Five British island weekends
Bardsey Island, called the Isle of 20,000 Saints, was a prominent destination for early Christian pilgrims. (BBC)
This article is the fifth in a series featuring destinations and activities perfect for a quick getaway. From cuisine to culture to the great outdoors, discover ideas that will help you make the most of your weekend.
Welsh folklore and lush forest preserves make for a refreshing trip away from the mainland. Discover sites of Arthurian legend and Christian pilgrimage or gaze at rare wildlife and starry skies.
Anchored in the Blackwater Estuary off the coast of Essex, Osea is just an hour from London. Previously home to a Victorian temperance society and top-secret naval base, it opened to the public for the first time in nearly 100 years in 2011. The private island’s 350 acres are dotted with old houses, pillbox war bunkers and even a World War II V2 rocket – plus its woodland, hedgerows and beaches are host to rare wildlife (including, uniquely in England, all five species of British owl). It’s ideal for some Enid Blyton-esque exploration on foot, bike or even boat.
The Sweet Shop is a cottage with a four-poster bed (three nights from £234).
Saints and sorcery abound in the history of Bardsey, off the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales. It’s known as the Isle of 20,000 Saints, and pilgrims flocked here in the early days of Christianity after the Vatican decreed that three visits equalled one to Rome. Theory also has it that it may be the site of Avalon, the mystical island of Arthurian lore. The biggest draw for modern pilgrims, though, is probably the wildlife. A nature reserve, Bardsey teems with rare plants, birds and lively sea life – look out for dolphins, porpoises and Atlantic grey seals in its rocky bays.
There are self-catering cottages on the island (from £140 for three nights).
Isle of Man
Though it’s regularly voted one of Britain’s best walking spots, the Isle of Man is emerging as an equally rewarding place to just stand and stare. Seven sites on the Irish Sea island were recently granted Dark Sky status – an accolade awarded to areas with the clearest views of the night sky. All are rated Milky Way class, meaning you may be able to spy the galaxy with the naked eye. From Niarbyl’s wild coastline to the Smeale Nature Reserve, there are many pleasurable places to while away the daytime hours too.
The Sefton Hotel in Douglas has elegant rooms with sea views (from £72).
This tiny island off the coast of Northumberland was a major player in the Middle Ages, when the Irish monk St Aidan set about converting the heathens of northern England from his base here. Viking raids put paid to its prominence. It now has a desolate, ethereal air and a scattering of ruins, including a medieval priory and a rock-hewn castle. Glimpse the glory days at the heritage centre (£3), which has a facsimile of the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, before sampling some mead at St Aidan’s Winery.
The Manor House Hotel has rooms with harbour views (from £95).
You could spend years exploring the varied and majestic landscapes of Scotland, but for shorter timeframes, Colonsay makes an excellent taster. This island in the Inner Hebrides combines Highland landscapes – rugged hills, moorland, birch woods, and lochs – with all the advantages of an island: cliffs teeming with rare birds and some of the best beaches in the country. There are plenty of sandy stretches to choose from on this uncommonly sunny isle, but the mile-long crescent of Kiloran is hard to beat. Come evening, sit back at Colonsay’s boutique hotel with a plate of local oysters and a pint of local beer, created at the island’s brewery (beer from £2.80 a pint).
The Colonsay Hotel is set in a 250-year-old inn and has views across to neighbouring Jura (from £85).