Virtual escapes: Britain’s idyllic islands

Take a trip to some of the UK's most enchanting islands with our selection of incredible cinematic videos

Aerial of the Isles of Scilly, England, United Kingdom

For those of us who love the outdoors, visits to the countryside, walking in beautiful places and holidaying in the wild outdoors is restricted for the time being due to the Coronavirus crisis.

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We at BBC Countryfile Magazine have always shared wonderful wildlife stories and beautiful landscapes, and will continue to do so with our virtual escapes. So sit back and relax from the comfort of your home and get your fix of the great outdoors even if you can’t physically be there.

Enjoy more virtual escapes

 

The River Spey near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms
Alamy

Experience the sights and sounds of Britain’s islands with our stay-at-home guide to the UK’s most idyllic offshore escapes.

Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Despite the name, Lewis and Harris is actually Scotland’s largest single island; the northern part of the island is named Lewis while Harris forms the south.

In the south-west of Lewis you’ll find the region of Uig, a land of vast moors, high hills and violently rugged coastal scenery. Deep in the hinterland of Uig, and accessible along boggy tracks, lies a hidden collection of shielings, beehive-shaped dwellings whose origins reach back into prehistory.  They are hauntingly located by a burn a mile south of Loch Morsgail and only visible when you are almost upon them.

The beaches of South Harris are the show-stoppers of the Outer Hebrides. A mesmerising array of beaches radiates from the Sound of Luskentyre with shell-sand bays, shallow lagoons formed by tidal waters and ever-changing dunes. By contrast the lesser-visited east coast, known as The Bays (Na Bàigh), is a magnificent moonscape where ice-moulded boulders burp up through the ground. Isolated crofts here are often home to excellent artists’ studios.

Feel the magic of this far-flung island with a virtual escape:


Anglesey, Wales

Covering an area of 276 square miles, Anglesey is the largest island in Wales. It also has the second highest island-population in Britain, yet with such a vast number of beaches, footpaths, forests and lakes, you don’t have to look far to discover your own slice of peace and solitude.

The island is peppered with magnificent standing stones, revealing striking proof of prehistoric human inhabitation, while the discovery of coins and ornaments in recent centuries exposed evidence of Iron Age and Roman activity.

This beautiful timelapse video captures the essence of Anglesey in three amazing minutes:


The River Spey near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms
Alamy

Bass Rock, East Lothian, Scotland

It is in late January when, after months at sea, the world’s largest northern gannet colony begins to return to Bass Rock. So copious are the seabirds that they alter the island’s complexion completely, the rock bleached brilliant white by a cocktail of snowy feathers and intoxicating guano. 

Scotland is home to around a third of Europe’s seabirds, with numbers in the Firth of Forth rising to more than 500,000 in spring and summer when the gannets are joined by puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and shags.

Immerse yourself in the life and flight of these majestic seabirds with a virtual tour of Bass Rock:


Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

the Isle of Skye has an attraction that is distinct from anywhere else. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly makes the land off the north-west coast of Scotland so special. But for those in search of epic views, there’s no question that this island’s astounding, albeit sometimes foreboding, mountain ranges are a Mecca.

The largest of the Inner Hebrides has three geological faces. Mountaineers are drawn to its wildly serrated Cuillin Hills, the deeply eroded remnants of large volcanoes. Further south, the 2,800 million-year-old Lewisian gneisses on the Sleat Peninsula are among the oldest rocks in Europe.

And then there are the sea eagles, dolphins and golden eagles, the Fairy Pools and the charming seaside town of Portree. Combining drone and timelapse, this video showcases all that the Isle of Skye has to offer:


Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England

Lying only 28 miles off the south-west coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are a world apart from mainland Britain. With a sub-tropical climate and turquoise seas you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Maldives, and in lots of ways the islands are not so different: the archipelago (one of the world’s largest, with more than 150 islands) has a wondrous array of wildlife.

