In the last fifteen years Lisa Drewe has hiked, biked, run, swum, and kayaked around the outer edge of over 150 of Britain’s islands. Coining the term ‘islandeering’, here she shares her motivation and some favourite routes from her new book.
Islandeering is a new term that describes travelling around the outer edge of an island by whatever means. This boundary between land and sea offers the last greatest wildness of Britain and the ultimate place for adventure, challenge and solitude. I believe that the ambition to travel the perimeter of a whole island shares a similar psychology to that of climbing mountains. Most people aim for the summit and not half way up and for me this “completist” urge applies to islands too. I love the simplicity of the concept. Keep the sea to the left or right, find your own route, and keep going until you end up back at the beginning.
Here are a few islands included in the book (with more details at islandeering.com) that are rarely described yet are fabulous places to discover and take a walk, wade or scramble around their outer edge.
1. Steepholm, Somerset
The exhilarating RIB ride from Weston-Super-Mare is part of this island’s adventure. Once there, this is an easy clifftop amble around a small former military outpost-turned-nature reserve. Those with a head for heights can test their nerve on steep exposed sections to explore military ruins. If that makes you dizzy you can search for the ghoulish egg sacks of the Culvert spider in the underground munition stores or enjoy spectacular views across the Bristol Channel.
2. Foulness, Essex
Essex’s best kept secret. Step out on to Maplin Sands to follow the legendary Broomway. With an incoming tide that is faster than most people can run and MoD owners who like to fire missiles out across the sands this walk does require some planning. The reward for the few who attempt it though is a fabulous wilderness experience and the chance to chat to friendly islanders with their unique language and tales of ‘stringies’, ‘cadgers’ and ‘doggies’.
3. Chapel, Cumbria
An exhilarating tidal route, with notorious sinking sands and extremely quick tides. A Queen’s Guide to the Sands will know the safest route across the fast-flowing River Leven and the wilderness of Morecombe Bay. The circumnavigation then follows on the glorious sands of the island’s foreshore against the backdrop of the mountains of the South Lakes. The guide’s advice – ‘if you feel yourself sinking, don’t stop just keep moving’.
4. Hilbre, Wirral
The thrill of crossing the vast sands of Liverpool Bay is only heightened by knowing the tide is creeping invisibly towards you. The first of the three islets of this mini-archipelago, Little Eye, feels like a miniature Robinson Crusoe island topped by ferns and wildflowers. Cross Middle Eye to reach Hilbre with its sculpted, deep red sandstone cliffs, bird observatory and the ruins of an old lifeboat station. Find a large cave, stacks, wave-cut platforms and small beaches around its foreshore.
5. Ynys Giftan, North Wales
Float on your back in one of the deliciously warm pools that grace this round-island route. Absorb the views of the mountains of Snowdonia and the fairy tale turrets of Portmeirion. Let the birdsong from the tangle of trees and bushes of this uninhabited island soothe you. The crossing of wild saltmarsh teeming with wildflowers, seasonal wildfowl, egrets and herons and the shimmering tidal sands only heightens its sense of place. This is one for chilling out.
6. Cei Ballast
One of Britain’s newest islands sits secretly below Porthmadog. Built of rocks from across the globe that were used as ballast to adjust the trim of ships returning to port after delivering the prized Ffestiniog slate this manmade island is easily reached via a short tidal crossing. The pools at the island’s southern tip are perfect for a swim, with steam trains hooting in the distance as they carry their passengers on a nostalgic trip into the heart of Snowdonia.
7. Ynys Lochtyn, West Wales
A rocky adventure to see Europe’s largest pod of bottlenose dolphins. Step off the Ceridigion Coast Path and scramble down the colourful and vertiginous cliffs on a climbers path to the rocks below. The route then continues through a sea cave, onto a large ledge, then up a grassy path onto the island itself. From this vantage point you can enjoy views of the whole sweep of Cardigan Bay and the special marine creatures that live within it.
8. Vallay, Outer Hebrides
Rounding the western tip nothing can quite prepare you for the staggering beauty of the north coast and the breath-taking views to the St Kilda archipelago – the remotest part of Britain, sixty or so kilometres away. The route starts with an epic 2 km crossing of tidal Vallay Strand to reach paths through the flower-studded machair and the dramatic undulations of the dunes that back incredible white beaches. Great for a spectacular night under the stars.
9. Eileen Shona, West Coast Scotland
Fairytale forests, an enchanting valley, and secret coves await once you have negotiated a short tidal crossing and discovered the ancient, hidden path to this magical island. The route is an islandeering dream with plenty of stops for secluded swims, foraging for giant mussels and clams and discovering the ancient woods around the main house. You can do this in a day but its charming holiday cottages are a haven – no wonder the author of Peter Pan chose it for his summer retreat.
A pristine and wild island of immense raw natural beauty that can only be reached by kayak or your own boat, this is one for the adventurous. It’s a completely free-range walk across stunning, talcum-powder white beaches and past a magnificent rock arch, mysterious ruins and far reaching views of the blue mountains of Harris. Abounding with legends, it was also the location for BBC’s Castaway 2000 and one of Ben Fogle’s favourite islands.
Lisa Drewe is author of Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99) and founder of Islandeering.com