There are over a thousand major islands scattered around the shores of Britain, if you count those that are down to rocky outcrop size, some say closer to six thousand. Some are easy to get to, some remote and inaccessible, but they all make ideal alternative places to go to see nature, walk, explore and unwind.
The dictionary defines an island as ‘a piece of land surrounded by water’ and the word is from the Old English ‘iegland’ ‘ieg’ meaning watery. However, there are complications, some islands are connected by bridges or causeways to the mainland, and others are more like rocks than islands, so the definition is open to some debate.
Visiting an island can take a little bit more planning. You have to think about how to get there and back for a start, taking into account tides, maybe ferry timetables, what to take with you, and if you’re going further afield, booking somewhere to stay on the island or mainland.
Whatever island you choose to visit you’re likely to be rewarded by breathtaking beauty, the feeling of being somewhere special and unusual, and seeing places where life is slower and more relaxed.
Of the thousands of islands, the vast majority, and some of the most remote and beautiful, are in northern Scotland. Getting there takes a bit of research and planning, and you need to leave plenty of time to appreciate them fully. But some of the islands around Britain can easily be done in a day trip. Here’s our guide to a few of the islands around Britain to whet your appetite.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne lies off the north east coast in Northumberland, and is the largest of the Farne Island group. The beaches and harbour of this area were once used by one of the largest herring fleets of the east coast, and even now the village of Craster is renowned for its kippers.
Holy Island has been a place of pilgrimage since 635AD when St Aidan came from Iona to found the monastery here. The island was also a target for viking invasions. Lindisfarne Mead is a unique alcoholic fortified wine manufactured on Holy Island of Lindisfarne and is still on sale. Mead was known as an aphrodisiac, and honeymoon is derived from an ancient custom of newly-weds drinking mead for the period of a whole moon cycle to increase their fertility.
Highlights of Holy Island includes Lindisfarne Priory, a Norman priory and the home of the magnificently intricate Lindisfarne Gospels that were painstakingly etched and coloured over many years by the monks. A copy of the gospels are on view in the Scriptorium.
Lindisfarne Castle is managed by the National Trust, and it sits on top of a vast volcanic mound known as Beblowe Craig, Lindisfarne Castle has to one of the most distinctive and picturesque features of Northumberland. Wherever you go around the island there are breathtaking views and plenty of places to walk to.
To visit Lindisfarne you need to cross a causeway, tidal crossing can be found at http://holy-island.info/lindisfarnecastle/2010/ so unless you really do want to stay on the island it’s best to check. If you do happen to get caught out, there are several raised rescue posts for cars, but don’t risk it.
Visit http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk/ or the Holy Island website has an excellent gallery of photographs at http://www.holy-island.com/gallery/, and details of walks around the island.
Lindisfarne Castle (The National Trust)
The other islands in the Farne group can be reached by boat and lie between the village of Bamburgh and the fishing port of Seahouses and are home to thousands of sea birds and seals. The islands are managed by The National Trust.
The Farne Islands are the summer haven for around 100,000 pairs of nesting seabirds like puffin, guillemot and shag.
The islands are also the home of one of Europes largest grey seal colonies, and this, combined with dramatic coastal scenery, make it a photgraphers paradise. The Farne Islands are also very popular with sea kayakers and divers, but offer everyone the chance to see the wildlife with boat trips from Seahouses and boardwalks to get close to the birdlife. In fact, for some poeple the birds are a little too close, so take a hat with you.
The main islands are Inner Farne, Brownsman, and Staple Island. Many of the islands hide underwater at high tide, making it a dangerous area for shipping. Visitors pass lots of these inaccessible islets on the boat to Inner Farne or Staple where the seals laze on rocky shorelines or plunge into the foaming waters.
Historically, St. Cuthbert lived and died here in the 7th century, and the Longstone Rock lighthouse was where Grace Darling and her father famously set out to rescue the survivors of a wrecked paddle-steamer, the Forfarshire, when it ran aground on a nearby islet in 1838.
St. Mary’s Island
Lying further south down the coast of Northumberland near Whitley Bay is St. Mary’s, a small island with a notable lighthouse that can be climbed. St. Mary’s is an icon for the north east coast and is reached by a short causeway at low tide and has a small cafe.
Lundy Island lies just off the coast of north Devon, in the Bristol Channel, and is over three miles long and a mile wide.
It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the abundance of habitats and wildlife especially breeding birds. On the west side there’s nothing between Lundy and the coast of America.
People come to Lundy for relaxation, peace and tranquility, and it is truly a place to enjoy a laid back short break. Artists, bird-watchers, and photographers are frequent visitors, and Lundy also offers a lot to do for walkers, climbers, divers and kayakers. The Landmark Trust has a campsite and some self-catering accommodation including a lighthouse, but it’s wise to book well in advance.
Anglesey is the largest island in Wales and is renowned for it’s wide white sandy beaches, quaint Victorian seaside towns and of course the village with the longest place name in Britain, but often shortened for the sake of ease to just Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.
Anglesey is reached via the Menai Bridge, and is home to the Anglesey Coastal Path that winds round the island and includes some terrific coastal views unlike any elsewhere in Britain. Holyhead and Beaumaris are attractive places to visit, as are m,any of the islands beaches such as Newborough Beach.
