation site, you could spot avocets nesting in the saltmarsh or marsh harriers hunting in the reedbeds. Walk to a bird hide along wooden boardwalks (look out for yellow horned-poppies, sea kale and sea campion in the shingle along the way) and wait. The Avocet Gallery in Rye Harbour village serves tea and cake (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays) and showcases (and sells) the work of top-quality local artists, designers and makers.
Day five Go for a beachcomber’s lunch at The Gallivant and tuck into local specialities like saltmarsh lamb and fish from the Hastings fleet (but don’t bring young children – this hotel/restaurant next to Camber Sands welcomes over-10s only). Head up the hill and enter Winchelsea through one of its medieval gates. Now a quietly delightful town perched high on a ridge a mile inland, it was once an important port and the centre of the wine trade. Book a guided tour around its vaulted cellars – a great rainy-day option – to get a taste of the town’s medieval past.
Stay Seashells (sleeps five, from £1,150 to £1,400 a week) is a new, light and airy beach house on Camber Sands with a large gated garden. The same owner rents out Pebbles Beach House (sleeps five, £1,299 a week high season, £165 a night low season – two-night minimum), an airy, shabby-chic wooden bolthole on the shingle at Winchelsea Beach.
Isle of Portland, Weymouth and Chesil Beach, Dorset
The Isle of Portland isn’t actually an island – it’s a chunk of limestone tethered to the mainland by the shingle tombolo that is Chesil Beach – but it still feels apart from the mainland, and the rest of the Jurassic Coast.
Day one Take a look around the scattered settlements of Portland, keeping an eye open for buildings built from Portland stone. Drop by Tout Quarry nature reserve and sculpture park, where much of the stone was quarried (and ended up in Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, among other places) and which now has 60 hidden sculptures to discover along meandering paths. The Portland Museum, a community project founded by birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes and housed in two thatched cottages, is a good place to learn more. It was also the inspiration for the heroine’s cottage in Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved.
Day two Continue explorations by venturing to Portland Bill, which overlooks the roiling waves of Portland Race. This whirl of tides and currents, combined with the Shambles sandbank, is why this rocky promontory has three lighthouses. Climb up the automated candy-striped one to understand the nature of the ship-wrecking waters that surround it. Drop in at the visitor centre, once the home of the lighthouse keepers, and learn more with the help of interactive displays, then feast on crab sandwiches at The Lobster Pot next door.
Day three Head along Chesil Beach to Abbotsbury. Chesil Beach runs beyond the pretty, thatched village of Abbotsbury, parallel to the coast to West Bay, framing Fleet Lagoon. This brackish lake is home to the 600 mute swans at the Swannery at Abbotsbury. Help to feed them at noon and 4pm daily, then sample Abbotsbury mackerel and other sustainably sourced fish at the Taste Café in the Chesil Beach visitor centre, which has views over the lagoon and beach.
Day four Get out on to the water at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in Portland Harbour, which hosted the sailing events at the 2012 Olympics and is now a centre of sailing excellence. The RYA-accredited Andrew Simpson Centre offers sailing taster sessions for £20 an hour. There are also plenty of other opportunities locally to snorkel, canoe, swim, scuba dive to shipwrecks, and fish. Head into Weymouth and refuel with fish and chips at The Old Harbour restaurant, followed by a game of whack-a-mole in the amusement arcade on the beach for the full-on seaside experience.
Day five Visit the labyrinthine Northe Fort at the mouth of Weymouth harbour, which was built in 1872 to defend the Portland naval base from Napoleon III. Now a visitor attraction, it also has a reputation as a haunted site. Alternatively, hop aboard a wooden second world war naval boat and let a bewhiskered skipper take you on a 1½-hour trip along the Jurassic Coast. Boats leave from Weymouth harbour (£14). On the way back to base, stop for a drink at the Cove House Inn – sit outside and enjoy the sight of Chesil Beach stretching out before you.
Stay The Old Higher Lighthouse cottages (each sleeps four, from £450 to £1,000 a week) on Portland Bill, have the sea views you’d expect from a lighthouse plus shared use of a pool and hot tub. Alternatively, 50 Ocean Views (sleeps four, from £490 to £1,154 a week) is a smart contemporary apartment with a private terrace and sea views.
Helford estuary, Cornwall
The cool, wooded creeks and tucked-away coves of the River Helford are a welcome escape from the busy beaches and bustle of nearby Falmouth. It’s all about the life aquatic here, whether it’s watching small boats and yachts from the footpath or the terrace of an agreeable pub, or taking to the water in a kayak.
Day one Sink a pint on the terrace outside The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage. This popular pub sits beside the river above a beach, and is a good viewpoint for gazing over the estuary and watching small boats bob about. The menu changes daily and includes pub food classics and inventive fish dishes (mackerel tacos, seabass linguine). It’s a prime position for watching the Helford Passage Regatta (10 August) and is also the place to catch the ferry across the river to Helford, see below, and to pick up the South West Coast Path.
Day two The lush vegetation and the cherry laurel maze at the National Trust’s Glendurgan Garden near the village of Durgan is a wonderful place to get lost in. Extending over both sides of a steep valley, the garden is planted with exotic species like Mexican cypress, Japanese loquat and mimosa. Giant gunnera erupt jungle-like in the lower valley. The maze is waist high, so it’s possible to signal for help from others caught in its coils. A stroll to the bottom of the valley leads to Durgan on the water’s edge, where the sandy beach is a good place to sit and eat a sandwich as others go rockpooling.
