Britannia rules these waves! Take a voyage of discovery around the UK

Britannia rules these waves! Ocean cruises have been paused, but you can still take a voyage of discovery around our shores

  • The 100ft Bessie Ellen is one of Britain’s last wooden coasting ketches and departs from Fowey in Cornwall
  • Take the helm of your own narrowboat to explore the chocolate-box villages and gentle hills of the Cotswolds
  • Sail through history on a Thames river cruise between Hampton Court Palace and Henley-on-Thames 

We are a seafaring country, but we haven’t been able to spend much time on the water of late. Ocean cruises have been ‘paused’ on government advice and there’s not a lot of river cruising going on in Europe.

However, here in the UK, the loosening of restrictions for tourist craft means boating firms can squeeze in late-season departures along Britain’s coast and inland waterways. So why not book yourself on a small boat trip as far afield as Scotland’s rugged Hebrides, or delve into the nooks and crannies of the West Country coastline? Alternatively, you can pootle along rivers and canals through the countryside.

To comply with regulations permitting only two households on overnight stays in England — and the new ‘rule of six’ — charters are aimed at family groups making up one household, with the boat crew counting as the other. Here is a selection of ways you can take to Britain’s waters this autumn…

West Country wanderings

The Bessie Ellen – one of Britain’s last wooden coasting ketches, which departs from Fowey and under normal circumstances takes up to eight passengers

On the Bessie Ellen, pictured, you can explore deserted coves and beaches along the coast of Devon and Cornwall

Discover the hidden face of the West Country on a ‘Boat Bubble Holiday’. Climb aboard classic and heritage sailing craft and explore deserted coves and beaches along the coast of Devon and Cornwall.

Choose from the 100ft Bessie Ellen, one of Britain’s last wooden coasting ketches which departs from Fowey and under normal circumstances takes up to eight passengers; Agnes, a 46 ft wooden pilot cutter accommodating up to six, based in Falmouth; and Lynher, a classic Tamar barge that sails from Plymouth and takes up to six people. Each craft comes with its own crew who take care of the sailing (though guests are welcome to lend a hand) and rustle up three meals a day plus drinks.

Explore fishing villages and beauty spots, some only accessible by water, with swimming stops and beach barbecues along the way.

STEP ABOARD: VentureSail Holidays ( offers sailings of between three and six nights with prices from £130 pp per night, including meals, soft drinks and use of onboard water ‘toys’, such as kayaks and dinghies.

Autumn in the Hebrides

Guests on a cruise of the Hebrides with Scottish boutique cruise firm Majestic Line can take in the mountainous landscapes of the Isle of Skye, pictured, and its sea lochs

Scottish boutique cruise firm Majestic Line ( restarted sailings two weeks ago, with cruises showcasing the autumnal beauty of the Hebrides.

Two vessels, Glen Etive and Glen Shiel, usually each take ten people on six-night cruises from Oban.

Guests can choose from the mountainous landscapes of the Isle of Skye and its sea lochs, and the waters around Mull and its offshore islands, which offer an ideal chance to spot nesting seabirds, minke whales and porpoises.

Each day, the boats anchor off new locations where there is a chance to go ashore. Meals are freshly produced using locally sourced, seasonal produce — and may include lobsters caught in the creels kept aboard.

STEP ABOARD: Prices start from £2,260 pp, with availability on October 3, 10 and 17.

Potter by the Thames

On a Thames river cruise aboard the Magna Carta, guests can sail between Hampton Court Palace and Henley-on-Thames, pictured 

Sail through centuries of English history on a Thames river cruise between Hampton Court Palace and Henley-on-Thames aboard luxury hotel barge Magna Carta.

Family groups of up to six can charter this 1930s ‘floating country hotel’, which is lavishly fitted with period furniture. Passengers are looked after by a crew that includes a master chef and barge hosts, who arrange private escorted tours on the Magna Carta’s own minibus.

Stops include Windsor, where guests can visit the State Apartments at Windsor Castle; Cliveden, former home of the Astor family; and the hamlet of Hurley. Admire river views from the on-deck hot tub and explore on cycle rides and walks along the Thames Path.

STEP ABOARD: European Waterways ( offers six-night private charters from £23,600. Price includes dining, drinks and private excursions.

Cosy Cotswolds

Sailors can collect a narrowboat in Bradford-on-Avon, pictured, and explore the chocolate-box villages of the Cotswolds along the Kennet and Avon Canal

Take the helm of your own narrowboat to explore the chocolate-box villages and gentle hills of the Cotswolds along the Kennet and Avon Canal. 

Collect your boat in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, then head west to Bath and Bristol or east into the Cotswolds.

STEP ABOARD: Hoseasons ( has narrowboats sleeping from two people from £884 for a week’s self-catering in October.

Suffolk sailaways

An overnight ‘sleepover’ sailing, exploring Suffolk’s heritage coastline, takes in the picturesque towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold, pictured 

Not sure if a yachting break is for you? Then try an overnight ‘sleepover’ sailing, exploring Suffolk’s heritage coastline aboard a 42ft yacht that comes with its own skipper.

These mini-sailaways take in the picturesque towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold and the nature reserve at Orford Ness, which was once a secret testing-ground for the Ministry of Defence.

STEP ABOARD: Suffolk Coast Sailing ( offers crewed charters for families of up to five. Sleepover sailings cost £450 including breakfast and lunch; longer durations are £450 per day.

Scottish splendours

St Hilda Sea Adventures offers sailings of Scotland’s west coast. On trips ashore, guests can explore Tobermory, pictured, on the Isle of Mull  

If you’re looking for a family adventure, head into Scotland’s rugged Highlands and islands with St Hilda Sea Adventures (

Families of four can charter wooden ketch St Hilda, which has its own skipper and chef, to explore Scotland’s west coast.

Besides spotting wildlife, including basking sharks, golden eagles and killer whales, guests can use the onboard sea kayak and even go fishing for their evening meal.

Trips ashore take in castles, nature reserves and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

STEP ABOARD: St Hilda Sea Adventures has a five-night charter cruise through the Inner Hebrides near Oban, departing on October 9, from £6,450. Alternatively, the company is using its three vessels as floating holiday homes and offering self-catering stays while they are moored at a marina just north of Oban.

Minimum stays are three nights, with the smallest vessel, St Hilda, costing from £204 per night.

Gloucester glories

On a cruise of Gloucestershire’s tranquil Severn Vale, there are stops at Tewkesbury, pictured, Worcester and Gloucester docks

Cruises recently restarted aboard the homely Hotel Boat Edward Elgar through Gloucestershire’s tranquil Severn Vale.

Sailings follow the River Severn and Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, with six itineraries where stops include Tewkesbury, Worcester and Gloucester docks.

Some sailings visit the Purton Ships’ Graveyard, where the remains of around 80 barges, deliberately beached beside the River Severn during the last century to halt erosion of the river banks, can be seen.

Steam train fans can take trips on the Severn Valley Railway.

STEP ABOARD: English Holiday Cruises ( offers departures in September and October, from two-night weekenders starting at £315 pp to a six-night Severn Wonders Cruise from £1,595pp.

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