Timeout

10 big adventures on Britain's tiniest islands


Our islands have unique outer edges, the boundary between land and sea presenting perhaps the greatest wildness left in Britain. They are the ultimate places for adventure, challenge and solitude. Undoubtedly the best way of experiencing them is by ‘islandeering’ – a fancy term that means walking, scrambling, wading and even swimming around an island’s rim. With dramatic clifftops, wild beaches, tiny tracks and deep gullies there is always a route to be found.

From urban islets to clifftop nature reserves, secretive military islands to remote beach idylls, there are secluded swims, seashore foraging, incredible wildlife, stunning seascapes, abandoned villages and vibrant communities to discover. Getting to them can be an adventure in their own right with exhilarating RIB rides, exposed cliff scrambles and epic tidal crossings, one of which is known as Britain’s ‘deadliest highway’.

Here are some the nation’s best islandeering adventures:

1. Scolt Head, Norfolk
A wet and wild wade through sun-warmed channels leads to a walk along a stunning natural beach. From Burnham Overy Staithe, cross two streams to get to the island then wade along the tidal creeks and wildlife-filled saltmarsh of the south shore, enjoying warm, secluded swims on the way. Cross to the north coast with its pounding surf and wild and extensive sands. Return in true islandeering style – by letting the incoming tide float you gently back.

Distance:13.8km
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer 250 & 251

2. Steep Holm, Somerset
The exhilarating RIB ride from Weston-Super-Mare is all part of the adventure, but once at the island an easy clifftop amble around a small former military outpost turned nature reserve awaits. Those with a head for heights can test their nerve on steep exposed sections. If the thought of this makes you feel dizzy, pick your way through the remains of underground munition stores or enjoy spectacular views across the Bristol Channel instead.

Distance: 2.2km
Time: 45 minutes; 12 hours exploration
Difficulty: 1 (4 for cliff diversions)
OS Map: OS Explorer 153

3. Foulness, Essex
Foulness is Essex’s best-kept secret. Step out onto Maplin Sands to follow the legendary Broomway. With an incoming tide that is faster than most people can run and MoD owners who like to fire missiles out across the sands, this walk does require some planning. The reward for the few who attempt it is a fabulous wilderness experience and the chance to chat to friendly islanders with their unique language and tales of ‘stringies’, ‘cadgers’ and ‘doggies’.

Distance: 29km
Time: 6 hours
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer 176

4. Chapel, Cumbria
Chapel in Cumbria offers an exhilarating route with notorious sinking sands and extremely quick tides. It’s best to go with a guide who will know the safest route across the fast-flowing River Leven and the wilderness of Morecombe Bay (The Queen’s Guide to the Sands; guideoversands.co.uk). The circumnavigation then follows on the glorious sands of the island’s foreshore against the backdrop of the mountains of the South Lakes. What if you get into trouble? “If you feel yourself sinking, don’t stop – just keep moving,” says the guide.

Distance: 5.8km
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Difficulty: 5 (1 with a guide)
OS Map: OS Explorer OL7

5. Thorney, Sussex
Escape the jostle of the south coast and access a remotely controlled MoD gate for a wild walk around the outer edge of this secretive military island. Here the coast is alive with the sounds of the creeping tides and the calls of oystercatchers, and full of the earthy aroma of seaweed and salty mudflats drying in the sun. Enjoy fabulous views of the expanse of Chichester harbour, explore atmospheric St Nicholas Church and swim from the wild sandy beach at the southern tip.

Distance: 13km
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Difficulty: 1
OS Map: OS Explorer OL8

6. Hilbre, Wirral
The thrill of crossing the vast sands of Liverpool Bay is only heightened by knowing the tide is creeping invisibly towards you. The first of the three islets of this mini-archipelago, Little Eye, feels like a miniature Robinson Crusoe island topped by ferns and wildflowers. Cross Middle Eye to reach Hilbre with its sculpted, deep red sandstone cliffs, bird observatory and the ruins of an old lifeboat station. Find a large cave, stacks, wave-cut platforms and small beaches around its foreshore.

Distance: 8.3km
Time: 2 hours (45 minutes to reach Hilbre Island)
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer 266

7. Ynys Gifftan, North Wales
Float on your back in one of the deliciously warm pools that grace this round-island route. Absorb the views of the mountains of Snowdonia and the fairy-tale turrets of Portmeirion. Let the birdsong from the tangle of trees and bushes of this uninhabited island soothe you. The crossing of wild saltmarsh teeming with wildflowers, seasonal wildfowl, egrets and herons and the shimmering tidal sands only heightens its sense of place. This is certainly one for chilling out.

Distance: 4.5km
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer OL18

8. Ynys Lochtan, West Wales
Take a rocky adventure to see Europe’s largest pod of bottlenose dolphins. Step off the Ceridigion Coast Path and scramble down the colourful and vertiginous cliffs on a climbers path to the rocks below. The route then continues through a sea cave, onto a large ledge, then up a grassy path onto the island itself. From this vantage point you can enjoy views of the whole sweep of Cardigan Bay and the special marine creatures that live within it.

Distance: 4km
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Difficulty: 4
OS Map: OS Explorer 198

9. Vallay, Outer Hebrides
Rounding the western tip, nothing can quite prepare you for the staggering beauty of the north coast and the breath-taking views to the St Kilda archipelago – the most remote part of Britain. The route starts with an epic 2km crossing of tidal Vallay Strand to reach paths through the flower-studded machair and the dramatic undulations of the dunes that back incredible white beaches. Great for a spectacular night under the stars.

Distance: 15.7km
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer 454

10. Eilean Shona, West Coast Scotland
Fairy-tale forests, an enchanting valley and secret coves await once you have negotiated a short tidal crossing and discovered the ancient, hidden path to the magical island of Eilean Shona. The route is an islandeering dream with plenty of stops for secluded swims, foraging for giant mussels and clams, and discovering the ancient woods around the main house which belongs to Vanessa Branson. You can do this in a day but its charming holiday cottages are a haven – no wonder J. M. Barrie chose it as his summer retreat.

Distance: 22km
Time: 6 hours
Difficulty: 2
OS Map: OS Explorer 390