Peter Cumberlidge invites you to create golden family memories in three hand-picked havens: fabulous Falmouth, glorious Guernsey and stylish Perros-Guirec over in North Brittany
Family boating can be very rewarding for all concerned and I was lucky to experience this myself from an early age. But with teenagers on board for a longish summer cruise, you need to make sure everyone has a chance to enjoy their holiday in their own ways.
Covering vast distances and visiting lots of new harbours isn’t necessarily the best way to keep all the crew happy. For successful family boating holidays, it’s usually best to combine short spells at sea with a lively menu of daily activities.
In the second of this occasional series, I look at three more of my favourite family boating locations where you can base a boat safely, enjoy great local cruising whenever you fancy and choose from a wide range of diversions for all ages and tastes.
They are Falmouth in the West Country, Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and Perros-Guirec on the north-west coast of Brittany.
Each of these superb boating areas has its own special attractions and more than enough going on to keep families entertained. The ideal plan would be to deliver your boat to your chosen base before your holiday so that you can relax from day one without the stress of reaching a destination against time, and sometimes hampered by troublesome weather.
For the travelling, Falmouth is readily accessible by road or rail, Guernsey by air and Perros is barely two hours’ drive from St Malo ferry, or just over an hour from Roscoff.
With this kind of staged operation, delivery trips to and from the base can provide interest and satisfaction for those who like longer passages, without having to involve family members who don’t. With luck, everyone will be perfectly content.
Although Falmouth is well down west, it’s no problem to reach from the Solent once you’ve crossed Lyme Bay to Dartmouth. For lazy summer hols, Falmouth has miles of sheltered water in the Penryn River, the Fal, Truro River and various creeks and inlets branching off this beautiful combined waterway. There are three good marinas, plus visitor buoys and pontoons in prime locations. For coastal trips, it’s a short hop south to the Helford River, or you might cruise 16 miles north-east for a day in picturesque Mevagissey. Otherwise, the estuary has enough peaceful hideaways for a summer of carefree pottering.
Coming in past St Anthony’s lighthouse, you see glittering tongues of water in all directions. To starboard, St Mawes village looks exquisitely English, like some old colonial outpost. Straight ahead, Carrick Road glides up to Mylor Yacht Harbour and the Faland Truro Rivers. Mylor is a natural holiday retreat, with excellent bistros, a chandler and easy kayak and motor launch hire. To port past the dockyard lies Falmouth itself, with Port Pendennis next to the Maritime Museum and friendly Falmouth Haven off the town quays. A little further upstream, Falmouth Marina is snug but doesn’t take bookings.
Contact Cora Gollop at Mylor Yacht Harbour – Tel: +44 (0)1326 372121.
Mark Webster at Port Pendennis – Tel: +44 (0)1326 211211.
Email: email@example.com. Falmouth Haven is the best arrival point, right in the town centre.
Local day cruises
Cruising up the Fal Above Turnaware Point is the first of several detached visitor pontoons where you can soak up the soothing atmosphere. A chain ferry crosses the straight stretch past King Harry Passage, and beyond it several looming ships are laid up, spectacular in this leafy valley. Trelissick House stands on the west shore, its National Trust gardens edging the river. There’s another peaceful pontoon a mile above the ferry, just beyond Ruan Creek.
Helford River This Cornish cruising jewel is four miles south-west of the Falmouth entrance. Larger boats anchor in Durgan Bay, to starboard as you enter; boats under 15m can lie in the Pool, opposite Helford Passage, on one of the green visitor buoys. Anchoring isn’t allowed further upstream because of oyster beds. On the north side of the Pool is the stylish Ferryboat Inn; on the south side, Helford River Sailing Club and the Shipwrights Arms.
Day on a sail training ship The 50ft sail training ketch Hardiesse is a familiar sight around Falmouth, her tanned sails looking piratical against the stunning coastline. Youngsters will enjoy a day out aboard this splendid vessel, learning what proper seamanship was like before engines were invented. Trips start from a mooring in Falmouth harbour.
Contact Chris Stone – Tel: +44 (0)1326 312146.
Kayaking from Mylor Exploring the estuary by kayak is an idyllic experience and Mylor an ideal starting point. Paddling gently upstream, you can venture far into the beautiful creeks leading off the Fal and Truro Rivers, secret parts of Cornwall nobody else can reach.
Contact Karen Kevan at Salt Air Adventures – Tel: +44 (0)7828 246278.
Paddleboarding in Falmouth Bay Stand-up paddleboarding is great fun. Hire a board from WeSUP Paddleboard Centre at Gylly Beach Café, 20 minutes’ walk from Port Pendennis Marina. Don’t worry if you’ve never tried it before, the team will soon have you up and away.
Contact WeSUP – Tel: +44 (0)1326 311830.
Jetski Safari Enjoy an exhilarating three-hour jetski trip along the Cornish coast on a high-performance Sea-Doo Spark. Contact Cornish Cruising at Falmouth Marina – Tel: +44 (0)1326 211800.
