Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
Night time wildlife adventure
Only a kilometre off the coast of Pembrokeshire Skomer is an island of exposed headlands, dramatic sea stacks, and sheltered bays that is famed for its extraordinary wildlife.
From April to September it is home to half the world’s population of Manx shearwaters and makes an amazing night time experience seeing thousands of them return to the nest after dark. The island is also the seasonal home to the largest colony of Atlantic puffin in southern Britain. Overnight self-catering accommodation is in the island’s Old Farm. More family activities include seashore foraging, experiencing the bird ‘cities’ of The Wick, an Iron Age round house or walking the full coastal circuit.
Boat to/from Skomer Island
Recommended walking route around Skomer Island
Distance: 5.5 miles/ 8.9km
Start/parking: Martin's Haven National Trust car park, SA62 3BJ (then catch the boat over)
Brough of Birsay, Orkney
Rockpooling and Viking ruins
A tidal island with some of the best rock pooling in Orkney,
where the elusive Groatie Buckies can be found, along with puffins and the
ruins of a Viking settlement. There is a short walk around the dramatic cliffs
of the island that can be combined with an excellent walk along the nearby
coastline past the Birsay Whalebone, dramatic geos, Norse harbours and
turf-roofed fishing huts. The route heads to Birsay village and the 16th
century ruins of Earl’s Palace. Don’t miss delicious chocolate brownie stars in
the Birsay Honesty Box.
Brough of Birsay
Recommended walking route around the Brough of Birsay
Distance: 3.8 miles/ 6.2km
Start/parking: Point of Buckquoy Car Park, KW17 2LX
Isle of Coll, Hebrides
Stargazing and basking sharks
A hidden gem of the Hebrides with high sand dunes and incredible machair that boasts thirty beaches. By day Coll has some of the highest sunshine hours in the UK and by night, as a Dark Sky Reserve, the milky way and other constellations can be easily seen. Each year the Cosmos Planetarium collaborates with Coll Bunkhouse to deliver an amazing stargazing course, Coll and the Cosmos. Coll is also renowned for its wildlife, including as a breeding ground for basking sharks with plenty of whales and dolphins to spot from the shore or with a boat trip from Arinagour. Land based fun is endless with plenty of easy walking and cycling routes plus a range of other activities.
Basking shark near Coll
Recommended walk on the Isle of Coll
Distance: 4.8 miles/ 7.7km
Start/parking: Crossapol car park, PA78 6TB (short walk onto route)
Isle of Noss, Shetland
Watching the famous diving ‘gannets of Noss’
The island of Noss is renowned as one of Europe’s finest wildlife sites and one of the best bird watching sites in Scotland. Its 180 metre high sea cliffs burst into life in summer when tens of thousands of seabirds nest here. This small island has one of the most easily reached seabird colonies and is renowned for its spectacular (and smelly) colony of gannets that can be seen swirling and diving into the surrounding sea. It is also possible to get a thrilling wildlife boat trip from Lerwick to explore the base of cliffs or to walk the island’s coast path (but watch out for the diving bonxies).
Isle of Noss
Recommended walking route for Isle of Noss
Distance: 5.4 miles/ 8.8km
Start/parking: Isle of Noss jetty, ZE1 0LL
Eye Peninsula, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Whale watching without a boat
Pick up a pair of binoculars and join on of Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s (WDC) Shorewatch volunteers to scan for whales and dolphins amongst the incredible views across the Minch to the mountains of the mainland. Widely considered one of the best places in the UK for whale-watching from land, and possibly Europe, Tiumpan Head is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the Isle of Lewis in search of wildlife. There’s a great signed short walk to the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head.
Swim from the most northerly beach in Britain
Unst is the most northerly inhabited part of Britain and is
an outdoor adventurers island. A top activity is to swim from the most
northerly beach in Britain at sandy Wick of Skaw. Just to the west Saxa Vord is
to become a rocket launch site, and a little further on Hermaness National
Nature Reserve (NNR) is a dramatic cliff-top haven for thousands of seabirds,
and the closest puffin encounters you’ll get anywhere in the UK and the end
point of a great walk through the reserve. Unst is also home to the most famous
bus-stop in Britain.
Unst Island beach
Recommended walking route on Unst
Distance: 4.8 miles/ 7.7km
Start/parking: Hermaness National Nature Reserve car park, ZE2 9EQ
Isle of Mull, Hebrides
Explore “eagle island”
Mull has everything for a family adventure from climbing a munro and fabulous beaches to spotting incredible wildlife including sea eagles and golden eagles. The latter are relatively easy to spot from the road side around Loch na Keal and both can be spotted on board the wildlife boat the Tarus Mara which also heads out to the legendary Fingal’s Cave and the Treshnish Isles. For beautiful beaches visit the tidal island of Erraid which you can walk to from pristine Fidden Beach – its shallow, protected waters are a firm family favourite as is the adjoining campsite.
Isle of Mull
Recommended walking route on the Isle of Mull
Distance: 7.7 miles/ 12.4km
Start/parking: Ben More Car Park, B8035
Coasteering on the “Who Dares Wins” island
Often overlooked by holidaymakers racing through its larger
neighbour, Skye, idyllic Raasay Island is full of adventure. From its huge
variety of walks, including the ascent of its characterful highpoint of Dun
Caan, to the outdoor activities run by Raasay House – filming location for SAS
Who Dares Wins. Its coasteering trips are a great favourite.
Coasteering on Raasay Island
Recommended walking route on Raasay Island
Distance: 9.5 miles/ 15.3km
Start/parking: Sconser ferry terminal, IV48 8TD and get the ferry over
Holy Isle, Arran
Walk amongst stupas and prayer flags in the Clyde’s own Tibet
With stuppas, prayer flags and monks and the jagged peaks of
Arran’s Goatfell as a backdrop, it would be easy to think you are in Tibet. Just
a short boat trip from Arran this makes a great day out exploring the Buddhist
rock art, sacred caves and finding the islands Eriskay ponies, eider ducks and peregrine
falcons. There is a wonderful circular walk around the island, including its
highpoint, that takes you past most of its main sights.
Recommended walking route for Holy Isle
Distance: 5.4 miles/ 8.7km
Start/parking: Boat trip from Arran on the Holy Isle Ferry, Lamlash, KA27 8JN
Find the cave with the Crucifixion painting
Just of the Kintyre peninsula near Campbeltown, walk across the shingle causeway to explore the caves of this tidal island’s south coast. One of several caves has a painting of the Crucifixion, originally discovered by fishermen in 1887, who thought it was an act of God, but in fact was painted in secret by a local art teacher and was later evicted from town.
There’s an adventurous walk around the island with views from the precipitous east coast that stretch from Arran to Ailsa Craig with sea eagles, basking sharks and dolphins spotted by the fortunate. Campeltown is a gem and the Mull of Kintyre lies a little further south – both worth spending extra time to explore. The Kintyre peninsula is a great jumping of point for other island adventures with ferries to Colonsay, Islay, Jura Gigha and Arran.
Crucifixion painting on Davaar Island
Recommended walking route for Davaar Island
Distance: 4.6 miles/ 7.5km
Start/parking: Layby near Doirlinn, GR NR 74535 19447
Easdale Island, Hebrides
Skim a stone where World Champions compete
Tiny Easedale Island, with its landscape scooped out by extensive slate quarrying, is host to the annual World Stone Skimming Championships. All you have to do to win is skim an Easedale stone more than two times and achieve the longest distance before it sinks. Attracting people from around the world this eccentric championship is open to all – but equally possible to skim any time of the year.
Stone skimming championships
Are you planning a family trip this summer? If so, consider visiting some of Britain's beautiful islands for unique family-friendly activities and spectacular walks. When following routes, please remember to take care of the great outdoors and follow the Countryside Code at all times.
Author Lisa Drewe is an
Ordnance Survey Champion and author of two island books Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain's Hidden Islands and England & Wales Island Bagging. She currently writes “Walk of the Week” for The Times
lifestyle magazine in Scotland, regularly contributes to outdoor magazines and
other national newspapers and is the founder of Islandeering.com.