Most people who know and love to travel in Great Britain have at least one island on their radar that they would like to visit one day, but don't get around to it. Here are some beauties that you can visit by train, and ferry of course.
There should be a scratch map of Great Britain’s islands so that you can reveal all of the country’s hidden highlights and be inspired to visit one from time to time. We can’t list them all here, with 82 islands over 5km2 alone and Scotland boasting the majority of those. As well as the magnificent Channel Islands archipelago, which we are including on our list. Here we can reveal some of the islands that are (relatively) easy to access by train. If this article gives you itchy feet, get scratching. And booking.
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Skye, the most famous of the Inner Hebridean Islands, is accessible from Mallaig train station. It is the most popular and, therefore, visited of all the islands. You can easily steer away from the daytrippers or cruise shippers by taking a guided walking tour, or exploring the wild spots of Loch Scavaig and the Cuillin mountain range. Mallaig is on the West Highland Line, considered one of Scotland’s most stunning railway routes.
The Hebrides just keep giving, however, with the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna also accessible from Mallaig or Arisaig. Collectively known as the Small Isles, they are wildlife and wilderness walking havens.
Other islands in the Inner Hebridean chain include as Kerrera, Lismore, Mull, Iona, Coll, all accessible by ferry from Oban. The most popular with visitors is Mull, just 45 mins by ferry, and another world for many, with its multicoloured seafront terrace, magnificent Duart Castle and marine wildlife basking in the Sound of Mull.
Traverse the Menai Strait from mainland Wales to access the wild island of Anglesey, most famous for being gateway to Ireland at the ferry port of Holyhead. There are several ‘request stop’ train stations on the island, where you stick out your hand for the driver to pick you up. Wild, windy and wonderfully Welsh, take on the 200km Anglesey Coast Path, go puffin watching at South Stack Lighthouse and cliffs or brush off cobwebs on its six Blue Flag beaches. Rhosneigr, with its own train station, is a surfers’ favourite.
Holy Island of Lindisfarne, England
This tidal island was a major place of Christian worship in Anglo Saxon times, and still a place of pilgrimage today. Accessible along National Cycle Route 1 from Berwick-upon-Tweed station, 23km away up the coast, highlights include the tidal causeway out to the island (always adhere to published tide times) Lindisfarne Priory and the 15th century Lindisfarne Castle, dominating the island’s landscape from its rocky promontory. Check out the annual Lindisfarne Festival at the end of August, overlooking the island, with free coaches laid on from Berwick-upon-Tweed station.
Isles of Scilly, England
They may be a 2 hrs 45 mins ferry ride from Penzance station but the Isles of Scilly are a must for any serious islandphile. With some of the UK’s best beaches, take your pick from five inhabited islands in this archipelago where turquoise bays and pure white sands are verging on Caribbeanesque. The largest island is St Mary’s, Tresco is famous for its 19th century Abbey Garden, Bryher has a wild Atlantic feel, St. Martin’s is beach bliss and St. Agnes is a piece of peripheral paradise. Ferries run to all these islands between March and November.
Brownsea and Portland, England
Both in the county of Dorset, Brownsea Island is owned by National Trust and is the largest island in Poole harbour. It does offer accommodation, including eco camping experiences, but is only open to the public between mid-March and early November. Stroll around its protected wood and healthlands and definitely bring your binoculars and bird books. All easily accessible by ferry from Poole Quay or Sandbanks Jetty, which are 1km or 6.6km from Poole station, respectively.
Portland is a tied island, and the southernmost point on the Jurassic Coast. So called, because it is tied, or connected to the mainland by a spit, in this case the iconic Chesil Beach. Access it by train to Weymouth where you can jump on the 35mins Portland CycleTrail. The island is also part of the South West Coast Path long distance walking trail.
Isle of Wight
Not as wild as some of the ones mentioned above, it is still one of our favourite island getaways. It is amazing how many people have travelled to or live in the south of England and have never crossed The Solent to visit it. It is England’s largest island and has been a popular holiday destination since Queen Victoria put it on the map as her summer residence. At 384km2, surf it, walk it, festival it, cycle it or eat your way around it. Farm shops and local produce abound here. Get there on a combined rail and ferry ticket to Ryde or Yarmouth, with more details here.
Finally, not a scratch map but a fascinating one, check out this map, published by the University of Sheffield, and recommended by Ordnance Survey, as part of important research on Great Britain’s islands. To explore the many Scottish islands on offer, your best port of call is Visit Scotland.
Not part of the UK, but self-governing Crown dependencies, they are just a few kilometres off the coast of Normandy. An archipelago of seven inhabited islands, the largest are Jersey and Guernsey, both of which are packed with superb cultural and natural heritage. They are also both accessible by fast ferry from Poole, and note that the ferry port is 1.4km from Poole station. You can also take a much slower ship from Portsmouth to both Jersey and Guernsey. More adventurous travellers can get ferries from Jersey or Guernsey to the smaller islands of Sark, Herm and Alderney, each with their own remote and yet welcoming ambience.
Image credits top to bottom: Isle of Skye iStock ©1111IESPDJ, Coloured houses in Tobermory, Mull iStock ©dcookd, Lindisfarne iStock ©bahadir-yeniceri, Chesil Beach and Isle of Portland iStock Tommy Lee Walker ©Tommy Lee Walker, The Needles Isle of Wight iStock ©Randomerophotos, Sark isthmus iStock ©Allard1
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