Image credit: CC BY 2.0 (Brad Higham, 2013)
Britain’s beauty has been lauded by aesthetes and writers for centuries — with good reason; its historically-rich cities are utterly compelling and full of inspiration while its unique scenery provides a constant visual joy.
Throughout the island nation’s pastoral landscapes, travellers are continuously treated to majestic views of farmland and heath dotted with ancient sandstone cottages, verdant sheep pastures and seemingly infinite open roads that appear to end abruptly at serrated seaside cliffs.
But aside from the quintessential wild countryside, Britain is also home to a collection of diverse islands, which seem a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the mainland cities. Around the shores of England, Scotland and Wales, there is a total of 6,289 islands among which about 140 are inhabited.
Wild and genteel, scenic, quirky and remote, these islands have evolved at their own pace and each has a different story to tell. Quotient picks five to add to your travel wishlist.
Isle of Man
Located between the coastlines of England, Scotland and Ireland, right in the middle of the Irish Sea, the tiny but stunning Isle of Man is packed with so much history, scenic beauty, folklore and wildlife it instantly woos even the most seasoned traveller.
Circled by an expansive coastline, natural landscapes and pristine beaches, the island appears to be a microcosm of the British countryside and coast, and features stirring scenery such as flat terrain peppered by sturdy silvery buildings, tiny villages that resemble parts of eastern England and undulating hills that bring to mind the verdant ones on Scottish lands.
From afar, travellers can spot Snaefell mountain, which dominates the entire island; from its peak on a clear day you can even spot England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Keen wayfarers will take pleasure in the picturesque walk at Glen Maye, in the west of the island, which takes you through a secluded glen, a waterfall and then onto the beach.
But while generally the island keeps its slow pace in check, it is also revamping itself for active travellers who wish to bring more to their holiday than a bucket-and-spade; in fact, the island is renowned as a mecca for motorsports and boasts activities such as surfing, sea kayaking, diving and coasteering along the intertidal zone of the rocky coastline on foot or by swimming.
Isle of Man is easily accessible from Britain with flights operating from airports all over the British Isles. From London, the flight to Isle of Man takes about 75 minutes. If you opt to sail, ferry services operate from the ports of Heysham, Liverpool (Birkenhead during the winter season), and Belfast and Dublin (during the spring-summer season).
Located close to Norway (as far north as St. Petersburg in Russia or Anchorage in Alaska), the Shetland Islands are the UK’s most northerly point. On just a small area, you can admire everything from rocky crags to heather hills to beautiful beaches and fertile farmland.
While the unpretentious setting feels quintessentially Scottish, Shetland Islands reflect Norse influences and feature traditional festivals such as the Up Helly Aa fire festival in Lerwich, which celebrates the Viking heritage; and on St. Ninian’s Isle, where a collection of early medieval treasures rumoured to have belonged to some great Viking leader was discovered.
Here, nature still rules the seas and islands and cliffs rise dramatically from the North Sea, where colonies of raucous seasonal birds such as guillemots, gannets, razorbills and puffins create a unique visual spectacle — so don’t forget to pack binoculars!
With an amazing array of wildlife, it is no doubt why this pristine territory is dubbed a naturalist’s paradise. Apart from seabirds, the islands boasts sea mammals including seals, grey seals, otters and harbour porpoises. Shetland’s world-famous small ponies can also be seen grazing throughout the islands’ beaches and grassland in the West Mainland, Tingwall, Dunrossness and the island of Unst.
But Shetland Islands are not only about wildlife and scenery; they are also home to important archaeological sites such as Jarlshof, which sits at the very southern tip of Shetland’s mainland, near Sumburgh Head, and has been home to many cultures over the millennia including Picts and Vikings.
Shetland Islands are located north of Scotland. Several flights per day to and from the major Scottish airports and a twice-weekly flight from Bergen make Shetland an easy destination to reach by air. It takes only 90 minutes to reach the islands from Edinburgh and Glasgow. The islands are also well-served by ferry services, with departures seven nights a week in both directions on the Aberdeen-Lerwick route year-round.
