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Britain's Most Magical Island Walks

From the picturesque Isle of Wight to the mystical Isle of Skye, and from sub-tropical Scilly to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, here’s Wolsey’s pick of the best island walks across the UK

It might surprise you to learn that the British Isles actually comprises more than a thousand islands. Many are just tiny specks dotted around the coastline of mainland Britain, but others offer some of the UK’s finest coastal walking, and are just a boat trip away.

Some of Britain’s tidal islands can even be reached on foot – just don’t forget to check those tide times if you don’t want to be marooned offshore...

Skye is a magical island with some of the most incredible coastlines in the UK

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1. St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly are a seemingly overlooked paradise. Located 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, just five of Scilly’s islands are inhabited and with their almost subtropical micro climate, all make for great places to explore.

St Martin’s is a particular gem for walkers, because a footpath runs around almost the entire island

Getting there: Take the ferry from Penzance to St Mary’s and then hop on a boat to St Martin’s. You’ll arrive at New Quay and can pick a direction and start skirting the coast, enjoying the many secluded coves and picture-perfect beaches along the way.

A particular highlight is the striking red and white day mark, which is said to be the earliest surviving example of a navigational beacon in the British Isles. The aptly named Bread and Cheese Cove is the perfect place to stop for a picnic.

2. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is a magical island with some of the most incredible landscapes in the UK. Striking rock formations, imposing mountains and swathes of beautiful coastline make it one of the very best destinations for walkers, and you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picking places to explore.

This route up Blah Beinn, ‘the Blue Mountain’, offers panoramic views over the Black Cuillin range, Glen Sligachan and out across the sea to the Small Isles

Getting there: Take the ferry from Mallaig, or drive across the bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh to reach the Isle of Skye. The walk starts from a car park off the road running around Loch Slapin. Take the path from the road and follow the edge of Allt na Dunaiche.

Leave this path once you are level with Loch Fionna choire to head right, going steeply uphill through a narrow gully. Continue northwest and take the path up to the summit.

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3. Isle of Wight, Hampshire
With its impressive sea stacks, sandy beaches and chocolate-box villages, the Isle of Wight is a picturesque slice of little England. It also boasts more than 500 miles of footpaths, giving plenty of walking routes.

If you have the time and inclination, you can walk around the island on the 67-mile coastal path, but there are plenty of shorter walks, like this route from Yarmouth to Brook, via Freshwater Bay.

Getting there: Take the ferry to Yarmouth and pick up the coast path towards Freshwater Bay. You’ll pass through Fort Victoria Country Park and take in Totland and Alum Bay, with the option to visit the Needles lookout point.

Walk close to the edge of Tennyson Down before reaching Freshwater Bay. Continue along a sweeping section of clifftop path, with incredible views out to sea until you reach pretty Brook Bay.

4. Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne lies off the coast of Berwick-upon-Tweed and is a tidal island, accessed via a paved causeway that disappears twice a day beneath the waves of the North Sea.

The island is well-known for its castle, abbey and varied wildlife. Follow the island’s nature trail to explore the island and discover its wildlife without causing any harm to this sensitive landscape.

Getting there: Either take the pilgrim’s route and walk across the sand at low tide, which makes for a unique experience, or drive across the causeway. Be sure to check the tide times so you know when you can get on and off the island. This walk starts at the car park closest to the harbour. Follow the route to the castle, then pick up the nineteenth-century waggonway to the left.

Continue along the waggonway until you reach post number six at a kissing gate. Turn left and follow the path beside the farm wall. On reaching post nine you can take a detour through the sand dunes to a viewpoint where you’ve a good chance of spotting seals. Retrace your steps and continue back to the car park.

5. Bardsey Island, Wales
Off the Llŷn Peninsula is a wild and remote island that seems ripe for exploration. This is Bardsey Island, just one and a half miles long and located two miles off the coast of Wales.

Bardsey has been a site of religious pilgrimage since medieval times, though today, many visitors head there for its rich wildlife and rugged scenery.

Getting there: Book a day trip to the island via the Bardsey Boat Service. The boat follows the ancient pilgrim route, stopping to look at seabirds, seals and porpoises. The boat returns to mainland four hours later, giving you plenty of time to explore this lovely island.

From the harbour, take the track to reach the lighthouse or pick a route to climb Mynydd Enlli, Bardsey’s prominent peak, which stands at 167m and offers great views back to the mainland.

6. Hilbre Islands, Wirral
Located at the mouth of the Dee Estuary, Hilbre Island, Little Eye and Middle Eye form the Hilbre archipelago. At low tide, it is possible to walk between the three islands, which makes for an interesting and unusual hike.

The islands are an important stopping-off point for migrating birds, and are also home to grey seals, which can often be spotted just offshore.

Getting there: From Wirral Sailing Centre head across the sand in a westerly direction to reach Little Eye. From here, head over Middle Eye to Hilbre.

Explore Hilbre’s impressive shoreline, which is surprisingly dramatic with caves, rock stacks and red cliffs. Once again, don’t forget to check the tide times.

Words: Matt Jones
Photos: St Martins © Matt Jones, Bla Bheinn © Matt Jones, Bardsey Island © Ellie Clewlow

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