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Ports of Call: the British Isles

Some of the most beautiful sights to be seen on a cruise are a lot closer to home than you might think


In 2010, the word ‘staycation’ was added to the English dictionary after recession-hit Britons dropped their traditional holidays abroad in favour of staying in the UK. And, as the pound slumped after last year’s historic Brexit vote, talk of the staycation returned: an estimated eight million Britons will holiday in the UK this year.

Of course, when it’s framed like that, it’s easy to see holidaying in your home country as an unglamorous, uninspiring, budget option, but it doesn’t have to be. By avoiding poor exchange rates, holidaymakers are looking to get more value for their money – rather than to necessarily spend less – and there are many exciting, often luxurious options available to travellers who intend to remain on these shores. After all, what the UK lacks in weather, it makes up for in history, culture and spectacular landscapes.

As with many other destinations, one of the best ways to explore is by cruise ship. There are a considerable amount of options available, with nearly all ex-UK cruise lines offering at least one British Isles cruise. Cunard operates a sailing that leaves from Southampton and takes in Glasgow (from Greenock), the Isle of Skye, the Orkney Islands, Belfast and Liverpool, as well as Guernsey, and also leaves the UK to explore Donegal, Dublin and Cork in the Republic of Ireland (see box-out).

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Princess Cruises runs a similar cruise, also from Southampton, which includes Invergordon and Edinburgh, and throws in Le Havre, from which Paris and Normandy are accessible. Cruise & Maritime Voyages – one of the few cruise lines to take advantage of Britain’s ports above the South Coast, particularly England’s northern ports – also has British Isles cruises with a heavy emphasis on Scotland, that include the likes of Ullapool and the Isle of Mull. Fred Olsen Cruise Line has a Lochs, Castles & Coasts of the British Isles cruise, which includes cruising Loch Linnhe, passing through the Corran Narrows and cruising past the majestic Duart Castle, while small-ship operator Majestic Line specialises in sailing the idyllic coastlines and islands of Argyll & the Hebrides. The line, which is now targeting the trade, offers 15 different itineraries on its tiny ships (there’s room for just 11 or 12 guests), including a 10-night Skye to the Shiant Isles cruise, which heads to the remote Outer Hebrides.

It’s no surprise that, for many cruise lines, the Isle of Skye, Scotland’s second largest island, which boasts some of the most spectacular scenery you’re likely to see anywhere, is a regular port of call. It’s one of the country’s most popular tourist spots, but even when the rest of your ship gets off, it’s easy to feel far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the real world here.

There are fewer cruises that call at English ports along the way (Saga has an itinerary that starts and finishes at Dover, and also takes in Liverpool and Portland), but there are any number of pre and post options for those who want to extend their holidays, even if they are heading for the fjords, Mediterranean or beyond. It’s often overlooked, but Southampton is just one hour and 20 minutes by train from London – far closer than Le Havre is from Paris and just a bit further than Civitavecchia is from Rome – while Tilbury (which is officially named the London Cruise Terminal) is just 40 minutes from the capital. London, the largest city in western Europe, is not only historic, full of free art galleries and museums, but has also become of the best spots in the world to eat, whether that’s Michelin-star dining (the city now has 79 stars in total), Turkish ocakbasi (grilled meat) or food festivals at the South Bank. Each year, a limited number of cruises leave from the capital – we make it four from Greenwich and six from Tower Bridge for the rest of the year.

Southampton, from where the lion’s share of ex-UK cruises depart, has the added bonus of being on the edge of the sprawling, unspoilt New Forest, where wild horses roam and village pubs serve good ales and hearty British cuisine, while fascinating Winchester, with its magnificent medieval cathedral, is just 20 minutes away. It’s also worth remembering that Dover – with its incredible castle (where Churchill’s wartime tunnels are now open to the public) – is well worth a stay, while a pre or post city break in Liverpool, Newcastle or Glasgow is also a great way to extend the holiday.

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