There’s nothing like an island break to feel like you’ve really escaped, but no need to fly across the world. Tristan Parker picks four British islands offering something unique to visitors
Best for feeling like you’re abroad: Guernsey
With soaring cliffs, subtropical gardens, glorious beaches and significant French influence – it’s only 27 miles from Normandy – Guernsey feels a world away from the UK. From the mainland, it is three hours by boat or a 40-minute flight. Its 24 square miles provide lots of activities, from outdoor pursuits to dining by the ocean.
Cobo Bay is the headline beach thanks to soft, white sands and brilliant blue waters, but with almost 30 beaches to choose from, you’ll always find your own spot. Try tucked- away Fermain Bay or Port Soif Bay, enclosed by sand dunes.
THE LITTLE CHAPEL
Built by a monk in 1914 as a replica of the Rosary Basilica of Lourdes. The chapel, decorated with seashells, china and pebbles, was rebuilt after the Bishop of Portsmouth couldn’t fit through the door!
The house of French literary giant Victor Hugo is an opulent and eccentric affair. Hugo lived on Guernsey for 15 years in exile from France, and created a masterpiece with the house he bought in Saint Peter Port. Filled with art, delicate fabrics and grandiose furniture, it’s an insight into his creative mind.
Best for scenery: Arran
Found off Scotland’s west coast, Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde. It’s acquired the cute nickname of ‘Scotland in miniature’, thanks to the varied range of landscapes packed into just 166 square miles. Tranquil forests (some home to red squirrels), towering granite mountains, rugged coastline melting into luscious green countryside – you’ll find it all here.
At over 870m high, Goatfell is the highest peak on Arran, but fear not, as it’s also one of its easiest mountain ascents. As you might expect at that altitude, the views are magnificent, offering a panoramic showcase of Arran’s diverse landscapes.
ARRAN COASTAL WAY
The best way to soak up Arran’s scenery is by tackling sections of this 65-mile circular route, or even adventuring around the whole thing over a week or so. Along the way you’ll find deep valleys peppered with wildflowers, picturesque villages and historic sites like Lochranza Castle.
SOAK UP A DISTILLERY TOUR
There are two sister distilleries on Arran, both utilising its wonderfully pure and clean water. Lochranza, the island’s first distillery, is in the north, while Lagg is on the south coast. Both produce very fine single-malt whisky (with peated, smokier varieties and lighter options) and both offer excellent tours and tastings.
Best for history: Isle of Man
The Isle of Man has had a rather battle- strewn history before starting to achieve autonomy in the 19th century, and this journey is traced through numerous historical sites, including Neolithic tombs, burial chambers and castles.
ISLE OF MAN MUST-DOS
The Isle of Man’s capital town is a pretty place to spend a day, particularly when walking the smart Douglas Promenade, where you’ll get a feel for its Victorian heritage. Nearby is the Great Union Camera Obscura, where you can gaze at the surroundings through lenses and mirrors. Level-out at the town’s welcoming restaurants, pubs and cafes, serving lots of local produce.
ISLE OF MAN STEAM RAILWAY
Opened in the 1870s, this narrow-gauge railway uses original carriages and is a nostalgic way to cross the island. Try a retro-rail double on the Manx Electric Railway, which has been running between Douglas, Laxey and Ramsey since 1893.
Built for a Norse king in the 13th century, this brilliantly preserved medieval fortress is a great visit. Cross the drawbridge and hurry under the looming portcullis to hear about its stint as a royal mint and prison, or simply admire the views from the ramparts.
Best for nature: Rathlin
Sitting six miles from Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast, Rathlin measures just
six miles long and one mile wide, but don’t let its size fool you, as it’s packed with beauty and nature. Most famously, this includes Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony, the stars of which are the much-loved puffins, but not forgetting guillemots, fulmar, razorbills and kittiwakes.
RATHLIN WEST LIGHT SEABIRD CENTRE
Learn about the tens of thousands of seabirds inhabiting Rathlin (and perhaps even spot a few from the viewing points) at this venue run by the RSPB. It’s part of Rathlin West Lighthouse, built into a cliff face and now a landmark known as the ‘upside-down lighthouse’ thanks to its main light being located at the base rather than the top.
As well as Rathlin West Lighthouse, there are two others to seek out: Rathlin East Lighthouse – perched dramatically on a clifftop – and the distinctive, black-and- white-striped Rue Point Lighthouse on the southernmost tip, offering views across to Northern Ireland’s tallest cliff, Fair Head.
Rathlin’s small size means it’s ideal for navigating on two wheels, and with a population of around 150 residents, you won’t have to worry about heavy traffic. Multiple cycle routes allow visitors to enjoy Rathlin’s awe-inducing views and nature, and you might glimpse anything from seals to seabirds as you pedal.