The islands are a haven for birdwatchers, and there are some fascinating subspecies of animals indigenous to Scilly. Explore these sunny isles from the air:


Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

The second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull encompasses a variety of peninsulas because of its craggy coastline. Easily accessible from the mainland, there are three ports to get to Mull by ferry: Oban, Lochaline and Kilchoan.

Ben More and its neighbour Stob Binnen are instantly recognisable towering points that will test all but the most experienced walkers. Various cycling routes will take you the length and breath of Mull, and there’s plenty of history to take in as you go – the island is home to six ancient castles.

Fly high above the island with this dramatic drone film:


Isle of Wight, England

Boasting iconic chalk downs, golden beaches, pretty towns and villages, fascinating historic sites including medieval Carisbrooke Castle and royal residence Osborne House, family friendly seaside fun and wildlife aplenty, the isle is a longstanding holiday favourite.

Plus, there are secret woodlands, kind locals, fossil-hunting beaches, and a newly opened coast path around the entire island.

Journey above the island and discover some its most spectacular sights:


Orkney, Scotland

Just north-east of the Scottish mainland, you’ll find a magical group of islands that are shaped by the elements of water, air, earth and fire. With dramatic natural features, heritage, stunning coastlines and ancient treasures, this alluring archipelago of 70 isles is nothing short of enchanting.

Orkney’s waters are a popular place for marine life, with seals, porpoises, dolphins and even otters frequenting the surrounding ocean. Birdsong can always be heard, from the nesting seabirds and puffins on the Brough of Birsay to corncrakes and greylag geese over on Egilsay.

Learn more about this special island with a video by Orkney.com:


Skomer, Pembrokeshire, Wales

A protected National Nature Reserve since 1959, Skomer Island is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe. In one day you can see puffins, grey seals, rare wild flowers, stunning views and much more.

It’s a birdwatchers paradise, but if you’re still getting to grips with your guillemots and gannets, then there’s no better place to learn.

Underwater photographer Jack Perks takes a swim with the island’s resident puffins:


Mersea, Essex, England

Covering roughly seven square miles, Mersea Island off the coast of Essex is the UK’s most easterly inhabited island. Evidence of a pre-Roman settlement has been found here, and legend has it that a Roman centurion haunts the Strood, the road that links the island to the mainland.

It’s a land of two halves: you’ll find restaurants and cafés in West Mersea, offering the oysters and shellfish that the island is famous for, as well as a vineyard selling locally produced wine. While East Mersea is all salt marshes and farmland, fantastic for a stiffly breezy, cobweb-clearing spring walk.

This 20-minute documentary celebrates Mersea’s thriving wildlife through the seasons:


Lindisfarne, Northumberland, England

In 635 AD, King Oswald of Northumbria invited St Aidan from the monastic settlement on Iona to found a monastery on Lindisfarne. Aidan’s death, 16 years later, coincided with the vocation of local shepherd boy Cuthbert, who became bishop of Lindisfarne.

Through the centuries, the island suffered many Viking raids yet retained its spiritual ambience. The 12th-century priory, now in ruins, is directly related to the early monastery. The island is also an important national nature reserve and wintering site for migrating birds, including whooper swans and brent geese from Svalbard. Plants include rare black bog-rush and Lindisfarne helleborine.

Experience the Holy Island form the air:


Farne Islands, Northumberland, England

The Farne Islands are a birdie Mecca, and the great thing is that there are different birds to spot all year. In spring and autumn, Holy Island’s hedgerows are alive with migratory birds like wheaters, thrushes and warblers, and in winter the island is home to pale-bellied brent geese from Norway and other wildfowl and waders which search for food on the mud flats.

From May to July the neighbouring Farne islands and mainland cliffs resound to the cries of thousands of breeding seabirds like puffins, guillemots and little and arctic terns. You may also see atlantic or grey seals, thousands of which breed here every year.

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Learn more about what it’s like to live on these remote Northumberland islands: