ENGLAND’S SOUTH COAST
Isle of Wight
Dinosaurs, festivals, regattas… there’s more to the Isle of Wight than its glorious beaches and bays. Anyone with a passing interest in palaeontology will be thrilled with the ‘dinosaur capital of Britain’, so named because the island is one of the richest areas of dinosaur fossil discovery in Europe. This prehistoric wonder is documented in museums such as the Dinosaur Isle, while there are also fossil hunts and footprint tours.
Visit Brook Beach, where one unmissable feature is the fossilised forest of trees that appear from beneath the waves at low tide, as well as a sandstone ledge containing fossilised dinosaur footprints. Britain’s oldest theme park, Blackgang Chine, has further marked the island’s rich dinosaur heritage with its dinosaur attraction Restricted Area 5 (blackgangchine.com).
The Isle of Wight has also gained a favourable reputation as a festival island. June sees thousands of people stream over by ferry to attend the Isle of Wight Festival – it’s always an impressive line-up of bands and 2016 alone has confirmed Queen with Adam Lambert, the Stereophonics and Faithless. Come September, it’s Bestival time! This festival has more of a boutique flavour, and fancy dress is heartily encouraged.
Foodies might be interested in the island’s Garlic Festival – cookery demonstrations, children’s entertainment, live music and, of course, huge garlic marquees, all take place at the bulb-inspired festival every August (isleofwightfestival.com, bestival.net, garlic-festival.co.uk)
The summer months also make it a popular time to visit the island during Cowes Week – a sailing regatta that, since 1826, has played a major part in Britain’s sporting summer calendar, staging up to 40 daily races for around 1,000 boats. It’s certainly one way to experience the island’s stunning heritage coast, but if you don’t have sea legs, why not explore this island – half of which has been recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – during May’s two-week Walking Festival? Featuring more than 250 walks for all ages and abilities, there are more than 500 miles of footpaths on which you can amble and ramble (visitisleofwight.co.uk).
How to get there: ferry services leave from Portsmouth, Southampton and Lymington, with up to 350 crossings per day. Travel time from London to the ports is just under two hours.
See pictures from Isle of Wight.
Isles of Scilly
Would you be surprised to hear that Britain has its very own tropical islands? It’s true. Nestled in a Gulf Stream, 28 miles south of Cornwall, the five inhabited islands and countless uninhabited islands in the archipelago of the Isles of Scilly experience a sultry climate. The warmer climate has resulted in a stunning array of flora and fauna on the islands. Tresco – the second largest isle, which boasts white sandy beaches – is home to the exotic, outdoor Abbey Garden. Walk among palm trees, flame trees and tropical flowers in the brightest colours.
As well as the sheer diversity of the tropical vegetation, the largest island – St Mary’s – is peppered with ancient monuments, ranging from Neolithic chamber tombs to Civil War fortifications. And why not hop on board a boat for a day trip to the third-largest island, St Martin’s, where, after a day on the stunning beaches, you can fortify yourself with a glass of white wine from the island’s vineyard (visitislesofscilly.com).
How to get there: passenger ferries leave from Penzance in Cornwall on a regular basis or you can experience a bird’s eye view of the island by taking the Skybus to the islands from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter airports.
If you’re holidaying in north Devon, take a day trip to the unspoilt wilderness of Lundy Island, 11 miles off the coast. Immerse yourself in its wilderness on snorkelling safaris or rock pool rambles, wildlife and seabird walks. Spot grey seals, the Lundy ponies and the island’s Sika deer, as well as the diverse flora and fauna and the ‘Lundy cabbage’, endemic to the island.
And if you’re in search of refreshment after all the exploring, you’ll be pleased to know you can order a pint at The Marisco Tavern, one of England’s most isolated pubs. You can also spend the night right by the island’s castle, built in 1244 by Henry III; the ruinous keep was renovated into cottages by The Landmark Trust. Or you can stay in the disused lighthouse – built by Bristol-based merchants in the 18th century to stop the many shipwrecks on the island, the keepers quarters have been transformed into flats with spectacular views (lundyisland.co.uk, landmarktrust.org.uk).
Getting there: Either on board the island’s own boat the MS Oldenbury, which departs from Bideford in north Devon, or by helicopter during good weather. Bideford is just over an hour’s drive from Exeter International Airport or two hours from Bristol International Airport.
ENGLAND’S NORTH-EAST COAST
Holy Island and Farne Islands
For thousands of years Holy Island in the North Sea, a tidal island off the coast of Northumberland, has been a beacon for visitors, once attracting pilgrims to the Benedictine Priory, which was later destroyed by Henry VIII in the 16th century to build Lindisfarne Castle with the monastery stone. This romantic fortress is now looked after by the National Trust and underwent renovation by the architect Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s, although some of the Tudor fort can still be seen.
Keen ornithologists should take a boat out to the nearby Farne islands; witness 37,000 pairs of puffins that call the islands their home as well as more than 20 varieties of birds including guillemots and razorbills. Also keep your eyes peeled for the large grey seal colony and enjoy fantastic views back to Bamburgh Castle, which looms over the Northumberland coast, and the Cheviot Hills. nationaltrust.org.uk/lindisfarne-castle (visitnorthumberland.com/coast/farne-islands).
Getting there: The nearest rail station is Berwick-upon-Tweed, around 45 minutes from Edinburgh or Newcastle. From there, take a bus, with times depending on the prevailing tide. Holy Island is linked to the mainland by a long causeway.