Walney and Piel Island
Walney Island is often forgotten as one of Britain’s sizeable offshore islands at 11 miles long. Connected to Barrow-in-Furness on the mainland by a bridge, it consists of a huge barrier of sand dunes, ridges, shingle beaches and marshland.
The habitat is perfect for migrating birds and there are a number of important protected nature reserves, as well as a large wind farm.
Piel Island is also close to Barrow and is home to the remains of Piel Castle and is linked to the mainland by ferryboats that run regularly during the summer.
Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran is often referred to as a ‘miniature Scotland’ because it is so varied and includes a sample of everything Scotland has to offer including sand and pebble beaches, outstanding mountain scenery and rugged landscape, woodlands, and wildlife.
The island is 167 square miles, so larger than most people expect. The main village is Brodick which is overshadowed by the mighty peak of Goatfell, lies on the coast, as do all of the other settlements on the islands. The island, like all the other islands in the Scottish highlands, is ideal for all kinds of outdoor activity, and is a perfect place to unwind. It’s also home to eight golf courses too, and the cave which was reputed to be Robert the Bruce’s hiding place.
http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/areaarra/index.html - Undiscovered Scotland
Ayrshire and Arran http://www.ayrshire-arran.com/ - Visit Scotland
Isles of Scilly
Lying off the coast of Cornwall the Isles of Scilly is a place that seems so different from anywhere on the mainland because of its faraway nature and unique scenery. As the name suggest it is a collection of a number of islands, the main ones being St. Mary’s, St. Martin’s, Bryher and Tresco, and the islands of St. Agnes and Gugh are joined by a sandbar beach.
The Isles has idyllic and often empty beaches with white sand and clear tourquise waters not unlike a tropical setting. The best beaches are at Porthcressa, Pelistry, Porth Hellick (St. Mary’s), Great Bay, Little Bay, Middle Town beach, Perpitch (St Martin’s), Rushy Bay, and Green Bay (Bryher). Other popular places to visit include Cromwell’s Castle and the famous Pulpit Rock.
Simply Scillys, Isles of Scilly tourist board - http://www.simplyscilly.co.uk/
Cornwal Online – http://www.cornwall-online.co.uk/islesofscilly/Welcome.html
There are just so many beautiful, remote and interesting islands off the Scotttish highland coast that it’s hard to single any out. However, with about 1/4m visitors a year, the Orkneys are truly irresistable.
There are around 70 islands and skerries in the Orkneys archipeligo, lying 6.2 miles off the most northerly tip of Scottish coast and comprising of the larger island of mainland Orkney (where most people live) surrounded by the others. The Orkneys are geographically and culturally separate from the rest of Scotland, and in many ways are closer to the Scandanavians than the Scots.
Stone age and neolithic villages once stood here and there’s an abundance of evidence in the form of standing stones, monoliths and of ancient civilisation. The Vikings settled in Orkney relatively recently in the 9th century, and the Orcadian dialect is based on a combination of Old Norse and Gaelic.
The island group really does feel far far away, you are after all at one of the extreme limits of Britain. The islands lie at 59 degrees north, which is on a parallel with Oslo and in the winter months get only 4-5 hours of daylight. The islands do however enjoy less harsh weather and a more gentle landscape than some of the other highland islands because of the tempering effect of warm Gulf Stream waters passing by.
There are two ways to get there: boat and plane. The overland journey and then a ferry was, until relatively recently, the only way to get there and you do get the chance to see whales, dolphins and seals along the journey, however there are now Flybe flights from Glasgow and a number of other cities to Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland, making the Orkneys more accessible than ever.
Skye and Lochalsh
Recently voted the fourth best island in the world by National Geographic magazine, the Isle of Skye (or Eilean a’ Cheò in gaelic) is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. As well as spectacular scenery, a vibrant culture, ancient heritage, and abundant wildlife, Skye is also known for its mountain challenges. Climbers, walkers and scramblers can enjoy terrain for all degrees of difficulty, or just take a coastal walk on the many beaches or some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain.
The stark Cuillin range dominates the island, and the Red Hills and Blaven are also popular activity areas. There are numerous inlets and bays and miles of coastal walks along plummeting sea cliffs. Billed as ‘a place where time means nothing’ Skye certainly has a magical and other-worldly feel about it.
You can fly to Skye, but many people prefer to drive or get the train to catch some sensational scenery on the way. Roads run either through Lochalsh and awesome Glenshiel, or the award winning ‘Road to the Isles’ from Fort William to Mallaig for the ferry ‘over the sea to Skye’. The main McBrayne ferry runs to Armadale, and in summer there’s another ferry to Gelnelg and Kylerhea.
Holy Island and the Farne Islands – OL340
St Mary’s Island – OL316
Lundy Island – OL139
Anglesey – East OL263, West OL262
Walney Island and Piel Island – OL6
Isle of Arran – OL361
Isles of Scilly – OL101
Orkney islands – west mainland OL463, east mainland OL461, other islands OL465
Isle of Skye – OL407, OL408, OL409, OL410, Cuillin Hills OL411
This article originally appeared on our Ordnance Survey magazine site. You can find more lesiure-related articles here.