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A guide to exploring lesser-known islands around Britain

Who needs Hydra when you have the Hebrides? Rosie Fitzmaurice has a guide to some hidden gems around the UK,  from stargazing in Osea to foraging in Dorset

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Osea Island
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othing says holiday quite like stepping off a ferry and easing yourself into the slower pace of island life.

And while many are still intent on jetting off somewhere further afield this summer, for those determined to avoid airport chaos, right here in Britain we are surrounded by plenty of hidden gems, some of which could give Greece a run for its money. Who needs Hydra when you have the Outer Hebrides?

From Scotland to Cornwall and Essex (yes, Essex), consider one of these destinations for tropical(ish) island vibes.

Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides

Dazzling landscapes and white sandy beaches on the Isle of Harris

/ Alamy Stock Photo

Located off the west coast of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides are a magical chain of interconnected Atlantic islands covered in pretty machair grass-covered dunes with spectacular secluded beaches. Luskentyre, on Harris, is the star of the show, and is consistently named among the best beaches in the UK thanks to its gorgeous turquoise waters and miles of white sand.

Stay: Snap up a room at Scarista House, a cosy hotel on Harris overlooking the beautiful, three-mile long sandy beach.

Get there: Car ferries operate daily from Ullapool on the mainland to Stornoway, the main town of Lewis and Harris (calmac.co.uk) or you can fly into the island’s airport a few miles from the town centre (visitouterhebrides.co.uk).

Osea, Essex

Star power:

Closer to home, Osea is where the it-crowd go to party and retreat from the city. Set on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex, the privately-owned island surrounded by acres of rustic gardens, orchards, meadows and salt marsh. With five miles of private beach, an oyster shack, cinema, yoga studio and restaurant in a converted First World War torpedo store serving up splendid tasting menu and wine pairing, there’s plenty to indulge in. The vibe is very much Hamptons-eque, with inspiration for the properties taken from pretty US fishing villages.

Stay: Grab your pals and bag one of the Agatha Christie-style manor houses or beach cottages for a weekend away. Got cash to splash? You can rent the entire island for private event. Enquire directly for bookings (oseaisland.co.uk).

Get there: The train from Liverpool Street to Witham station takes less than 50 minutes, or you can drive.

Tresco, Scilly Isles

Alamy Stock Photo

In the heart of the Scilly Isles, an archipelago 30 miles off the Cornish coast, Tresco is a family-owned island home to subtropical gardens, heather-clad hills and pristine white sandy beaches. Wellness seekers should book into one of its retreats. Choose from yoga escapes led by Lucy Aldridge or open-water swimming packages coached by Olympian Keri-Anne Payne of Triscape. After a day of activities, guests can unwind in the island’s spa with a massage and relax in the heated pools, saunas, jacuzzis and steam room.

Stay: Book into one of the Sea Garden Cottages, the pretty stone houses offer stunning sea views (from £1,130/week, tresco.co.uk).

Get there: Feeling boujie? The fastest way to the island is with Penzance Helicopters (penzancehelicopters.co.uk), which flies direct from Penzance in just 15 minutes. Trains from London to Penzance take five hours, while driving is around the same.

Anglesey, Wales

Alamy Stock Photo

With 125 miles of beautiful coastline, Anglesey is an ideal spot for sailing, surfing, kayaking, kitesurfing and diving. Most of the coast is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, making coasteering and hiking an absolute must on Wales’ largest island. Home to plenty of heritage sites, climb the towers of the 13th Beaumaris Castle and marvel at the Amlwch Copper Kingdom, once the largest copper mine in the world.

Stay: The Bull Beaumaris is a boutique seaside coaching inn delivering slap up meals to refuel you after a long day of salty air (from £262 for two nights, bullsheadinn.co.uk).

Get there: The train from London Euston takes just over three hours or you can drive.

Shetland, Scotland

Alamy Stock Photo

Located between mainland Scotland and Norway, Shetland is an archipelago of around 100 islands, of which only 15 are inhabited. Home to the Shetland pony, the iconic fair isle knit and the freshest mussels in Britain, on Shetland you’ll find roaming wildlife, rugged Scottish scenery and historical Viking influence. It’s also considered one of the best places in the UK to see the Northern Lights, known locally as the “Mirrie Dancers”.

Stay: A secluded self-catering lodge is the best way to do it. Brekka Lodge, in the south mainland of Shetland, offers soothing sea views (selfcateringshetland.co.uk).

Get there: Accessible by plane or ferry, make a journey of it and book a cosy cabin on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick (the capital), which takes about 12 hours and has an onboard cinema (northlinkferries.co.uk).

Sark, Channel Islands

Alamy Stock Photo

Step back in time on Sark, the “crown jewel” of the Channel Islands, where there are no cars and only a tiny population of around 600. There are no street lights on the island, resulting in dazzlingly starry night skies. A trip to Sark’s observatory is an absolute must, as is a tour of the beautiful La Seigneurie Gardens. Explore the island’s unspoilt landscape by bike, horse-drawn carriage or charter a fishing boat around it.

Stay: Stocks Hotel (stockshotel.com), a 23-bedroom country house, is Sark’s oldest. You’ll find dog-friendly rooms and an outdoor pool.

Get there: Just a 50 minute boat ride from Guernsey.

Brownsea Island, Dorset

In the middle of Poole Harbour, Brownsea Island is a wildlife haven, best known for its red squirrels and panoramic views of the Purbeck Hills. For many, the island is a day trip while exploring the Jurassic Coast, but anyone wishing to stay overnight should get into the spirit of it and camp — Brownsea Island is where Lord Baden Powell developed his idea for scouting. In school holidays, there’s clay crafting, bug hunting and wildlife tours for kids, you can also visit the Brownsea Open-Air Theatre in the summer.

Stay: The family-friendly Outdoor Centre is open to the public from April to September, and offers toilets, hot showers, marshmallow toasting, mini golf, and an honesty box for hot drinks to keep you toasty (nationaltrust.org.uk).

Get there: Take the 30-minute ferry from Poole Quay. 

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