Britain is an island nation surrounded by over a thousand other islands. Here we bring you our pick of the 6 most fascinating British islands
The rocky Channel Island of Sark is not just one of the prettiest British islands, it’s also the nearest thing to a feudal state in modern Europe: it’s run by a seigneur, who owes his allegiance directly to the British sovereign. And it was his ancestors who decreed that there would be no cars – or income tax – on Sark. It’s worth remembering that you also cannot ride a bicycle down to the harbour, kill a seagull or take anything washed up on the beach because it belongs by right to the seigneur.
Owned by the National Trust, Brownsea Island stands in Poole Harbour and, today, is famed for its wonderful wildlife. But, in 1907, it was the site of a brand-new camp for young men set up by Robert Baden-Powell, which led to the formation of the Boy Scout Movement. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, it is one of the few places in southern England where the indigenous red squirrel survives, largely because non-native grey squirrels were never introduced. There is also a small population of peacocks, and both the grey heron and little egret nest here.
Brownsea Castle is leased to the John Lewis department store partnership, which uses it as a holiday hotel for staff, but members of the public can stay in several attractive National Trust Holiday Cottages nearby.
The isolated island of Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England, is known as ‘Holy Island’ due to its long association with Christian saints. The 1km causeway, visible at low tide, has been walked by pilgrims for more than a thousand years. Today tide tables noting safe crossing times are continually updated, so heed them, unless you want to risk becoming stranded as the North Sea races in.
In the 12th century a priory was built and, in 1550, a small castle was added to guard against Scottish invasion. In 1901 Lindisfarne Castle was purchased by Edward Hudson, publisher of Country Life magazine. He employed one of the finest Arts and Crafts architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens, to emphasise its grandeur. When King George V came to visit in 1908, he and Queen Mary were alarmed by the steep gradient of the approach, which Lutyens had refused to make safer with handrails.
The Isles of Scilly occupy the most southwesterly part of Britain – indeed just off the island of Bryher are the last rocks sticking up out of the Atlantic before you reach the USA. This island has a long history, stretching back to AD 986 when the future king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, converted to Christianity after meeting a hermit here.
The storm-tossed island is just 2km long, from the towering cliffs of Shipman Head in the north to Rushy Bay in the south. At the curiously named Hell Bay, with its brackish Great Pool and artists’ studio, you’ll find the most westerly building in Britain, Hell Bay Hotel. Bryher is also famous as a breeding ground for seabirds, in particularly the kittiwake, herring gull, razorbill, shag, storm petrel and ringed plover.
In the 19th century Lord Palmerston, one of Queen Victoria’s favourite prime ministers, built three artificial islands, known as ‘Palmerston’s follies’, in the Solent – the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from England’s south coast – to protect the Royal Navy dockyard at Portsmouth from attack by the French. In 1898 one of these islands, Spitbank, was even fitted with searchlights and two small guns to defend against the French navy, but it never saw action.
In 1982 the Ministry of Defence sold its old coastal defences and Spitbank subsequently became a luxury hotel. Today it can be reached by boat or helicopter and is a popular destination for romantic getaways.
The largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides, Skye has a population of just over 10,000, of which a third are Gaelic-speakers, keeping the ancient language of Scotland alive. One of the main attractions of Skye is Talisker whisky. This distillery, outside the village of Carbost, was set up in 1830 by the MacAskill brothers. Their whisky proved so popular Robert Louis Stevenson cited it in verse as one of the joys he looked forward to as a returning Scotsman.
The Gulf Stream makes Skye warmer than might be expected for such a northerly spot, but a fierce Atlantic wind keeps trees and vegetation low. At the island’s centre rises the Black Cuillin mountain range, which offers climbers dramatic views in all directions, especially from the Sgùrr Alasdair mountain, 992m above sea level.
This feature appears in the March/April 2017 (May 2017 in the US) issue of BRITAIN
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