Sail through seals, seabirds and time to the island of Mousa on the eastside of Shetland for an in-your-face archeological and wildlife experience. The 15 minute boat trip followed by a 1km direct or 2.5km circular coastal route takes you to the world’s best preserved iron age broch, standing at over 13 metres high and built more than 2000 years ago. So moved by the Mousa Broch was Will Self that he had a 1:3 replica built in his garden.
Inhabited only by seals, sheep and birds; tick Artic Skuas, Artic Terns, Great Skuas and Black Guillemots off your birdwatching list. Get lucky like Simon King and spot whales and porpoises in Mousa sound. The island is an RSPB nature reserve, a Scottish Tourist Board four star attraction and Historic Scotland cares for the broch on behalf of the country. Boat trips run daily from April to September and are weather dependent.
The boat that took us over from Arisaig to Kinloch (Rhum) was as much a wildlife cruise as it was a ferry service, with seals lounging on the rocks and minke whales, their black dorsal fin dramatic against the still water. On the island we heard seabirds (Manx shearwaters) in their burrows, high up on Hallival, an impressive mountain of 2,300 feet, and with its lower slopes littered with boulders the size of caravans. There are also lots of low level walks on good paths, such as the one across the island to Kilmory where the red deer were filmed for BBC’s Autumnwatch.
The only place to stay on this traffic-free island is Kinloch Castle, where the servants’ quarters make very comfortable hostel accommodation, but with superior rooms also available. A wholesome three course meal is served in the dining room for £15, and the cosy and convivial bar is the home of local musicians.
The wildlife, and views of neighbours large (Skye) and small (Muck and Eigg), the solitude of mountain paths and shorelines, the stunning sunsets. ‘Will ye no come back again?’
The "sightseer flight" from Barra to Benbecula has to be one of the most fantastic island experiences. Take the local minibus from Castlebay to the airport, pay £35 and show your photo ID, and step out over the sand to the Twin Otter waiting on the beach.
Up in the air, and cruising smoothly north at 1,000-2,000ft, you pass over the "Whisky Galore" island of Eriskay, before gazing down in wonder at the fascinating landscapes of South Uist and Benbecula, with a thousand lochs criss-crossed with roads, tiny houses and ancient remains. The flight takes 20 minutes, and after a short stop you fly back again. The pilot turned round and asked us what route we would like to return by, so we chose the mountainous one. I'm afraid of flying, but I loved this, and landed back on the beach on magical Barra with a big grin on my face.
Flybe flights: www.flybe.com/ but it seems to be cheaper to buy locally - ask at the tourist office in Castlebay (+44 (0)1871 810336). Tourist information on Barra: www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/barra.htm
Google map: bit.ly/96Ihrk
I’ve been to 63 countries, but the Scillies are the place I have visited most often. They have drawn me back since I camped aged 16 at the Garrison Farm on St Mary’s, waking at dawn in a vine-draped greenhouse after a storm destroyed the tent. In contrast my most recent stay was at Star Castle, an Elizabethan fortress in the shape of a star - where you can sleep in a thick-walled guard room overlooking the harbour.
The Scillies are the farthest you can get from the UK, while travelling the shortest distance. Bird watching, walking, prehistoric cairns, silky, white-sand beaches and coves, any number of prodigious shipwrecks and famously exotic vegetation, they have it all - including trendy modern hotels and fine dining (if that’s what you want). More important: the turquoise sea all around acts as a soothing invitation to unwind, as you explore between the five inhabited and umpteen mini islands.
Even in August there is seclusion if you are prepared to walk away from the harbour landings. I went skinny dipping one August day on St Martins, with only birds and rabbits for company. The wonky circle of St Mary’s cliff path is a day’s leisurely stroll, and if you plan it properly it’s possible to fit in two, if not three, superlative cream teas en route. Then back to Star Castle for a five-course meal followed by an evening in the Dungeon Bar. Nothing can beat the atmosphere of this place. You won't get jetlag, you don’t need jabs, and you’re more likely to get bother from a ghost hanging around a megalith than from an undesirable lurking on a street corner. Fortunate Islands indeed.