Trelissick House gardens From Turnaware visitor pontoon, you can dinghy upriver to the Trelissick landing pontoon, on the west bank before the ferry slip. Moor on the inner north side and walk up to the welcoming 19th-century country house, which looks south down the valley. Here you can visit 30 acres of park gardens, following woodland paths through fine old shrubberies of hydrangeas and rhododendrons, with tranquil views of the Fal.
Contact Tel: +44 (0)1872 862090.
Pendennis Castle Commanding Falmouth’s west headland, Pendennis is a magnificent 16th-century artillery fortress built for Henry VIII. Curated by English Heritage, these serious defences occupy a secluded wooded peninsula from where the views
down towards the Helford and Manacle Point are breathtaking.
Visit Skinner’s Brewery This friendly real ale brewery is on Truro quay and you can dinghy here from the Turnaware or Ruan Creek pontoons within two hours of HW. Skinner’s richly hoppy beers have distinctive Cornish character and a tasting here is highly recommended. Betty Stogs bitter is one of my favourites.
Contact Tel: +44 (0)1872 271885.
Barely 70 miles from Dartmouth or Portland, the Channel Island of Guernsey is a fairly straightforward run on a quiet day. However, for peace of mind when organising a family summer holiday, it’s worth making an advance delivery trip to ensure that the hols start on time. Guernsey Harbours are helpful with short-term berths in Victoria or Queen Elizabeth II marinas,
and there are flights to many UK airports. The privately run Beaucette Marina is another option.
St Peter Port is a fine old waterfront town, with mellow stone buildings and a hint of Frenchness from its Anglo-Norman history. There are restaurants and bistros galore.
Guernsey’s two smaller neighbours, Herm and Sark, are only a few miles across the water, beckoning to be explored. The rocky seascapes here are very special and all part of the magic.
While the combination of dramatic tidal range and copious offshore reefs can seem daunting at first, you can use the tides to enjoy some fantastic daytime anchorages in almost-landlocked lagoons, swinging idly off gorgeous white beaches.
By spending a week or two in and around Guernsey, you’ll soon be buzzing about like a local, perhaps even visiting the remote Humps anchorage north of Herm.
Contact Steve Lowe, St Peter Port Marina manager – Tel: +44 (0)1481 725987.
Ricky Stephens at Beaucette Marina – Tel: +44 (0)1481 245000 or +44 (0)7781 102302.
Local day cruises
Herm east coast In quiet weather, you can cruise from
St Peter Port to the east side of Herm, either south-about
Jethou island and the Lower Heads buoy or, above half-tide, through the Alligande Pass. Shell, Belvoir and Puffin Bays are all mouth-watering anchorages over clean white sand.
Sark anchorages From St Peter Port, it’s less than 7 miles to Havre Gosselin, a cleft in the cliffs on Sark’s west side, or a touch further to Grève de la Ville on the north-east coast. Both bays have visitor moorings and La Grève is particularly cosy in westerlies. From the landing, a path zigzags up to the village lanes. The Seigneurie Gardens are worth visiting, a short stroll to the west.
Guernsey Petit Port anchorage Tucked into Guernsey’s south-east corner, Petit Port is a glorious bay in quiet weather
or in winds from between north and east. The high cliffs feel slightly Mediterranean, especially when the sea is a deep summer blue. Renoir visited Guernsey in 1883 and painted several bold landscapes of Petit Port that echo the south of France.
Coasteering Developed from orienteering, coasteering is an adventure sport involving sea-level traversing, rock scrambling, jumping and swimming in gullies and caves. Kitted out with a wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet, you can explore Guernsey’s spectacular coastline, turning rocks, cliffs, caves and waves into an exhilarating playground.
Contact Outdoor Guernsey – Tel: +44 (0)7781 130403.
Island RIB voyages A RIB cruise to Herm or Sark gives you the full flavour of these Channel Island waters. As the guide threads past Herm’s tidal islets, reefs and silvery beaches you’ll probably see seals, puffins and guillemots. Off Sark, you weave around rocky gullies and speed through the narrow Gouliot Passage before visiting some spectacular caves. Cruises start from St Peter Port’s Inter Island Quay.
Contact Island RIB Voyages – Tel: +44 (0)1481 713031.
Puffin-watching kayak trips From Shell Beach on Herm’s east coast, you can join a sea kayaking trip, following the shore
to the island’s south-east corner where puffins nest on the cliffs. Oddly enough, they tend to avoid Puffin Bay! Mid-June to mid-July is the best time to see these comical birds, when the parents shuttle between sea and nests to feed their demanding chicks.
Contact Outdoor Guernsey – Tel: +44 (0)7781 130403.
Castle Cornet This sturdy 13th-century fortress is prominent in St Peter Port and yacht crews turn towards it when the traditional noon-day gun booms across the harbour. You can
visit the castle and its fascinating museums, taking time to explore the extensive battlements. Inside the walls are several impeccably maintained period gardens. In summer, local actors replay battles in period costume using some fearsome weapons.
Candie Gardens From Victoria Marina, it’s a pleasant stroll up to Candie Gardens, a green oasis in the heart of St Peter Port. Walk up High Street, fork left up Smith Street and cross St Julian’s Avenue. The gardens have panoramic views north-east to Alderney and south-east to Jersey, with the Normandy coast visible on clear days.
