Our islands have unique outer edges, the boundary between land and sea presenting perhaps the greatest wildness left in Britain. They are the ultimate places for adventure, challenge and solitude. Undoubtedly the best way of experiencing them is by ‘islandeering’ – walking around the island’s rim.
With dramatic clifftops, wild beaches, tiny tracks and deep gullies there is always an adventure to be found on the way. Getting to them can be an adventure too with tidal sands, ferries, boats and even swimming if you can.
Here are some of my top ten islandeering routes and adventures, from my book Islandeering.
A wet and wild wade through sun-warmed channels leads to a walk along a stunning natural beach. From Burnham Overy Staithe either take the seasonal ferry or cross two streams to get to the island at low tide. The adventurous can wade along the tidal creeks and wildlife-filled saltmarsh of the south shore, enjoying warm, secluded swims on the way. Cross to the north coast with its pounding surf and wild and extensive sands.
There is an internationally important ternery at the west end of the island with five species of tern and access is restricted April to August. It is also possible to do a circular walk from Burnham Overy Staithe to Scolt Head Island, walk the length of its north shore, cross through the dunes to the south via Butcher’s Beach and at low tide cross Norton Creek to Burnham Deepdale to return to Burnham Overy Staithe along the Norfolk Coast Path.
Chapel offers an exhilarating 5.8km walking and wading route with notorious sinking sands and extremely quick tides. It’s best to go with a guide who will know the safest route across the fast-flowing River Leven and the wilderness of Morecombe Bay (The Queen’s Guide to the Sands; guideoversands.co.uk).
The circumnavigation then follows on the glorious sculpted sands of the island’s foreshore against the backdrop of the mountains of the South Lakes. What if you get into trouble? “If you feel yourself sinking, don’t stop – just keep moving,” says the guide.
A sweeping shoreline strung with award-winning beaches, rockpools and secluded swims on the edge of an archipelago with plenty of pitstops to savour. Walk the 14 km circular coast path and explore ancient ruins on tidal White Island and the vast and vibrant rockpools of Pernagie Point.
Swim in the shallow, crystal-clear waters of St Martin’s flats or St Martin’s Bay, voted Britain’s best beach, and restock calories with home caught, grown and made fish and chips and treats from the island bakery. There’s also a great family campsite here located right next to the beach.
Every visit brings a different experience on this flourishing wildlife haven with unspoilt beaches, lagoons, heathland and woodland. In the nature reserve, sit in the bird hides and watch the spoonbills and terns or walk the boardwalks over dense black water and fern-covered logs to get a sense of the primordial. Share a picnic near The Villa with the island’s iconic red squirrels or spend a night under the stars where Baden Powell first started the Scouting movement.
You can even swim around the whole island in an annual event. ‘Life without adventure would be deadly dull’, said Baden-Powell, and there is nothing dull about this island. It is easy to see why Brownsea is said to have inspired the Enid Blyton classic, Five on a Treasure Island. Scout’s Honour.
Float on your back in one of the deliciously warm pools that grace this 4.5 km round-island route. Absorb the views of the mountains of Snowdonia and the fairy-tale turrets of Portmeiron and let the birdsong from the tangle of trees and bushes of this uninhabited island soothe you.
The crossing of wild saltmarsh teeming with wildflowers, seasonal wildfowl, egrets and herons and the shimmering tidal sands only heightens its sense of place. This is certainly one for chilling out.
At the south end of Rhossili Bay this 8 km rollercoaster route along the rocky dragon’s spine is one of the UK’s most exhilarating islands and full of natural wonders.
Starting at Rhosilli the route crosses the boulders of the tidal causeway and ascends Inner Head, then crosses the spectacular rock arch of Devil’s Bridge to Middle Head to reach the easy scramble of the rocky summit of vertiginous Outer Head. Look out for the blowhole and a window through a truncated cave entrance to the imposing walls of the north face.
A magical rocky peninsula in the south of Anglesey for lovers and adventurers with beautiful sand beaches, secluded coves and swimming spots. Criss-crossed by glistening white-shell paths there is a full 7 km round-island route that starts in Newborough Forest from which all of the island gems can be explored.
Once home to St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers whose day is celebrated with love-spoons, flowers and cards, the 16th century ruins of a church mark the spot of her 5th century convent. With views of the mountains of Snowdonia, surrounding beaches a mecca for surfers and the whole island being part of a UNESCO Global Geopark there is plenty of adventure for everyone.
Rounding the western tip, nothing can quite prepare you for the staggering beauty of the north coast and the breath-taking views to the St Kilda archipelago – the most remote part of Britain.
The 16km round-island route starts with an epic 2km crossing of tidal Vallay Strand from North Uist to reach paths through the flower-studded machair and the dramatic undulations of the dunes that back incredible white beaches. Great for a spectacular night under the stars.
Spectacularly located in Loch Bracadale on the west coast of Skye this uninhabited wedge-shaped island is almost completely undiscovered, yet it is full of incredible scenery, rock formations and wildlife. Once across the tidal causeway with its two sand beaches the easy free-range route over the grassy cliff-tops leads to colourful rock pools to rummage in, a vast sea cave and steep gullies to explore.
From this lofty vantage point there are stupendous views of the precipitous Talisker headland, the jagged peaks of the Black Cuillin and the distant Old Man of Stor with the grey outline of the Outer Hebrides further to the west. Watch out for dolphins, golden eagles, gannets, otters and sea eagles.
The energy created where two oceans meet at the island’s north tip is an overload for the senses whilst the geology and calmer waters of the west coast’s Papa Sound lend themselves to exploring its fabulous rockpools.
Britain's islands offer the perfect break. From urban islets to clifftop nature reserves, secretive military islands to remote beach idylls, there are secluded swims, seashore foraging, incredible wildlife, stunning seascapes, abandoned villages and vibrant communities to discover.
When visiting, please be kind to the environment and follow the countryside code.
OS GetOutside Champion Lisa Drewe has walked, cycled, swam and kayaked around 600 British islands..and counting! Her book, Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain's Hidden Islands (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99), takes you on an unique adventure around the UK's 50 most spectacular islands. Receive a 20% discount and free P&P with code OS21.
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