20 best secret British isles

England

1. St Martin’s
Isles of Scilly

Only 120 people live on St Martin’s, one of the lesser-known Isles of Scilly, so it’s surprising to hear that it is also home to a flower farm, a vineyard, an artisan bakery, art gallery, pub and diving school. Plus, you’ll find some of the best beaches in Britain, such as the one in the intriguingly named Bread and Cheese Cove. There’s a range of places to stay, from a campsite and cottages through to a guesthouse and the reopened Karma St Martin’s hotel, which has 30 slightly chintzy rooms.
Details: Hotel rooms cost £225 a night in the summer, for two sharing, or £320 for a suite for four (karmaresorts.com). For other accommodation, see visitislesofscilly.com

2. Towan
Cornwall

Take the suspension footbridge to this tiny island on the north Cornish coast, with a house — known as The Island and sleeping six — perched on top. The Atlantic views are stunning and, at low tide, you can head down to the beach. Inside isn’t bad either, decked out in chic New England style with bare wood floors and a light colour palette. There’s a bar room with its own billiards table, three bedrooms with three bathrooms, and a fully equipped kitchen plus barbecue. If you don’t fancy cooking, you can call on the services of a top chef, or cross the bridge to take the cliff walk to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, Fifteen Cornwall.
Details: From £500pp for a week, sleeping up to six (01872 553491,boutique-retreats.co.uk) with availability in August

3. Lundy
Devon

Leave the mobile phone at home, forget the iPad, and board theOldenburg ferry from Devon for a two-hour trip into a different world. Lundy — just three miles long — is a wild, wind-lashed rock, but when the sun shines it’s a walker’s paradise, with grey seals, dolphins and basking sharks all calling the waters home. Hole up in one of the Landmark Trust’s 23 cottages, which include the castle keep, old school and the lighthouse keeper’s house. There is some availability over the summer.
Details: Four-night breaks in Castle Keep East, sleeping two, cost from £167 (01237 863636, landmarktrust.org.uk/lundyisland)

4. Osea
Essex

Just over an hour from London, Osea, in the Blackwater Estuary, used to be home to an experimental temperance society. Now, it’s an upmarket idyllic escape, with almost 20 properties, sleeping between two and 20, and kitted out in shabby-chic style with everything from four-poster beds to leather chesterfields. Once you’ve driven across the causeway (covered by water for much of the day) the car needs to be swapped for a bike or shanks’s pony as you head for the outdoor pool and gym or just indulge in a spot of fishing or crabbing. If you don’t fancy cooking, you can order in-house catering. There is some availability in August and during weekdays in September.
Details: Two nights in a cottage for two costs £325-£445, while two nights in the Manor House, sleeping 20, costs £3,850-£4,995 (020 7384 6403, oseaisland.co.uk)

5. Piel Island
Cumbria

For a quirky break, hop on the ferry to the tip of the Furness peninsula, where 50-acre Piel Island is home to a pub-cum-hotel, the Ship Inn, owned by Sheila and Steve, the king and queen of Piel, and about 3,000 years of history. Stay for a night or two and the staff can arrange fishing or seal-watching trips, or stroll along the beach with an ice cream and explore the 14th-century castle. There’s space in the hotel over the summer but if you prefer camping you can take your own tent for £5 a night.
Details: B&B doubles are from £85 (07516 453784,pielisland.co.uk)

Channel Islands

6. Lihou
off Guernsey

The most westerly point in the Channel Islands, Lihou is linked to Guernsey at low tide for about two weeks in every month by a quarter-mile causeway. With plenty of bird and marine life, it’s a great place to kick back and escape. There’s no TV or music system, water comes from a borehole and electricity from a generator. There’s a ruined priory and a house, which sleeps 30, though it’s far from luxurious (you take your own bedding and food). Expect stunning views as well as a good place for a gathering of family and friends. Archery, abseiling and climbing can be booked at extra cost.
Details: From £28pp per night, with a minimum charge of £280. There is some availability over the summer, and bookings open for next year on September 1 (lihouisland.com)

