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28th May, 2020

Off the beaten track

Uncovering hidden gems on Saga’s UK cruises

By Neil Cron, Shore Excursion Manager

There are so many remarkably beautiful parts of the UK, and although people may know where they are, there’s nothing like actually experiencing it all first-hand, where you can immerse yourself in centuries of culture and history, iconic landmarks and picturesque towns, cities and countryside on a cruise around the British Isles and Ireland. From castles, cathedrals, heritage steam trains, wild Irish coastlines, pretty villages and timeless legends and traditions, there is so much to delight on a cruise around the UK and Ireland.

We’ve got some incredible sights that could be in a whole different country, from the almost mythical landscape of the Scottish Highlands to the Orkney and Shetland Islands which boasts some of the most stunning coastal scenery in the world, remarkable wildlife, ancient archaeological sites and pristine beaches. And let’s not forget the wildly rugged Atlantic coastline of Ireland (resplendent with soaring, dramatic cliffs, hidden beaches and bays), the delightful cobbled streets and Regency architecture of St Peter Port and the most romantic coastal landscapes that make up the UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

Loch Broom in Ullapool

Pretty Loch Broom

Our cruises next year offer the opportunity to circumnavigate the entire British Isles, stopping off at not only our most iconic ports steeped in maritime history like Liverpool and Belfast but also the chance to visit ports less frequented, like the old herring port of Ullapool situated on Loch Broom in the Highlands on Scotland’s North West coast from where you can explore nearby beautiful Gruinard Bay or the Falls of Measach. Similarly, the port of Foyne's on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, where the first commercial transatlantic flights took off from and home to the corresponding flying boat museum is another fascinating destination located a short distance from the traditional market town of Listowel, on the banks of the River Feale and described as the ‘Literary Capital of Ireland’.

Likewise, elsewhere around Britain there are a treasure trove of stunning landscapes and places to discover and some almost certainly in places already visited.

Cave Hill in Belfast on a misting morning

Stunning Cave Hill in Belfast

For generations, Cave Hill has been synonymous with Belfast, with its imposing outline visible throughout the city. The landmark, named for the five caves located on the side of the cliffs, contains a wealth of natural, archaeological and historical features, including Belfast Castle. Its most famous feature, known locally as Napoleon's Nose, is believed to have been the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's novel, Gulliver's Travels, and offers superb views of the city from a variety of vantage points.

Dublin is an oft-visited port of call for Saga’s cruises ships over the years and if you have been on a cruise close to home you may well have been to this city once or twice before, however you may well have overlooked this hidden gem, once described by Lonely Planet as 'not just the best museum in Ireland but one of the best in Europe' - and the only Irish museum to ever win European Museum of the Year - the Chester Beatty. Concealed behind Dublin Castle, it boasts extraordinary collections from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe that span centuries, continents and cultures. Better yet its free to enter and even the hourly guided tours are free. If you have time, I highly recommend a visit to the roof top garden which offers an oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling city but also a lovely opportunity to take a picture of the castle garden itself.

The Brough of Birsay

The Brough of Birsay

For an Orkney adventure to remember, I highly recommend a visit to the Brough of Birsay. This is a tidal island on the north-west tip of the Orkney mainland which can be reached by a causeway when the tide is low between June and September. On the island itself there are the remains of a Viking settlement and the earlier Pictish community. The Brough of Birsay is also one of the best places on the Orkney Mainland to see puffins and you may well be lucky to see some these colourful birds at the end of their nesting season on the islands.

The concrete causeway from the beach joins the Brough to the Orkney Mainland and is approximately 150m long - appropriate footwear is essential as it can be slippery and uneven.

Hanois Lighthouse at Pleinmont

Hanois Lighthouse at Pleinmont

Guernsey’s spectacular south coast is riddled with beautiful bays, secluded coves and harbours so pretty they almost don’t look real. For the most dramatic scenery on the island, head to Pleinmont, where the clifftops are covered in thick heather before they fall away to the sea below. The view from here out to Hanois lighthouse is something pretty special. Guernsey is absolutely rammed with myths and legends. Tales of phantom pigs, snow white horses and the devil and fairy rings are out in full force all over the island. Everywhere are stone burial chambers built above ground and one of them, Le Dehus, has a ghostly face carved into the stone. Witches resting stones can be found at almost every turn and there are roads named after local werewolves.

Portland sits very neatly in the middle of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches 95 miles from Devon to Dorset. The coastline features many historic seaside towns and the surrounding area is renowned for its natural beauty often with a fascinating history as a backdrop that has inspired many a literary classic such as 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' or 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' and of course many a ‘Famous Five’ adventure! Suffice to say no trip to Dorset will not be complete without lashings of ginger beer…

However, go inland a little from Portland towards Dorchester and you will find the still little-known village of Littlebredy. I say still, as at least one part of the village came to fame due to the popular TV series ‘Broadchurch’ – the waterfall that featured heavily in the first series can be found here. The Village is located at the head of the Bride Valley and offers beautifully scenic countryside walks. Cars are not allowed in some areas, so just a village stroll offers a peaceful way to get away from the hustle and bustle.

The Walled Gardens of Littlebredy

Littlebredy Walled Gardens

The Walled Gardens at Littlebredy are another hidden gem – The River Bride tumbles down a waterfall from its spring, fed by a lake in the grounds of Bridehead, a mansion at the centre of the village estate. From the road through the village you can walk through the churchyard to the sparkling lake and waterfall. The five-acre Gardens contains the ‘Lost’ Victorian walled kitchen and flower gardens belonging to the village estate. The attractive walks and gardens, boasting delightful herbaceous borders with roses, lavender and soft fruit and vegetable potagers. Ask our Explore Ashore Team to check the website for opening days as they are open only a couple of days a week. A small entry fee applies but parking is free and there are drinks and cakes available.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.