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A guide to exploring lesser-known islands around Britain

·6-min read
 (Osea Island)
(Osea Island)

Nothing says holiday quite like stepping off a ferry and easing yourself into the slower pace of island life.

And, while you might still be holding out to jet off somewhere further afield this summer, right here in Britain we are surrounded by plenty of hidden gems, some of which could give Greece a run for its money. Greece is still not on the green list but who needs Hydra when you have the Outer Hebrides?

From Scotland to Cornwall and Essex (yes, Essex), consider one of these destinations for tropical(ish) island vibes.

Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

Alamy Stock Photo
Alamy Stock Photo

USP: A hideaway with dazzling landscapes

Located off the west coast of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides are a magical chain of interconnected Atlantic islands covered in mountains and pretty machair grass-covered dunes leading to beaches, with warm Hebridean hospitality. On Lewis and Harris (two parts of the same island, and Scotland’s largest) you’ll find epic landscapes and spectacular beaches. Luskentyre, on Harris, is the star of the show and is consistently named among the best beaches in the UK thanks to its gorgeous turquoise waters, miles of white sand and views of the uninhabited island of Taransay. History buffs should check out Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, sat in a secluded bay on the isle of Lewis, where the traditional thatched roofing of the croft houses has been carefully restored (visitscotland.com).

Stay: Snap up a room at Scarista house (scaristahouse.com), a cosy hotel on Harris overlooking the beautiful, three-mile long sandy beach.

Get there: Car ferries operate daily from Ullapool on the mainland to Stornoway, the main town of Lewis and Harris (calmac.co.uk) or you can fly into the island’s airport a few miles from the town centre (visitouterhebrides.co.uk).

Osea, Essex

Osea Island
Osea Island

USP: Star power

Closer to home, Osea is where the it-crowd go to party and retreat from the city. Set on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex, the privately-owned island surrounded by acres of rustic gardens, orchards, meadows and salt marsh, shows off with five miles of private beach, an oyster shack, cinema, yoga studio and restaurant in a converted First World War torpedo store serving up splendid tasting menu and wine pairing. The vibe is Hamptons-eque, with inspiration for the properties taken from pretty US fishing villages. Most rooms feature four-poster beds and roll-top baths.

Stay: Got cash to splash? You can hire the entire island for a private event, be it your very own exclusive festival or a wedding, all accommodation can be booked by enquiring directly (oseaisland.co.uk).

Get there: The train from Liverpool Street to Witham station takes less than 50 minutes or you can drive.

Tresco, Scilly Isles

Alamy Stock Photo
Alamy Stock Photo

USP: The wellness retreat

In the heart of the Scilly Isles, an archipelago 30 miles off the Cornish coast, Tresco is a family-owned island home to subtropical gardens, heather-clad hills and pristine white sandy beaches. Wellness seekers should book into one of its retreats. Choose from a yoga escape led by Lucy Aldridge taking place in a studio overlooking the harbour or an open-water swimming package coached by Keri-Anne Payne of Triscape. After a day of activities, guests can unwind in the island’s spa with a massage and relax in the heated pools, saunas, jacuzzis and steam room.

Stay: Book into one of the Sea Garden Cottages, the pretty stone houses offer stunning sea views (tresco.co.uk, from £1,130/week).

Get there: Feeling boujie? The fastest way to the island is with Penzance Helicopters (penzancehelicopters.co.uk) which flies direct from Penzance in just 15 minutes. Trains from London to Penzance take five hours, while driving is around the same.

Anglesey, Wales

Alamy Stock Photo
Alamy Stock Photo

USP: A watersports hotspot

With 125 miles of beautiful coastline, Anglesey is an ideal spot for sailing, surfing, kayaking, kitesurfing and diving. Most of the coast is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), making coasteering and hiking an absolute must on Wales’ largest island. Home to plenty of heritage sites, climb the towers of the 13th Beaumaris Castle, known as the “greatest castle never built,” marvel at the Amlwch Copper Kingdom, once the largest copper mine in the world, or seek out tales from the sea at the Holyhead Maritime Museum (visitanglesey.co.uk).

Stay: The Bull Beaumaris is a boutique seaside coaching inn delivering slap up meals to refuel you after a long day of salty air (from £262 for two nights, bullsheadinn.co.uk).

Get there: The train from London Euston takes just over three hours or you can drive.

Shetland, Scotland

Alamy Stock Photo
Alamy Stock Photo

USP: The Northern Lights

Located between mainland Scotland and Norway, Shetland is an archipelago of around 100 islands, of which only 15 are inhabited. Home to the Shetland pony, the iconic fair isle knit and the freshest mussels in Britain, on Shetland you’ll find roaming wildlife, rugged Scottish scenery and historical Viking influence. It’s also considered one of the best places in the UK to see the Northern Lights, known locally as the “Mirrie Dancers”.

Stay: A secluded self-catering lodge is the best way to do it. Brekka Lodge, in the south mainland of Shetland, offers soothing sea views (selfcateringshetland.co.uk).

Get there: Accessible by plane or ferry, make a journey of it and book a cosy cabin on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (the capital), which takes about 12 hours and has an onboard cinema, buffet and premium lounge for extra home comforts (northlinkferries.co.uk).

Sark, Channel Islands

Alamy Stock Photo
Alamy Stock Photo

USP: A stargazer’s paradise

Step back in time on Sark, the “crown jewel” of the Channel Islands, where there are no cars and only a tiny population of around 600. There are no street lights on the island, resulting in dazzlingly starry night skies. A trip to Sark’s observatory is an absolute must as is a tour of the beautiful La Seigneurie Gardens. Explore the island’s unspoilt landscape by bike, horse-drawn carriage or charter a fishing boat around it.

Stay: Stocks Hotel (stockshotel.com), a 23-bedroom country house, is Sark’s oldest. You’ll find dog-friendly rooms and an outdoor pool.

Get there: Just a 50 minute boat ride from Guernsey.

Brownsea Island, Dorset

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USP: Wildlife

In the middle of Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island is a wildlife haven, best known for its red squirrels and panoramic views of the Purbeck Hills. For many, the island is a day trip while exploring the Jurassic Coast, but anyone wishing to stay overnight should get into the spirit of it and camp — Brownsea Island is where Lord Baden Powell developed his idea for scouting. In school holidays, there’s clay crafting, bug hunting and wildlife tours for kids, you can also visit the Brownsea Open-Air Theatre in the summer.

Stay: The family-friendly Outdoor Centre is open to the public from April to September, and offers toilets, hot showers, marshmallow toasting, mini golf, and an honesty box for hot drinks to keep you toasty (nationaltrust.org.uk).

Get there: Take the 30-minute ferry from Poole Quay.

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