28508043581 349c426b58 o 1

Pleasure Islands

If you’re one of the many preparing to explore British shores this summer, why not go a short ferry trip further, and try an island getaway? Alex Mead takes a look at three destinations just a boat or bridge hop away

Isle of Skye Scotland

The largest of the Inner Hebrides on Scotland’s west coast, the Isle of Skye – connected to the mainland by a bridge – is a land rich in legend, well supplied on the wildlife front and, frankly, so spectacular that, in places, it almost has an otherworldly feel to it. Which is perhaps no surprise, given it’s where people come to dive into the crystal-clear waters of the Fairy Pools, hike and climb a landscape that could be plucked straight from Lord of Rings due to its geological wonders, and see creatures of all shapes and sizes from otters, seals and whales to golden eagles, red deer and even dinosaurs (well, the fossils at least). Kayaking, canoeing, canyoning, tubing or climbing around the nooks and crannies of the island is, unsurprisingly, popular and, for a more sedate way of seeing its best side, you can try a wildlife safari, photography tour or embark on a journey back in time, with expeditions based on the island’s clan history. Food and drink is very high on the list of priorities on Skye, too and there are two whisky distilleries to take in for tasting tours, Talisker 01478 614308 and Torabhaig as well as a gin distillery – Isle of Skye Distillerswith a school where you can make your own. With such an abundant source of seafood on its doorstep, it’s little wonder there are plenty of good places to eat wherever you go. Loch Bay Restaurant lochbay - in the old fishing village of Stein, on the north-west peninsula, is one of Scotland’s best, picking up a Michelin star for dishes such as bay prawn and shrimp bisque with crab and Mull cheddar toastie, and roast half bay lobster with apple, ginger and squattie sauce.

Places to stay are also plentiful and varied, from refurbished crofter cottages not far from Loch Bay, or the cool bed and breakfast Ancala 01471 898001, right on the sea at Armadale. With a location like Skye’s, wherever you make your base, you can’t go too far wrong.

Visit Scotland Airborne Lens 200920 Raasay from Skye A002

Travel Details

Isle of Wight England

Whether you arrive by car (on the ferry), hovercraft or sail your own boat into its harbour, the Isle of Wight has long been a classic seaside destination for staycationers and this year will be no exception. For all its natural beauty, from the rolling countryside, hidden coves, pebble and sand beaches to the rugged western coastline, the Isle of Wight is also an island peppered with historical monuments (Carisbrooke and Yarmouth castles among them), known for hosting epic events (on land and sea) and offers a local cuisine that’s become the envy of many mainlanders in recent years since it seriously went up a few levels. You can stroll Victorian promenades withaward-winning ice cream, sample the best local shellfish for lunch – The Hut in Colwell Bay gets our vote – and then see what happens when Isle of Wight produce gets the modern fine-dining treatment at the intimate Thompson’s. If you like what you taste, there are local farms where you can pick up your own ingredients to take home, including Newchurch’s Garlic Farm and when the time comes to bed down, take your pick. The characterful luxury of North House in the old town of Cowes 01983 209453, is a safe bet.

8674962257 67280b9f04 o

Travel Details

Rathlin Northern Ireland

For a smidge of an island just 6km across and 4km north to south, the L-shaped Rathlin Island has seen an awful lot of things. It resides between Northern Ireland and Scotland, a 45-minute boat ride from Ballycastle with the Mull of Kintyre 17 kilometres from its shore, but people have lived on this dramatic (in every sense) landscape for some 7,000 years and the stunning wildlife for far longer. Once the epicentre of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata – which covered parts of both Scotland and Northern Ireland – in the 6th century, this is where Robert the Bruce was inspired by a spider in his cave to retake his crown; it’s where Francis Drake laid siege and massacred nearly the entire male population; it’s where Neolithic man made porcellanite axes and traded with Europe; and it’s where puffins, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and the country’s only breeding pair of chough call home. Today, it’s home to around 150 people, too (the island’s highest population for some years), but every year around 30,000 visitors come to explore the history, both man-made and natural. It’s rare to see so many things in such a small space: even the sea – overlooked by Rathlin’s unique ‘upside down’ lighthouse with the living quarters above the light – is packed with history, including the remains of, ironically, the HMS Drake, a battleship sunk by the Germans in the First World War. Cycle and hike your way across the island either alone or with one of their excellent guides, then stay overnight in one of 11 rooms in the boutique Manor House Hotel 028 2076 0046, and enjoy the freshest seafood dinner in its Island Restaurant.

Puffin with sandeels Credit Chris Gomersall rspb images com

Travel Details

Get Premium access to all the latest content online

Subscribe and view full print editions online... Subscribe