Isle of Wight
It may not be as balmy as the Mediterranean islands, but Isle of Wight is deemed one of the most beautiful in Britain. As a miniature version of the southwest of England, this island is endowed with contrasting landscapes such as salt marshes, pristine beaches, forests where red squirrels roam around jovially and a stunning coastline blanketed by flourishing Mediterranean plants.
This sheltered seaside haven was first made famous by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who spent many summers at Osborne House, their palatial holiday home, and which today is a beautiful example of the island’s rich heritage, welcoming visitors to take a glimpse of the past.
As you explore the island, you will see evidence of its intriguing past, which stretches back to the time of the dinosaurs (there are even thematic hunts and walks to discover the dinosaur fossils and bones). However, the island is far from the Cretaceous age; in just an hour, you could travel from the spine of the island to the laidback seaside resort of Sandown to the scenic town of Ventnor, which brims with a bustling arts scene.
Isle of Wight can be reached from all major UK airports. From London, the journey by train or ferry takes less than 2 hours and 30 minutes. There are also up to 200 ferry crossings a day operating from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington. The main links operate for passengers into five different island towns such as Ryde, Cowes, East Cowes, Fishbourne and Yarmouth — the latter three services also carry vehicles.
The Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly are seemingly a world apart from the rest of Britain as the archipelago’s Caribbean-like glistening azure waters and pristine white sands seem almost surreal in this part of the world.
As you arrive in the Scillies from mainland Britain, it feels like you’ve taken a step back in time. The islands offer a different quality of life and basking in its tranquility and isolation is a guaranteed pleasure.
There are five inhabited islands and a myriad of uninhabited islands that travellers can explore. Each island has distinct characteristics such as rugged edges, unique flora and fauna, and rich wildlife. St. Mary’s, the largest, is a haven of hidden treasures such as dramatic rocky coves, intriguing archaeological sites and miles of coastal paths and nature trails, and it also brims with restaurants, cafes, galleries and shops.
On the other hand, on St. Agnes, you will be face-to-face with England’s most untamed and unspoiled gem. From secluded beaches to villages dotted with quaint cottages and flower fields, this island is a sanctuary of tranquility. Marvel at the stone stacks and cairns that dot Wingletang Down, or go beachcombing for shipwrecked treasures at Beady Pool. To wrap up your day, Periglis Beach is a popular spot for a picnic as well as a shells collectors’ paradise.
The Isles of Scilly can be reached from by boat from Penzance in England after a 2 hour 45 minute mini-cruise aboard the Scillonian III. The Scillonian III runs between March and November six days a week during low season and daily in high season. There’s also a possibility to fly into St. Mary’s on small aircraft from three departure points in mainland UK – Exeter Airport, which services 60-minute flights between March and October; Newquay Cornwall Airport, with year-round 30-minute flights, and Land’s End, which is just a 15-minute hop, all year.
Clustered between England and France, the charismatic Channel Islands promise an intoxicating meld of cultures and a land rich in lasting traditions and stunning scenery. Comprised of five distinct islands, the archipelago is known for cerulean waters, golden beaches, hedgerow-trimmed lanes, tropical gardens and picture-pretty villages.
Among them, the isle of Sark — the smallest of all — is considered the first “dark sky island” in the world and draws a fair share of keen stargazers, who come to admire the beautiful Milky Way with the naked eye. Sark, which is car-free, is also celebrated for its breathtaking coastline and teems with rare wildlife.
And while the larger Jersey and Guernsey are more populous, they still brim with open space and are truly a hiker’s paradise with plenty coastal paths to explore. The famous French writer Victor Hugo lived on these two islands and even admitted to their wonderful peculiarities!
The Channel Islands are located in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy in France. There are a number of flights from the UK, which take as little as 30 minutes. There is one ferry company operating to Guernsey from the UK and the French port of St. Malo. During the summer months there is a passenger-only service from Normandy.