Best of British: Islands

Fiona Hicks

From the hebrides to the south atlantic ocean, our fair nation extends far beyond our shores.

Lundy, North Devon

This atmospheric island is a testament to the power of nature. Its west side faces the rough Atlantic Ocean and, as a result, the terrain features rocky, rugged cliffs. The east side of the island, however, looks into the more gentle Bristol Channel, and is thus replete with grassy slopes, trees and many varieties of wildflowers.

Travelling from the mainland on the MS Oldenburg, visitors can opt to stay in one of the 23 self-catering properties on site, which range in style from a 13th-century castle to a fisherman’s chalet. Don’t forget to visit the Marisco Tavern, the island’s one and only pub—and the only building that has lighting after the generators are shut down for the night. In such rich darkness, there are great views of the Milky Way.

Visit landmarktrust.org.uk/lundyisland for details

 

Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean 

First sighted in 1506 by Portuguese explorer Tristao da Cunha—who named it after himself—the first landing on this island didn’t take place until 1643, when the Dutch East India Company stopped here. Years of intermittent visits passed until 1810, when Jonathan Lambert, from Salem, US, became the island’s first permanent resident. He died a few years later and in 1816 the UK took over, annexing the archipelago to stop the French launching a mission to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte, who was imprisoned on Saint Helena some 1,200 miles away.

The island has remained British overseas territory ever since. Today, it’s home to 265 inhabitants, who live in one village—Edinburgh of the Seven Seas—at the foot of an active volcano. The beautiful landscape and friendly locals make it worth the six-day boat voyage from South Africa.

Visit tristandc.com for details

 

Hirta, Hebrides

This volcanic island has been uninhabited since 1930, but still bears the vestiges of human occupation that spanned hundreds of years and many generations. Take a day trip from Skye, and after a four-hour boat journey you’ll be able to wander round the island and enjoy these historical—and occasionally haunting—sites. An old school and a church still remain, along with graves and guns from the Second World War.

The entire archipelago, which also includes the islands of Dun, Soay and Boreray, is also the UK’s only Unesco Dual World Heritage Site and National Nature Reserve. With nearly one million seabirds at the height of the breeding season, it makes for a dream destination for bird-watching enthusiasts. Take some binoculars and enjoy spying on the puffins.

Visit gotostkilda.co.uk for details

 

Herm, Channel Islands 

We’ve all heard of Jersey and Guernsey, but what about Herm? The smallest of the Channel Islands is just a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, but it has oodles of charm. For one thing, it’s car-free. For another, there are six beaches,  all of which boast fine, white sand similar to the stuff you’d expect to find much closer to the equator. There are also lots of rock pools—and Fisherman’s Beach at low tide will keep curious little ones occupied for hours.

Many visitors head to the island for a day trip, but it’s well-worth staying over. You can camp at The Seagull site and enjoy spectacular views, get cosy in a log cabin or stay at the island’s only hotel, The White House Hotel. The latter is purposefully designed to help you switch off, sporting a brilliant wine list—but no telephones, televisions or clocks.

Visit herm.com for details

 

Eilean Shona, Scotland

It’s believed this melodiously named island off the coast of Scotland was the place that inspired Peter Pan author J M Barries’s depiction of Neverland. He holidayed here at the turn of the last century, and was captivated by the isle’s dense woods, beautiful beaches and ruined castle.

It’s now owned by Vanessa Branson, sister of Sir Richard Branson—and, as you might expect, it’s become rather luxurious. Since purchasing the 1,300 acres in the mid-Nineties, Vanessa has slowly and stylishly upgraded the properties on the island, including Eilean Shona House and the Old Schoolhouse, all of which are now available to rent. Expect slick white wood, Moroccan rugs and expansive views over private bays. Also expect to bring your own loo paper and to turn your phone off—there’s no signal, let alone any electricity to charge it. Bliss.

Visit eileanshona.com for details

 

Tresco, Isles of Scilly

In 1834, politician Augustus Smith took on the lease for the Scilly Isles from the Duchy of Cornwall. Using Tresco, the second largest of the islands, his idea was to construct a grand social experiment. He postulated that if you educated people, they’d go on to become self-sufficient rather than a burden to the state. With the right education and infrastructure, he believed you could create a utopian society.

Fast forward a few years, and now Augustus’ descendent Robert Dorrien-Smith runs the estate with his wife Lucy. Utopia is hard to achieve, but Tresco certainly comes close. Tourism is the main industry on the island, which means each visitor is treated to a wonderfully escapist experience. Like many islands on our list, there are no cars here—and neither are there street lamps, smog or stresses. Make sure you take a book and spend an afternoon in the Abbey Garden.

Visit tresco.co.uk for details

 

Henderson Island, South Pacific Ocean 

It may be far from the United Kingdom, but this island is British nonetheless. The uninhabited, 14.4-square-mile island was annexed to the Pitcairn Islands 115 years ago, forming the last South Pacific British Overseas Territory.

Uninhabited since the 15th century, this beautiful atoll is one of the finest, accessible examples of what the world would be like if untouched by human influence. It’s untendered ecosystem is home to no fewer than ten indigenous land species and four endemic land birds, including the Henderson Reed-warbler.

The only way to reach the island is by boat, so it’s best to travel to Pitcairn first and receive permission from the local council. If you’re more of an armchair traveller, you can read Stan’s  Leap—Tom Duerig’s novel, which is set on the extraordinary isle.

Visit pitcarin.pn for details