Ailsa Craig appears like a giant American muffin on the horizon off the south-west coast of Scotland. A boat trip round the island from Girvan costs £20, including landing on the island for half an hour, where you can inspect the rather spooky remains of the gas works that used to power the lighthouse. The bird life on the island is fantastic, and can be well-observed from the boat, together with the amazing volcanic cliffs. Can 40,000 Gannets be wrong?
Google map: bit.ly/9Fg0Rm
An old favourite of ours and a fantastic day out in the north west is a visit to the terraced gardens at Rivington. Stroll around all the way up to Rivington Pike, if you have the energy. See if you can find the ornamental Japanese pool and the old tower for Pidgeons and Doves. Spot the remains of Lord Lever's grand mansion. The views across the reservoir to Liverpool are always enjoyable and if its clear you can see further to North Wales and the Lake District; we always try to be the first one to spot Blackpool Tower. On a good day, take a picnic or eat in the cafe in the splendid Great Barn. A grand day out!
www.bolton.org.uk/rivington.html. Rivington Lane, Horwich, Bolton, Greater Manchester, England, BL6 7SB
Read more: www.gardenvisit.com/garden/rivington_terraced_gardens#ixzz0vdMYwOxp
Google map: bit.ly/aafjce
Describing this as a museum does not do it justice - it is a place that brings the industrial revolution to life and takes you back over 100 years. You get a chance to experience the life of the masses; giggle at the latest fashions in the shops, change your money in the bank, take a ride on a train or a pony and trap, visit the post office and buy old-fashioned sweets from the sweet shop. Working life can also be experienced in the Foundry. Every child and adult I have ever taken there has loved it. The site is constantly developing, which means you can keep visiting with new generations. What better day out?
Google map: bit.ly/cO645W
Ironbridge is near Telford and has 10 museums in the town.
Holy Island, off the north Northumberland coast, is also known as Lindisfarne. My tip is to view Roman Polanski's film Cul-de-Sac before you go, so you can figure how he made the setting for his fascinating movie, starring Donald Pleasence, seem like a castle on a rock with no village, harbour or Priory ruins nearby.
This all adds a wonderful layer of drama to a naturally dramatic setting.
A few miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed, it's essentially a peninsula, the lower leg and road causeway of which gets covered by the incoming tide (a phenomenon used by Polanski to entrap two criminals on the run). Check your tides to know when you can get on and off. It's nice to spend at least one high tide cut off from the mainland.
Holy Island is a few miles south of Berwick-Upon-Tweed in Northumberland.
Google map: bit.ly/9wPAAn
One of the best British daytrips I ever took was a journey into my nearest main town. I’d visited it as a local resident many times but I had never really seen it and still knew so little about it. I decided to set off to explore and learn, to see the place through new eyes.
You do not have to know where my local main town is because the whole point here is that you explore your own main town and see history come alive for you. Your local library will be a great source of information and you will be amazed at what has occurred on the streets that you have trodden a thousand times before.
People travel from all over the world to visit the UK and one of the many things they love is our history. So take a day out to learn about the lives of the people who trod your local streets before you.
Right in front of your eyes
Twinkling blue seas, white sails, faraway views, beaches, birds and blossoms! And yes, some palm trees. A stone's throw from good rail and road links, by car or bus, yet Hayling's few miles offer peace and beauty.
Stop at the bridge for two good pubs, the Ship and the Royal Oak, then cross to the island, carry straight on for about five miles to reach the seafront. Or turn left at the bridge for leafy country lanes, and pretty Northney with its ancient church, or West Lane (by the bends) for fields and trees.
The Billy Trail (once a rail track) overlooking Langstone Harbour and distant Portsmouth, can be walked or cycled. The uncrowded western shore, past the wind and kite surfers, offers views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight and a pub and ferry to Southsea. At the eastern end, there's the entrance to Chichester Harbour (AONB) looking across to West Wittering and the South Downs, with sailing clubs, marina, RNLI station and Marina Jaks' restaurant. There are boats everywhere, and seaside delights - holiday camps, beach huts, funfair, ice-cream, a train ride across the common, pubs, fish and chips. Plus, regular sailing events, scarecrow competion (Aug), and artists' trail (May). The weather's often surprisingly benign, and the locals, on perpetual holiday, are friendly!
