The best island escapes off the UK coast for a walking holiday

Islands remain dream destinations for holiday-makers looking for splendid isolation. The feeling of leaving everything behind as you cross the water to an island is one of irresistible freedom and drama. But you don’t have to jet off to Crete or Evia to experience white sands and crystal clear waters: there are plenty of picturesque islands to visit right here on a guided walking island hopping holiday in the UK.

In fact, the British Isles are made up of nearly 6,300 islands. Some resemble miniature nations, with their own language and tax laws; others are abandoned and mysterious places haunted by myths and ghosts. Whether you're looking for isolation, walking spots, whisky or swashbuckling adventure, Britain’s islands are the holiday destination for you.

From the white sands of the Isles of Scilly to the wild rocks of the Outer Hebrides, the UK has hundreds of islands to choose from. Here are six of the best, hand-picked and recommended by our Walk Leaders.

Lewis & Harris, Outer Hebrides

Lewis & Harris guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"Luskentyre beach on Harris is absolutely stunning and arriving there having walked through the stark beauty of the Harris hills is a brilliant experience".

John McCorkell, HF Walk Leader

Although usually referred to as if they are, Lewis and Harris are not separate islands. Instead they are the northern two-thirds (Lewis) and southern third (Harris) of the same island in the Outer Hebrides. The northern part of Lewis is dominated by the desolate expanse of the Black Moor, a vast, undulating peat bog dimpled with glittering lochans. There's fine scenery on the west coast too, where the rugged landscape of hill, loch and sandy strand is reminiscent of the northwestern Highlands. The Outer Hebrides’ most evocative historic sites – Callanish Standing Stones, Dun Carloway and Arnol Blackhouse – are also to be found here. Harris, to the south of Lewis, is the scenic jewel in the necklace of islands that comprise the Outer Hebrides. Harris is famous for its tweed and has a spectacular blend of rugged mountains, pristine beaches, flower-speckled machair and barren rocky landscapes to explore.

The Isle of Skye

Skye guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"Walking along the shore front at Egol looking across the sea at the Cuillin is unbeatable. Elgol is never as busy as the usual honeypot stops on Skye but even the longish journey there is pretty unforgettable. I even managed to spot two otters swimming near the shore the last time I did it."

Ged Elliott, HF Walk Leader

The Isle of Skye is the second-largest of Scotland's islands, a 50-mile-long patchwork of velvet moors, jagged mountains, impressive lochs and towering sea stacks. The stunning scenery is the main attraction; in the north are the pinnacles and cliffs of Quiraing, with its alien place-names such as The Needle, The Prison and The Table. On the west coast, on the moor beyond Talisker, there's a mountain walled with polygonal columns of solidified lava as strange as the Giant's Causeway. Then there are the Black Cuillins, the most ferocious range of peaks in Britain. Look out too for the extraordinary boat trip from Elgol to the fjord-like chasm of och Coruisk, painted giddily by Turner and described by Lord Tennyson as "the wildest scene in the Highlands". And when the mist closes in there are plenty of castles, crofting museums and cosy pubs to retreat to!

The Shetland Islands

Shetland Islands guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"I think the lines from the song 'The Hams of Muckle Roe', written by a Shetland lass Jenna Reid, best sum up the appeal of Muckle Roe, or the Big Red Island, which we visit: 'I would like to take you there where red rocks robed in velvet green rise from the sea at Muckle Roe.' "

John McCorkell, HF Walk Leader

The Shetland Islands are Britain’s most northerly outpost. Close enough to Norway geographically and historically to blur the lines of nationality. There’s a Scandinavian lilt to the local accent, and streets named King Haakon or St Olaf are reminders that Shetland was under Norse rule until 1469, when it was gifted to Scotland in lieu of the dowry of a Danish princess. The stirringly bleak setting – it's a UNESCO geopark – still feels uniquely Scottish, though, with deep, naked glens flanked by steep hills, sky-blue lochs and, of course, sheep on the roads. The birdlife is also spectacular, so pack binoculars.

The Island of Rum, Inner Hebrides

Island of Rum guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"It's one of the "Small Isles" that also includes the charming Eigg. Rum has sea eagles, a mountain ridge 2,700 ft high with multiple steep summits, spectacular coastline, and mixed woodland. It also has Kinloch Castley, which is an absolute Scottish classic."

Alasdair Brooks, HF Walk Leader

Shaped like a rough diamond, the Isle of Rum is the biggest and most spectacular of the Small Isles, which make up the Inner Hebrides. It’s got it all: think stunning coastal scenery, with wonderful beaches rising to rugged mountains known as the Rum Cuillin for their similarity to the peaks of neighbouring Skye. Once a private sporting estate, it was sold to the Nature Conservancy in 1957 and has since been a wildlife reserve with deer, wild goats, ponies and seabirds. It's famous for its Manx shearwater colony - some 120,000 birds strong - and is good for spotting golden and white-tailed eagles too.

Lindisfarne (Holy Island), Northumberland

Northumberland guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"You can delve into the early and later Medieval periods of history, explore a Tudor Castle, hear ‘singing seals’ and absorb the beauty and tranquillity of this remarkable place just off the Northumberland Coast."

Patrick Norris, HF Walk Leader

There's something almost other-worldly about the tiny, tidal island of Lindisfarne, cut off twice a day by the tide and reached by a narrow causeway. It was the centre of the Irish-Celtic Christian tradition in the 7th Century and it was from here that King Oswald and Bishop Aidan, continued the work begun by Oswald’s uncle King Edwin, to convert the Anglo-Saxon people to Christianity. The Priory, now a dramatic ruin, was dissolved by Henry VIII and some of its stones were used to build the crag-top castle that provides Lindisfarne's famous profile. These days, the island, still known as The Holy Island, is at the centre of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. It's fiercely desolate and isolated and comprises some 10,000 acres of protected habitat,making it a site of international importance for migrating wildfowl and wading birds in the winter months, while grey seals bask on the beaches.

Isles of Scilly

Isles of Scilly guided walking holiday

In the Leader's words

"I love everything about the Isles of Scilly - the white sand beaches, turquoise sea, tiny uninhabited islands, rugged rock outcrops, bird life, native and sub-tropical plants, ancient sites, lighthouses and so much more. They're the reasons I moved here more than 20 years ago!"

Katharine Sawyer, HF Walk Leader

The Isles of Scilly, 20 or more miles out into the Atlantic are England's only archipelago. The five inhabited islands form a close community and you can hop happily between them. Bryher is the most westerly and one of the sparsest populated. It takes just two hours to walk all around the seashoire but what a walk it is - Hell Bay, with its wild winds and rearing cliffs on one side, with nothing for 2,000 miles until the coast of Canada; and on the more sheltered side, beaches of glorious sand. Climb Gweal Hill and gaze south-west, past Bishop's Rock lighthouse two miles away, to where the boundless Atlantic stretches away in a haze of nothingness. Swim in the clear, cold sea, perhaps with a seal or two for company then soak up the silence while watching oystercatchers on the shore.

Guided Walking Island Hopping Holidays with HF

Island Hopping Guided Walking Holidays

Island Hopping
Guided Walking Holidays

The waters around the UK boast some wonderful island chains, each bursting with great walking, landscapes and history. These guided walking holidays immerse you in each island, staying in welcoming hotels and exploring each location's unique mix of great walks and hand-picked attractions.
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