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Island-hoppers need not venture to Greece or Thailand for their fix of beaches, ferries and the castaway lifestyle. In fact, Great Britain is made up of more than six thousand islands.

While many of these are simply rocky outcrops, hundreds are large enough to make it onto maps, and many are well worth visiting. We have chosen five British islands that do not usually make it into our holiday plans.

Inchcolm
Name a Scottish island in a spectacular location that is home to an Abbey and sandy beaches. If you said Iona, think again. Much more accessible and much less crowded is Inchcolm, located almost in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. The abbey remains Scotland’s best-preserved group of monastic buildings and a boat journey here is one of Edinburgh’s most underrated attractions. If you opt to go ashore rather than viewing from the boat tours, allow around 90 minutes to explore. 

Piel Island
The whole Cumbrian coast is almost criminally under-visited and sits both literally and metaphorically in the shadow of the big hills and big lakes to the east, which make up some of Great Britain’s most cherished natural spaces. This means that if you decide to head to the coast you will have it mostly to yourself. Offshore, close to Barrow-in-Furness is Piel Island, home to the remains of Piel Castle and a freshly-refurbished pub, the Ship Inn. Piel is linked to the mainland by small ferryboats which run regularly during the summer months.

Lundy Island
There is nothing between Lundy Island and North America. The island sits where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic Ocean and is a mere three-and-a-half miles long and half-a-mile wide. Most visitors come to walk and view wildlife, though many return simply to experience the peaceful and laid-back pace of life. The island issues its own stamps with value expressed in puffins rather than pounds. The Landmark Trust maintains a campsite, a variety of holiday homes and a lighthouse on the island, all of which allow overnight visits.

St Kilda
Britain gets no more remote than St Kilda, located 41 miles west of Benbecula in Scotland’s Western Isles. The island’s hardy population finally lost their centuries-old struggle against the elements in 1930 and were evacuated to the mainland. St Kilda’s astonishingly wild weather and dramatic landscape survives, as do remnants of their tough existence and enormous seabird colonies. Many come by cruise ship, though daytrips from the Isle of Harris – only for those with strong sea-legs – make for an unforgettable outing.

Mersea Island
This Essex island is the most easterly inhabited island in Britain. Just under 70 miles from London – though the tides may delay your visit – it makes for an easy and engaging getaway. Here you will find bucketloads of much-celebrated Essex oysters, a vineyard following in a tradition of grape cultivation begun by the Romans and a palpable feeling of stepping back in time.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Five great British islands’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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