Britain is blessed with thousands of intriguing islands, many of which repay further exploration. Here’s our pick of the best.
You’ve heard of hill bagging – now how about trying a spot of island bagging instead? In their newly published book Scottish Island Bagging, Walkhighlands founders Helen and Paul Webster share an obsession with visiting the remote, far-flung and breathtakingly beautiful islands sprinkled around Scotland’s coastline. You can read their account of exploring the almost mythical St Kilda archipelago in the September issue of The Great Outdoors. In the meantime, here’s a selection of Britain’s most inspirational islands to whet your island-bagging appetite.
1. Skye, Inner Hebrides
Skye is pretty much synonymous with island adventure, mainly thanks to the world-class scrambling offered by the Cuillin Ridge. Up at the north end of the island you’ll find slightly more sedate (but still seriously spectacular) walking on the curvaceous Trotternish Ridge – or follow the 128km unofficial ‘Skye Trail’ for an unforgettable long-distance experience. Dinosaur footprints to discover at Staffin, endless sea kayaking opportunities and a spectacular sandy wild camping spot at Camasunary Bay add to the adventurous appeal.
2. Boreray, St Kilda
Boreray is the smallest Scottish island to have a summit over a thousand feet high, and it appears as a great mountain rising sheer from the sea. Landing is difficult but incredibly there are prehistoric remains that suggest an early farming community survived here. In more modern times, eleven St Kildans were marooned on the island over winter in 1727 when a smallpox epidemic meant there was no one able to row over to rescue the group which had been left on Boreray to undertake a fowling trip. Cruising round the stacks and Boreray is an incredible experience, visiting these fearsome cliffs up close and marvelling at the St Kildans who regularly climbed the stacks hunting fulmar, gannets and other sea birds and collecting eggs.
3. Sark, Channel Islands
Stepping onto Sark feels a little like going back in time – there are no cars or streetlights on the smallest of the Channel Islands and the only way to get around is by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage. What you will find in abundance here are clear dark skies at night – the island is world-famous as a stargazer’s mecca. Sark may be only 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, but walking the coast makes for a great day hike. Search out hidden swimming spots and brave the heights of La Coupée, a narrow ridge that joins Sark to Little Sark.
4. Anglesey, North Wales
Pack your hiking boots for visit to Anglesey – Wales’ largest island is encircled by 125 miles of glorious coast path, which winds over soft sand dunes and dramatic cliffs and offers iconic views of the Atlantic from South Stack lighthouse. The island also specialises in wild nights out. The brave can go cliff camping, sleeping out on a portaledge suspended over the ocean, while those with less of a head for heights can stargaze from a stand-up paddleboard on a night SUP session. And you can’t come to Anglesey without a detour to visit the snappily-named town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
5. Arran, Clyde Archipelago
You’ll find ‘Scotland in miniature’ attached to almost every description of Arran ever written – and this is one cliche that exists for a reason. Goat Fell, the highest point on the island at 874 metres, makes up for just missing Munro status with immense views that encompass Ben Lomond, Jura and even Ireland on a clear day. There are idyllic sandy beaches to stroll across, red squirrels, red deer and hen harrier to spot, and a host of exciting outdoor activities to partake in including climbing, gorge walking and mountain biking.
6. Tresco, Isles of Scilly
The subtropical-style Isles of Scilly lie off the Cornish coast, but you’d be forgiven for thinking their white sand beaches and clear waters were straight out of the Caribbean. Be a castaway for a few days on the car-free island of Tresco, which is crowned by the jungle-like Abbey Garden. Walk or cycle the island’s peaceful lanes and trails in the shade of palm trees, go for a dip in hidden coves or hop on a boat to visit the other islands – you can even walk across to the neighbouring isle of Bryher, which boasts a lovely campsite, when the tide is right.
7. Portland, Dorset
This ‘tied island’, connected to Dorset by Chesil Beach, was made for adventures. Climbing routes scatter Portland’s limestone coast. Bouldering lovers should make a beeline for the Cuttings boulder field, where you’ll find problems to suit all levels on huge chunks of rock that look out to the ocean. Walkers and cyclists can follow the 9.5 miles of the South West coast path that skirt the island, and Portland’s temptingly clear waters are perfect for diving and snorkelling (or cliff jumping, if you’re seeking an adrenaline rush). YHA Portland has a good camping field and makes a great base for exploring the island.
8. Skomer, Wales
The star inhabitants of Skomer are the charmingly clownish puffins, who descend here from April to August each year to lay their eggs in burrows. The island is still a wildlife haven come autumn and winter, though, and on a wild walk around this jewel-green island off the Pembrokeshire coast you’re likely to spot seals and dolphins year-round. Most hikers visit Skomer for the day, but if you join the wildlife rangers and stay in the island’s cosy hostel for the night, you’ll get Skomer (and often, some spectacular sunsets) all to yourself.
Note – accommodation on Skomer reopens in 2021
9. Brownsea, Dorset
The island that inspired Robert Baden Powell to start the Scouts movement back in 1908 still has an adventurous spirit today. Most of Brownsea’s interior is woodland and heathland criss-crossed with walking trails – keep your eye out for the 200 red squirrels that flourish here. The island’s cosy bunkhouse and newly-opened campsite make it easy to stay the night on this charming little slice of land. Brownsea, which sits in the calm waters of Poole Harbour, is also easily reached by kayak or canoe from the mainland – packing a tent and paddling to South Shore makes for the perfect beginner-friendly canoe camping expedition.
10. Bardsey island, North Wales
Bardsey isn’t known as the ‘island of the 20,000 saints’ for nothing – this island off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales has a rich history as the site of an Augustinian abbey and a Viking stronghold. While there are no campsites on Ynys Enlli, as it’s known in Welsh, you can still join the locals for a night by booking one of a handful of traditional cottages, available for week-long stays. The island may be tiny, but it does boast its own miniature mountain, Mynydd Enlli, and also marks the start of the 140 mile-long Pilgrim’s Way, a great hiking challenge if you fancy your own walking crusade in some of the loveliest landscapes Wales has to offer.