Hayling Island is next to Portsmouth, in Hampshire. Frequent trains from London and along the south coast to Havant station, very near bus station. Just off A27, linking to M27 & A3(M) Plenty of car parks, but car park charges. www.hayling.co.uk/
Google map: bit.ly/9XaxGT
From Islay, island of peaty malts and soft woven tweeds, take the Calmac ferry to Colonsay. At low tide, walk across the Strand to the mystical priory of Oronsay, listening for the mournful cry of the corncrake as you go. Feast on local seafood - the oysters here and on Islay are incredible - at the Colonsay hotel, and take the return ferry - you'll get the same views as the Queen will be getting this week from Hebridean Princess.
Southern Hebrides, via Calmac ferries from Kennacraig in Argyll. Accessible from Glasgow by dedicated bus.
Isle of Colonsay, Argyll, PA61 7YU
01951 200 316 or 312
Google map: tinyurl.com/3289hfk
It may not be the warmest place around, but for sheer grandeur of scenery, there's little to beat Skye. Dark, muscular mountains, rising vertically from frothy waters, hauntingly beautiful drives along precipitous coastlines, skies that darken and light up at the will of a wickedly fierce wind. This is a land where you feel Mother Earth is on testosterone - it' s butch alright, but very, very beautiful. With wonderful accomodations (choose from delightfully homely B&B's, hostels and charming, boutique hotels) and great grub (as vegetarians our options were limited to wholesome soups and deliciously creamy jacket-potatoes, but sea-food lovers, I'm assured, are in for a feast), crumbling castles perched on glorious cliff-tops, there's really no reason to go to New Zealand to admire landscapes that haven't changed a jot since the last ice age. Travel to Skye by train (nearest stations - Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig or Inverness) after which a choice of bus/ferry will zip you across to the (in my opinion) most beautiful spot on earth.
Amazing wildlife easily accessed. Great for those of us not quite up to hiking in the Cairngorms. This magnificent mountain valley is situated just a 10 minute drive (or somewhat longer walk) away from the main ferry terminal at Brodick. I have visited a couple of times and have been lucky enough to see exciting wildlife just a short walk in. On both occasions I saw golden eagles wheeling in the sky above and being mobbed by the local buzzards. I also saw them perching on the mountainside. Red deer kept a discreet distance while a cuckoo called repeatedly. The Glen has adders (keep to the path); we saw a black adder - and sang the tv theme to it of course. And even if you didn't see any of this, its a stunning place well worth visiting.
The valley lies north-west of Brodick. Follow the signs or ask for a free map from the helpful tourist office on the dock. Glen Rosa is at the end of a winding road. There is a basic-looking campsite there too.
Google map: tinyurl.com/38p7dqo
A role in Balamory, a BBC children’s programme about a small Scottish community, has seen Tobermory become a popular choice for visitors to Scotland. The real Tobermory (from the Scottish Gaelic 'Tobar Mhoire', which means ‘Mary’s well’), on the north-east tip of Mull, is a lovely place to spend a day or two. It is a small town of friendly people, brightly-coloured craft shops, and cafes that whip locally caught seafood into delicious meals.
It has been my favourite town since I was a child. While my family stocked up on food in the Co-op supermarket I used to meander from shop to shop – Tackle and Books, Mull Pottery, Tobermory Togs, the souvenir bazaar in the town hall - where the gifts were as unmistakeably Scottish as the sea spray blowing across the street outside. This year I took a walk along Main Street with my camera, and tried to capture the harbour’s colour and charm. Tobermory is as unique and welcoming as it looks on television, but the real fun is found behind the scenes.
Tobermory's website is www.tobermory.co.uk. The site has a travel guide with information on how to get to the Isle of Mull by ferry from the Scottish mainland. You can find my photographs of Mull on my blog, jonathancampion.wordpress.com.