7. Little Sark
The isthmus known as La Coupée that separates the Channel Island of Sark from Little Sark is slowly being eroded. Eventually, there will be two separate islands but at the moment you can cross the 10ft-wide (3m) stretch that is 80m above sea level on foot or by bike. The best reason to come to Little Sark, apart from the stunning scenery, is to stay at La Sablonnerie Hotel run by the charismatic Elizabeth Perrée. Rooms are comfy if a little chintzy, but the real draw is the food, with lots of seafood from lobster to scallops, and fresh local produce. Guests book year after year, so it’s hard to get a room in the 22-room hotel (there are some cottages too) but there is some availability over the summer.
Details: Half board costs from £97.50pp to £185pp (01481 832061,sablonneriesark.com)

8. Herm
Just a 20-minute ferry ride from Guernsey, Herm could be in another world. Distances on the tiny island (one and a-half miles by half a mile) are given in minutes rather than miles: “Toilets six minutes”, reads a sign by the gloriously sandy Shell Beach. Wild and charming, car-free Herm has tiny coves and rugged cliffs, with just one small hotel (with some space this summer) and a handful of holiday cottages, as well as 60 residents. It does get overrun by day-trippers in peak season.
Details: White House Hotel (01481 750000, herm.com/hotel), which has no televisions, clocks or telephones in the rooms, has B&B doubles from £122


Wales

9. Ynys Castell
off Anglesey

Enid Blyton meets James Bond on this private island in the Menai Strait. Arrive 007-style in a speedboat (or take the causeway, which is underwater for up to four hours a day). Then revel in the gardens, woodland, or take the steps to the sea. The house is comfortably decorated in modern style, with seven bedrooms for 13, but the real draw is the view of Snowdonia and the Great Orme, as well as of Telford’s iconic bridge.
Details: From £1,500 a week for 13, with some weeks in July and August from £2,500 and plenty of availability in September (01248 430258, menaiholidays.co.uk)

10. Bardsey
Gwynedd

Bardsey lies two miles off the Lleyn Peninsula, and has been a site of pilgrimage since medieval times, although these days most people come in search of peace and tranquillity. A national nature reserve, it is also home to nine cottages that are available for weekly rentals. Ty Nesaf, which sleeps up to six, is a semi-detached farmhouse that’s perfect for a family. You can hear waves crashing on the shore, and there are stunning views over to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. Boats run from Aberdaron (bardseyboattrips.com). Some cottages are free at the end of July and the second half of August, as well as during September.
Details: A week costs from £620 (08458 112233, bardsey.org)

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11. Skomer and Skokholm
Pembrokeshire

See seabirds and seals along with dolphins and porpoises off the islands of Pembrokeshire’s coastal national park. On Skomer, once the permitted 250 day visitors return to the mainland, cosy down in a converted barn with space for 16. You’ll need to take your own food, though — and there are no showers. If you want to stay on the quieter and smaller Skokholm, you’ll have to commit to a three or four-night stay, because the boat doesn’t visit in between drop-off and pick-up. This is off-grid living: cookers are powered by bottled gas, and the electricity is solar-powered.
Details: A night on Skomer costs from £30pp. On Skokholm, three-night weekends or four-night midweek stays cost from £100pp (welshwildlife.org). Both have good availability for July and August

12. Flat Holm
Cardiff

Just 50 minutes by boat from Cardiff, Flat Holm has a varied history. St Cadoc visited in the sixth century for periods of tranquillity. In 1897 Marconi made the first radio transmission across water from the island. Nowadays, it’s also home to the most southerly pub in Wales — the Gull and Leek — as well as plenty of wildlife. If you don’t fancy the dormitory accommodation in the field centre or camping in the farmhouse paddocks, the grade II listed Fog Horn Cottage is due to become available for rent later this summer, sleeping six in three bedrooms, with two shower rooms.
Details: Adults in dorms from £19 a night (029 2087 7912,www.flatholmisland.com)

Scotland

13. North Ronaldsay
Orkney Islands

Make it a memorable escape with a stay in a lighthouse keeper’s cottage on dramatic North Ronaldsay, made famous by the writing of Robert Louis Stevenson. The close community welcomes visitors to gatherings and parties, and can organise birdwatching and walking tours. Twitchers should head to the Bird Observatory for dinner and join the nightly “bird log”.
Details: Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage 1, sleeping four, costs from £465 per week in September and is available in August for £575 a week (0131 458 0305, nts.org.uk).