Day three Paddle through the creeks and coves of the River Helford. Slipping quietly through the water in a small boat is the best way to get to know the river and its forested valleys, witness its wildlife close up, explore the inlets that probe inland, and pull up at one of its quieter beaches and go for a dip. St Anthony Sailaway on Gillan Creek at the entrance of the river hires out single and double kayaks and rowing boats for £13-15 an hour. Koru Kayaking runs guided two-hour kayaking adventures for £40, setting off from the private beach at Budock Vean Hotel.
Day four Visit convalescing seals in Gweek. Started when Ken Jones rescued a baby seal washed up on the beach in 1958, the Cornish Seal Sanctuary now has five pools and a hospital where it cares for orphaned, sick or injured animals – not just seals: otters, goats, ponies and penguins are all looked after here. Once recovered, most seals are returned to the sea: those that wouldn’t survive, stay on as “guests”.
Day five The shortish (three-mile) circular walk from Helford village and taking in Frenchman’s Creek is idyllic. Walkers will see the little ferry sailing to Helford Passage on the other side of the river with its cargo of hikers and holidaymakers (no cars). The path then passes the Shipwright’s Arms (where children can crab off the slip, and which holds an annual regatta), to the tiny chapel of St Francis at Pengwedhen, past Kestle Barton, the new Rural Centre for Contemporary Arts in a restored ancient farmstead, and along the wooded and fern-lined Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by Daphne du Maurier’s classic book, before returning to Helford. It’s worth tarrying to wander around the village’s thatched cottages and boathouses.
Stay Kestle Cottage (sleeps four, from £395 to £1,295 a week), near Frenchman’s Creek, is one of several holiday homes in recently converted farm buildings. Creek View (sleeps four, £317 to £939 a week) is an apartment above Helford Village Stores with a gorgeous view over the estuary. Bosvathick House B&B (doubles £110 a night, singles £70)is a grand private home in Constantine, a short drive from the estuary, with stately rooms, a laurel maze and rolling grounds (gardens open in peak season).
Ards peninsula, County Down
The Ards peninsula wraps around Strangford Lough enclosing it from the Irish Sea. The shoreline is never far away, be it the sandy beaches of the east coast, or the shingle banks surrounding the Lough.
Day one Stock up on locally produced food and craft at the monthly market, held in Portaferry’s restored market house (first Saturday of the month, 10am-1.30pm). Portaferry sits at the southern end of the peninsula near the Narrows – the turbulent channel linking Strangford Lough to the Irish Sea – and is where to catch the ferry to the other side of the Lough. Sit outside the Portaferry Hotel with a coffee and wait for the ferry to arrive, or duck inside to eat seafood dishes, including bouillabaisse and lobster.
Day two Make your way three miles up the road from Portaferry to Kearney, a former fishing village restored in vernacular style by the National Trust. Now fully occupied, the simple whitewashed cottages tucked between drumlins (hillocks) and the sea, present a sanitised but appealing impression of what life was like in a 19th-century fishing village. In one cottage lived Mary Ann Doonan, captain of the so-called “she-cruiser”, a ship crewed entirely by women, and something of a local legend. The sandy beach of Knockinelder is close by and is a lovely spot for a dip.
Day three Hire a canoe and explore one of Strangford Lough’s 100-plus islands, many of them rich in seabirds and other wildlife; you may even spot seals and otters as you go. Outdoor Recreation NI, which manages and promotes outdoor activities in Northern Ireland, has devised a series of canoe trails, which can be found, along with a list of canoe providers, at canoeni.com. One canoe trail leads to Salt Island, where you can stay overnight in a bothy – it has a woodburner and a flushing toilet but no cooker (sleeps 10, £10pp sharing, £80 for exclusive use).
Day four Drive around to the other side of Strangford Lough to the Castle Epsie Wetland Centre (which is just 12 miles south-east of Belfast). Blending with the shoreline of the Lough, its 25 hectares of tidal lagoons, salt marsh, woodland and reed beds are home to countless birds, bats and insects, and a stopping-off point for migrating brent geese. Watch the avian comings and goings from one of the hides, or walk among ducks, ducklings and geese in the duckery. On the way back, stop off at Daft Eddy’s, a smart modern restaurant by the side of the Lough, for Portavogie scampi and a pint of Guinness.
Day five Visit Grey Abbey House and Gardens in Newtownards to inspect a fine example of a big old Irish Georgian house. Located on the side of the Lough, the grounds have a walled and vegetable gardens, and two orchards of Victorian fruit trees and Irish apple trees. The expansive estate includes a lake and ancient woodland inhabited by red squirrels. Close by are the ruins of a Norman Cistercian priory, dissolved by Henry VIII. Up the road is Harrisons of Grey Abbey, a nursery, farm shop and popular restaurant.
Stay Cowey Cottage (sleeps four, from £395 to £550 a week) in Newtownards is a stone cottage with a woodburner, comfortable leather sofas and a flagstone floor, deep in rolling farmland but a short drive to the Lough. Castle Ward Caravan Park, in the grounds of the Castle Ward estate on the shores of Strangford Lough, has 10 pitches for tents (from £18.50), plus wooden camping pods (sleep two to five, from £42 to £67), and 25 hard stands for caravans/motor homes (from £22). For caravans and tents, add £2 per additional adult, £1 per child and £2 per additional car.
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