Google map: tinyurl.com/2vutgge
Papa Westray (or "Papay" to the locals) is one of Orkney's most northerly islands and the two minute scheduled flight between its neighbouring island of Westray is the world's shortest. This tiny, friendly island is rich in wildlife and archaeology. And if you can persuade a local fisherman to sail you across to the uninhabited Holm of Papay, then you can climb down into the ancient chambered cairns to see the prehistoric rock carvings. Take a torch & a sense of adventure! Bliss.
It has a ruined castle, a rocky coast to explore, its own “king” and best of all it’s small enough to feel like a real island. You can walk from one side to the other in minutes. The island’s only habitation is a pub, the Ship Inn, whose landlord traditionally holds the title 'King of Piel.' In summer it is served by a ferry from neighbouring Roa Island, or you can walk across the sands at low tide from Walney Island. Since the last 'King' was installed the pub has been renovated and there is a programme of events over the summer to tempt visitors who want more than just the splendid experience of being able to explore the coast and castle.
We knew the name Lundy from the shipping forecast when we visited it for the day from the north Devon port of Ilfracombe last May. It’s a three-mile long spit of granite, a stopping off place for puffins and once a pirate’s look out point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic. The steep road that winds up from the harbour, the dry heathy landscape and deep blue sea lapping in the little coves that surround the island made Lundy feel Mediterranean on the balmy day we visited. We just had time for a picnic and to walk to the old light house where you can sit in a deck chair where the light once was. If you want to stay, there’s a campsite and Landmark Trust rent out the granite Georgian cottages that pepper the island. Truly a gem!
I spent an idyllic holiday camping and cycling in Orkney last summer. I took my bike on the train to Aberdeen, then caught the ferry to Kirkwall. So easy and really cheap if you aren't taking a car.
My first day was spent cycling between the two major towns on the mainland (the largest of the Orkney islands). A beautiful summer cycle, broken up by trips to impressive stone circles, tombs and a 1950s style ice cream parlour. Compared to neighbouring Shetland, Orkney is a cyclist's dream. It's incredibly flat and the drivers are well used to cyclists, so it was a refreshing change to share the road with considerate drivers.
The gorgeous fishing town of Stromness entertained me for a few days. Impressive contemporary art gallery, coastal walks and plenty of pubs to sample the locally brewed ales.
There are so many islands to visit, it is tricky deciding which ones to choose, as they all have their own character. I opted for a day trip to Hoy (famous for the Old Man of Hoy magnificent sea stack). This is the one island not so suitable for you bike as it actually has hills, including Orkney's only munro. I discovered a bothy in which you can stay or camp by, overlooking one of the UKs most spectacular beaches.
I also spent a few days on Westray and Papa Westray, or Papay and it is lovingly known to it's 75ish residents. Many of whom I met and couldn't have been more friendly. It's a cliche to mention it, but it is all about the slow pace of life and everyone has the time for a chat. The wildlife seemed to have the same relaxed cheerful outlook, with seals always popping their inquisitive heads up out of the turquoise water.
With the madness of the Edinburgh festival just about to start, I have a trip for anyone wishing to take a break from it and escape the city for a day.
The splendid Jupiter Artland, a contemporary sculpture garden in the grounds of Bonnington house, just outside the city.
An impressive selection of art work from some of Britain's biggest names - Andy Goldsworthy, Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor etc. When you need a break from exploring, treat yourself to tea and cake from the chrome vintage caravan cafe, and hang out with the peacock.
And if that's not enough to tempt you, did I mention the miniature donkeys?
Off the south-western tip of Pembrokeshire, Skomer Island is less than a mile offshore but feels like another world. Visit in spring or summer on a calm day - the boats won't go if it's too rough - and enjoy crystal blue seas which are home to seals and porpoises, followed by a landing on the island itself. Take one of the marked trails around the island for stunning clifftop views and an amazing birdwatching experience. You might see peregrines and buzzards, but best of all is Skomer's seabird population of guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes, not to mention everyone's favourite: the charming and friendly puffin. There are toilets and a picnic area but no café, so bring your lunch!
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