Craving an island escape? Visits to paradises such as the Maldives and the Seychelles might not be an option right now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fantastic alternatives closer to home. Here are six UK islands perfect for an autumnal adventure.
Fancy a trip to Devon but keen to avoid the crowds in destinations like Torquay, Dartmouth and Salcombe? Consider Lundy, part of the North Devon district of Torridge. This tiny wildflower-covered lump of granite (it’s just three miles long and less than a mile wide) is owned by the National Trust. It’s a popular puffin-watching spot during the summer months, which is why we suggest avoiding the tripod-toting twitchers and heading there in autumn, when blubbery seals replace seagulls and shags as the most sought-after sightings. The island is surrounded by the UK’s first marine conservation zone, so it’s a brilliant diving spot – head beneath the waves (the sea temperature remains surprisingly warm in autumn) to explore dozens of shipwrecks and 2,500 species of marine life. It takes just under two hours to get to the island on MS Oldenburg from Ilfracombe and Bideford, although sailings stop at the end of October – from November you’ll need to get there via private boat or helicopter. Lundy has 24 self-catering properties, our favourite of which is the Old School – this cornflower-blue, one-bedroom cottage was once the island’s Sunday School.
Isle of Wight
In early 2020, the Isle of Wight hit the headlines when it emerged that bones found here in 2019 belong to a new species of dinosaur. This prehistoric paradise has more dinosaur remains than anywhere else in Northern Europe, although there are plenty of other treasures to find: sculpture-like ammonites, shark teeth and fossilised chunks of wood with seams of fools’ gold. Autumn (due to the windier sand and soil-blasting weather) is the best time for a fossil hunt, ideally with the brilliant Wight Coast Fossils (wightcoastfossils.co.uk). You’ll gain an unbeatable insight into the island’s prehistoric past, discovering why there’s such an abundance of dinosaur remains here, and how to find and identify the most significant reminders of their presence, whether it’s the footprints on Compton Bay or the vertebrae embedded in the cliffs near Brighstone Bay. Once you’re done with dinos, consider a spot of stargazing – the Isle of Wight has some of the clearest skies in the UK, making it a great place to watch the Draconids meteor shower which will occur between October 2 and 16. Why not hire one of the island’s fantastic self-catering properties and set up camp in the garden? Our favourite is the Mill House (themillhouseiow.co.uk), a Grade II-listed farmhouse tucked down a quiet country lane near Brighstone Bay.
With Guernsey’s borders closed, Jersey has been this summer’s most popular Channel Island, although deserted beaches are still plentiful, and they’re now even easier to get to, thanks to the island’s recently-launched Evie electric bike-sharing scheme. You’ll see the lemon-yellow bikes dotted across the island. They’re a great way to hop from beach to beach, but if you’re keen to burn off any lockdown-related indulgences, consider one of Jersey’s many Green Lanes – rural lanes where cyclists, walkers and horse riders take priority over drivers, and where there’s a speed limit of 15mph. Our favourite route is the trail in the footprint of a railway which once connected St Aubin to La Corbière Lighthouse. When hunger strikes, stop at St Brelade’s Off the Rails, a route-side café famous for its sourdough pizzas. We also recommend booking an excursion with Jersey Seafaris (jerseyseafaris.com) – you’ll bounce across the waves to the tiny Écréhous islands (many of which are submerged at high tide), six miles north of Jersey. The dozen or so people who live here are greatly outnumbered by the wildlife – seals and dolphins are regularly spotted.
Often referred to as Scotland in miniature, Arran is a wonderfully wild tangle of lakes, forests, beaches and caves, such as King’s Cave, where Robert Bruce, while in exile, discovered his famous spider (legend states that his admiration for the spider’s web-weaving skills, despite the harsh environs, gave Bruce the confidence to defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn). Spiders aside, Arran is a fantastic hiking spot – one of our favourite routes is the one which wiggles across the so-called Saddle, a valley floor wedged between the highest peaks in the Goatfell mountain range. In autumn, the towering peaks are shrouded in mist, and you’ll see plenty of wildlife, including golden eagles and red deer. Brodick is Arran’s largest village (as well as the arrival point for the car ferry from North Ayrshire’s Ardrossan Harbour, on the mainland) and it’s dominated by Brodick Castle, famous for its collection of 17th-century furniture and its beautiful gardens, laid out in 1923 by the Duchess of Montrose, who wanted a garden which would allow visitors soak up the views over the island and the sea.
Isle of Coll
An often-overlooked speck of land to the west of Mull, the Isle of Coll is a designated Dark Sky Community, making it a great stargazing destination at a time when reduced air travel has created clearer, cleaner skies. Dreading the clocks going back? It’s significantly less painful on the Isle of Coll, an Inner Hebrides island with the longest sunshine hours in the UK. Connected to Oban on the mainland by a regular ferry service, it is famous for its 30 sandy beaches and its food – we recommend the locally-reared lamb and the seafood, hauled into Arinagour harbour every day by the island’s small flotilla of fishing boats. A large chunk of the island’s western half is an RSPB nature reserve – autumn and early winter is a great time to see species such as reed buntings, snow buntings, golden plovers and redwings. The island has one hotel, a bunkhouse and a handful of self-catering properties, including the wonderfully sleek Arrol House, a five-bedroom property with floor-to-ceiling windows designed to make the most of the views of the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Mull.
St Mary’s became even more accessible in spring 2020, thanks to the launch of the UK's only scheduled helicopter service, which buzzes between Penzance and the Scilly Isle. Once you’ve arrived, warm your cockles with a visit to the Scilly Spirit Distillery, where gin is made with seawater and pepper – a nod to a spice-laden ship which crashed into nearby Bishop Rock in 1665. For accommodation with a royal wow factor, bed down at the 16th-century Star Castle, a family-run hotel on St Mary’s Garrison. Bag one of the Guard Rooms, perched on the ancient ramparts, for brilliant views over the harbour. If you’re visiting in October, sign up for one of Wild Scilly’s guided walks, designed to showcase the island’s gastronomy, wildlife and history. Keep an eye out for the island’s grey seals, as well the fluffy, new-born pups – the Isles of Scilly has the UK’s largest population of Atlantic grey seals and autumn is breeding season. Another reason to head there in autumn? From October, many of the beaches lift their restrictions relating to dogs, so it’s the perfect time to explore the island with four-legged friends in tow.