You don’t have to travel far to get a sense of island living: there are some treasured and unknown spots right here in the British Isles. Here are eight of the greatest islands to explore this autumn for a taste of the overseas trips you might have missed in 2020 – and the best places to stay, from boutique hotels to bothy huts.
You’ll love if you love: the Caribbean
You may need sunblock but a suspension of disbelief isn’t really required for a walk along the buttery sands of Appletree Bay and Old Grimsby beach on Tresco. Both genuinely do have a feel of the lesser-known, pre-cruise ship Caribbean about them. Cerulean-coloured waters and the balmiest winters in the UK make Tresco the prettiest of the 150 or so islands that constitute the Scillies. Don’t miss a trip to the Abbey Garden; it’s a manicured explosion of tropical plants and flora from California, South Africa, Mexico and Chile.
Where to stay
The only pub on this car-free island. The New Inn has a bar covered in wreck wood, where locals gather to sip a pint of Citrus Gold Tresco Tipple beer. Join them with a plate of dressed crab from the neighbouring island of Bryher. The rooms are fresh as a daisy; all white and pale blue tones with the feel of an extremely chi-chi beach chalet whilst the residents lounge is a demure bolthole for colder days, complete with huge armchairs, a log burner and board games galore.
Read the full review: The New Inn
Doubles from £175 b&b (01720 422849; tresco.co.uk)
You’ll love if you love: Norway
The three ‘paps’ (hills) that dominate this Hebridean island may not have the scale of Norwegian mountain ranges, but for a similarly wild, unpopulated experience, Jura feels every bit as untamed as Nordland or Svalbard. With a population of barely 300 and only reachable by a miniscule car ferry from neighbouring Islay (the journey takes less than 10 minutes) this is perfect hiking country where you’ll spot deer by the dozen and the odd hare fearlessly yomping past you. Jura whisky is one of the most peaty and uncompromising malts around; take a tour and have a sample at the distillery- a bottle to take home will cost you around £35.
Where to stay
Just over 70 years ago, George Orwell fled war-ravaged London to write his final novel, and masterpiece, on Jura. Barnhill has barely changed since then; a farmhouse which you can hire in its entirety and stay in the room where he wrote 1984. The rambling old building is still owned by the Fletcher family who rented it to Orwell and even the bathtub is said to be the same one that George himself sat in whilst composing his tales of Big Brother and the Thought Police.
Barnhill sleeps up to eight people and can be hired by the week from £1,000 (01786 850 274 escapetojura.com)
You’ll love if you love: France
The amount of financial loopholes available on the largest Channel Island bears comparison with the ‘sunny place for shady people’ moniker long ascribed to Nice and Monaco. But Jersey’s architecture, (outside of the sleek financial hubs that prevail around the capital St. Helier) is more reminiscent of a typical small town in Normandy. Hardly surprising given that the French mainland is just 15 miles from here. This is an island perfect for cycling past doe-eyed Jersey cows, daffodil-saturated meadows, lonely lighthouses and Lilliputian fishing harbours.
Where to stay
High up on the north coast of Jersey with views from the garden out over the fishing boats moored in Rozel Bay, there’s a defiantly Gallic vibe to Chateau le Chaire’s manor house; even the plasterwork in the Rococo lounge comes from a chateau near Paris. The dark woods and four-poster beds in the Superior rooms would suit Zola or de Maupassant as a writers retreat and the cuisine embraces a Channel meets Chablis flavour with dishes such as smoked haddock veloute with crispy potato and slow-cooked egg.
Read the full review: Chateau le Chaire
You’ll love if you love: New Zealand
Just off the coast of County Antrim, Raithlin (the only inhabited island in Northern Ireland) exudes the kind of lazy, breezy feel that you’d easily find in a small bay on New Zealand’s southern island. Man’s footprint is shallow indeed here with most of the island an undisturbed patchwork of woods, heather, sheer cliffs and footpaths lined with gorse, all within earshot of the belligerent crash of the Atlantic waves. Puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and fulmars all drop by Raithlin which makes for an easy day trip. If you don’t want to stay the night you can take a 25-minute ferry ride from Ballycastle – tickets are £12 return for adults.
Where to stay
Smack bang on Church Bay harbour, overlooking a cute-as-a-button collection of fishing vessels, the Manor House is a stout, whitewashed Georgian survivor which was given a £1m makeover four years ago. The simple, whitewashed rooms have high ceilings and ‘wild art’ headboards which depict beautifully photographed local scenery. There’s an exceptionally good Ulster Fry breakfast on offer too to set you up for a day of hiking.
Manor House reopens in early 2021 (028 207 60046; manorhouseraithlin.com)
You’ll love if you love: Canada
Jurassic rock formations, looming cliffs, a population of 100 and dolphins, porpoises and whales lurking in the navy blue ocean; Eigg can feel an awful lot like the brooding, eastern coastline of Labrador and Newfoundland. The local population shares the eco-credentials of the Great White North with electricity supplied entirely by wind, sun and wave power, some of it used to generate power for the island’s ultra-cool micro label, Lost Map Records. This is one of the last places in Scotland where eagles still breed, though getting here can be tough: there are currently only seven ferries per week (none on Wednesdays) in the winter months that make the 75 minute crossing from Mallaig.
Where to stay
Bothy’s are the Scottish term for hiker’s huts, usually free to stay in, which are scattered across the most remote parts of the country. Sweeny’s Bothy is a spruced up version of these spartan refuges, located on a working sheep farm. In the shadow of the brooding Cleadale cliffs and with views out onto the neighbouring island of Rum, it’s a simple but hugely charismatic space with a bed, reached by ladder, a wood burning stove and an outdoor shower heated, naturally, by solar power.
Two-night minimum stay from £190 (eiggtime.com)
You’ll love if you love: the Indian Ocean
The pillowy soft white sands of Tiree genuinely wouldn’t look out of place in the Maldives or Seychelles. Even the climate here, on the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides, is (relatively) clement thanks to the Gulf Stream. Pancake flat, the island is a hot spot for windsurfers though the simplest pleasure comes from simply walking along the coastline where each tiny crescent of beach, with aquamarine waters beyond, seems prettier, and quieter than the last. Best of all, the breeze here makes this that most unusual Scottish attraction: an island that’s entirely midgie free.
Where to stay
There’s just one room for guests in the Tiree Beach House, an annex with a lounge and an attic bedroom where you’ll want to keep the blinds open at night for extraordinary views of the Milky Way. It’s a 30-second scamper from the front gate down to the beach, known as The Green, easily one of the most beautiful in Britain. Breakfast is a locally sourced belter too, with eggs from the island’s Farmhouse Café alongside homemade bread and black pudding.
Doubles from £90 (01879 220367; beachhousetiree.com)
St. Michael’s Mount
You’ll love if you love: the Balkan coastline
Ancient castles, miniscule coves, pebbly beaches and intermittent sunshine: you’ll feel more than a touch of déjà vu when you visit St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall if you’ve ever explored Sveti Stefan and the other innumerable islands and islets that are peppered along the coastlines of Croatia and Montenegro. Formerly the residence of a Benedictine monastery donated by Edward the Confessor, the causeway to the mount itself is only accessible at low tide. The rocky outcrop itself makes for fantastic exploration – be sure to seek out the cliff-side seaside garden. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, spiky puya plants and aloe thrive here, an almost unique occurrence in the UK.
Where to stay
You can’t stay on the mount itself but The Godolphin Arms is just 500 metres away on the mainland. The downstairs restaurant provides locally sourced piscine pleasures including mac and cheese with crab sourced from nearby Newlyn harbour. Rooms are bedecked in soothing pastel tones with much of the seascape artwork chosen personally by Lord St Levan of St Aubyn Estates, who run the hotel.
Read the full review: The Godolphin Arms
You’ll love if you love: the Northern Cape
Persil white sands with breezy scrub and wide-screen skies: there’s a wild openness to St. Martin’s that will be familiar to anyone who has taken the long road north from Cape Town into the far north west of South Africa. The scale here on the one of the lesser-known Isles of Scilly isn’t quite the same as SA (it’s less than one square mile in size) but the sense of isolation is similarly enthralling. It’s unlikely you’ll pass more than 50 other people in an entire day of ambling round the coastline scattered with rock pools, fishing huts and coves.
Where to stay
An affordable alternative to the wildly expensive Karma St. Martin’s, (often mistakenly believed to be the only place to stay on the island), the Polreath Guest House is a family B&B with just three rooms done out in tones of pine and navy blue. Owners Jason and Sarah have lived here for nearly 20 years and Jason himself cooks the breakfasts which include eggs from their own resident chickens.
Doubles from £70 b&b (five-night minimum booking) (01720 422046; polreath.com)