14. Unst
Shetland Islands

Don’t come to Unst in the Shetland Islands expecting conventional luxury. The Baltasound — Britain’s most northerly hotel — offers simple wooden cabins, but it’s the sense of escape and the unique Scandi-Scottish vibe that makes Unst so special. Spend afternoons on the well-marked walking trails that knit together the rich Viking history, or discover the astonishing array of wildflowers and plants at the Keen of Hamar national nature reserve. Back at the hotel, dinners make the most of the fantastic seafood.
Details: B&B doubles are from £90 (01957 711334,baltasoundhotel.co.uk)

15. Papa Westray
Orkney Islands

One of travel writer Bill Bryson’s favourite places, Papa Westray is among the most remote islands in Orkney.Just four miles by a mile, it is known for its birdlife and beaches. It also has nearly 60 archaeological sites, including the oldest known standing northern European houses, built before the pyramids. There’s a hostel as well as a couple of cottages for hire, or take the shortest scheduled flight in Britain — all of two minutes — to Westray, where there’s a hotel and B&Bs as well as a castle.
Details: On Papa Westray, Holm View sleeps four and costs from £200-£340 a week (papawestray.co.uk). On Westray, No 1 Broughton, at the water’s edge, is a B&B that costs from £30pp and has its own sauna (no1broughton.co.uk)

16. Eilean Shona
Inner Hebrides

Tucked into Loch Moidart, off Scotland’s breathtaking west coast, Eilean Shona is a private island with a clutch of rental cottages dotted among the woodland. For a Robinson Crusoe week, book South Shore, the most isolated of all the cottages, a 20-minute boat ride across the loch, with no electricity (heating and hot water come from the stove). Sumptuously comfortable, it’s an easy stroll from the beach at Shoe Bay.
Details: A week in South Shore Cottage for two is from £510, including transfers and two ferry trips to the mainland (01967 431249, eileanshona.com)

17. Dry Island
Ross-shire

Shellfish from Dry Island go to some of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants but you can collect your own with skipper Ian, then cook it for supper. Badachro Bay is also home to dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea eagles. Climb the sandstone Torridon Mountains and relax on your own private beach before snuggling up in Badachro Bothy, a large wooden cabin complete with bunk beds, sofa bed, and a shower and toilet. Or stay in Otter Cabin in the woods, with a double bedroom, kitchen, living room and two decks.
Details: From £50 a night for four sharing Badachro Bothy or two sharing Otter Cabin (dryisland.co.uk)

18. Eriska
Argyll and Bute

If your idea of an island stay is more luxurious than a simple bothy, Eriska is the answer. This private island is home to just one hotel, boasting a Michelin-star restaurant, ESPA spa and a six-hole, par-22 golf course. Rooms range from sleek, country house chic in the main house, to spa suites and two-bed cottage suites dotted around the gardens. Dining is a highlight — be sure to save room for the cheese trolley boasting 40 cheeses.
Details: B&B doubles are from £315 (01631 720371, www.eriska-hotel.co.uk)

19 Isle of Eigg
Inner Hebrides

The summit of An Sgurr on Eigg is just 393m high, but offers one of the best viewpoints in all Scotland. Climb it, and take other hikes on this six-mile by three-mile island, on a Wilderness Scotland self-guided walking trip. There are plenty of deserted beaches to explore, along with rugged clifftops and sweeping plains. The waters around Eigg are great for spotting dolphins — the ferry crossing from Mallaig often doubles as a wildlife-spotting trip. Stay at Kildonan House, where you can enjoy delicious home-cooked meals. Or camp at the base of a curving cliff, which has a yurt and a one-room bothy, and a “loo with a view”.
Details: A three-night walking break on Eigg costs from £366pp, including half board and ferry fares (01479 420020,wildernessscotland.com). The yurt costs from £35 and the bothy £30 a night, both for four (coolcamping.co.uk)

Northern Ireland

20. Rathlin
Reputed to be the place where Scottish freedom fighter Robert the Bruce watched a spider persevering as it built its web, Rathlin is just six miles across the Sea of Moyle from Ballycastle. The rugged island is home to the RSPB West Light Seabird Centre, with puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes, and about 70 people. There’s a pub and restaurant, as well as Emma’s Chip Ahoy, an award-winning chippie.
Details: Arkell House has B&B rooms from £70 a night as well as cottages for rent with plenty of availability over the summer (07565 871319, rathlincottages.co.uk)