Guernsey Aero Club Why not book a trial lesson for an unforgettable private flight over the Channel Islands cruising area. The club’s two Piper PA-28 Warrior III aircraft carry up to three people in addition to the pilot. One option is a flight east beyond Sark and the Cherbourg Peninsula to see the World War II Normandy landing beaches.
Contact Club manager June Bright – Tel: +44 (0)1481 265254.
I chose Perros-Guirec as my third holiday base because it seems so naturally focused on leisure. This civilised Breton resort has always been a place for unwinding and the old family villas up behind Pointe du Château would once have been used for long summer vacations from mid-June to late September. Perros lies just over 90 miles south of Dartmouth entrance and 50 miles south-west of Guernsey, making an interesting but not too arduous delivery trip. The Brittany Ferries St Malo and Roscoff terminals are handy for shuttling by car.
Perros harbour lies at the head of the shallow Anse de Perros, a wide sandy bay partly sheltered from seaward by Île Tomé. Perros Marina is retained by a long sill and entered though a lock gate near high water. The sheltered pontoons are close to shops, bars and restaurants and the harbour has lift-out and repair facilities. The whole place is extremely laid-back and the amiable waterfront feels permanently en vacances. You can walk to superb sandy beaches and there are interesting daytime anchorages short hops away.
Contact Monsieur Arnaud Piepers at Perros capitainerie, 17 Rue Anatole le Braz, 22700 Perros-Guirec – Tel: +33 (0)126.96.36.199.50.
Local daytime anchorages
Day jaunts from Perros must work around marina opening times. Near spring tides, the marina is accessible mornings and evenings.
Port Blanc A few miles north-east of Perros, this pretty village huddles behind a cordon of rocks opposite Guazer red buoy. Inside the entrance gap, the bay widens out and you can anchor as depths allow. Check the echo sounder as the ebb runs away.
Anse de Trestel Halfway between Port Blanc and Perros, this splendid sandy bay is a gem in quiet weather, idyllic for swimming and lazy lunches. Approach with the tide well up, starting from the Passe de l’Est leading line with the north edge of Île Tomé bearing west true.
Les Sept-Îles There’s an attractive anchorage in the bay between Île aux Moines and Île Bono. Above half-tide various rocky shoals in the approaches are safely covered and you can simply drive in from the SSE, steering towards the west half of Bono. Anchor opposite the east end of Moines with each island about 250m off.
Plage de Trestraou This gleaming north-facing beach has some scattered offshore shoals, but two simple transits lead to
a lunchtime anchorage off its west end. From La Fronde green buoy, track west towards La Horaine tower until, on your starboard quarter, the north edge of Île Tomé bears 058°T in line with Bilzic red tower. Now turn south-west towards the beach, holding this stern transit for half a mile and anchoring outside the yellow swimming buoys.
Centre Nautique de Perros-Guirec This well-organised watersports centre on Plage de Trestraou offers a wide range of courses, including Optimist and Fun Boat sailing, catamaran sailing, windsurfing, paddleboarding, surfing and scuba diving.
You can book a string of activities for a week. The instructors speak English and your family will learn French too.
Contact Philippe Le Men at CNPG, Plage de Trestraou, 22700 Perros-Guirec – Tel: +33 (0)188.8.131.52.21.
Web: nautisme.perros-guirec.com and click on Centre Nautique.
Ponant Surf School Specialising in surfing, this friendly school is based just north of Perros Marina at 2 Rue du Maréchal Joffre. Highly regarded locally and ideal for sociable youngsters from 8/9 years up to teens.
Contact Alexis Deniel – Tel: +33 (0)184.108.40.206.55 or +33 (0)220.127.116.11.38.
Wildlife boat trips to Sept-Îles This rugged archipelago is the most important marine bird reserve in France. Boats leave from Trestraou jetty. The eastern island, Île Rouzic, has a huge colony of northern gannets. On Île de Malban and Île Bono, there are guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes, and you may spot some jaunty puffins (macareux in French). Skirting Île aux Moines, you’ll see an old gunpowder store, the grey stone lighthouse and a partly ruined fort. Returning to Perros, the boat passes Pointe de Ploumanac’h, a strangely sculpted promontory of pink granite.
Musée de l’Histoire et des traditions de Bretagne
We don’t usually visit small town museums in England, but in France I can’t resist these informative, sympathetic places, often
run by local volunteers. Conveniently placed on the north-east side of Perros Marina, this delightful exhibition in the original capitainerie gives surprising insights into the Breton way of life.
Sentier des Douaniers This wonderful coastal path between Perros and Ploumanac’h has some of the finest views in Brittany. The rose-coloured cliffs glow in the sun and Les Sept-Îles look mysterious a few miles offshore.
Heidi, Kev and thier Sealine C330 head over to France and into the waterways
Join Heidi Hasler as she takes her Sealine C330 from Brixham to the Mediterranean via the French canals
Heidi and partner Kevin head off on the first leg of their journey through the French canals to the Med…
Heidi and Kev are wowed by the amazing scenery as they continue their journey along the Seine on their Sealine…