From seabed explorations to ancient pilgrims’ paths – an offshore walking trip offers an elemental escape, far removed from daily life.
Words Alex Reece
FOR… AN ISLAND-HOPPING TOUR
Isles of Scilly
For a longer offshore stay, a guided island-hopping tour of the Scilly Isles is offered by HF Holidays. Based on the largest island, St Mary’s, walkers can take the ferry to various destinations in the archipelago, covering 4-10 miles each day at a relaxed pace. It’s an opportunity to slow down and uncover each island’s particular charm – from white beaches on St Martin’s and the subtropical Abbey Gardens on Tresco to the Bronze-Age cairns and standing stones on Gugh. The week-long tour concludes with a visit to windswept Bryher where fewer than 100 people live. From £999pp, includes six nights’ half-board accommodation (020 39748865, hfholidays.co.uk).
FOR… A MODERN-DAY PILGRIMAGE
The Pilgrim’s Way to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland dates back to 635 and the arrival of St Aidan, who established his church here. Following this tidal route in the wake of saints and early Christians is a unique experience – and one best done with a knowledgeable guide. ‘You must obey the safe crossing times,’ says Footsteps’ Patrick Norris, who regularly leads an eight-mile Pilgrim’s Way walk to Lindisfarne, allowing time for coffee and cake on the island. ‘In the summer months, hundreds of grey seals haul out on the sand bars when the tide is out,’ he adds. ‘Their eerie singing echoes across Lindisfarne Bay.’ Adult, £17.50 (07847 506399, footstepsnorthumberland.co.uk).
FOR… STROLLING ON THE SEABED
Jersey, Channel Islands
‘The beauty of Jersey is that we have the largest rocky intertidal zone in Europe,’ says Trudie Hairon-Trox of Jersey Walk Adventures, a company that specialises in guided rambles along the exposed seabed. Often termed as ‘moon walks’, owing to the lunar quality of the marine landscape, one popular three-hour route leads to Seymour Tower, a coastal defence building dating from the 18th century, located a mile offshore. Along the way, your guide will highlight the abundant sealife revealed by the receding tide: colourful seaweed, sponges, starfish and sea squirts can usually be seen in the gullies and rockpools, providing an educational and sensory day out for all ages. Adult £17.50; child £9 (07797 853033, jerseywalkadventures.co.uk).
FOR… A WILDERNESS SAFARI
Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides
The Trotternish Ridge on the Isle of Skye is a spectacularly rugged hillside, punctuated by the famous pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr (pictured), where eagles often circle overhead. Skye Wilderness Safaris’ six-hour Backdoor Storr walk avoids the crowds by approaching the ridge from its lesser-known western side, looking out over Loch Snizort and across to Dunvegan. ‘Once up on the ridge you can see out over the Minch to the Outer Hebrides,’ says Skye Wilderness Safaris’ Harry Martin. ‘Looking eastwards gives you views across to the mainland, over the Sound of Raasay, and south towards the rest of Skye, Portree and the Cuillin – it’s pretty panoramic!’ From £95pp (01470 542229, skye-wilderness-safaris.com).
FOR… A BIRD-SPOTTING TOUR
Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire
The soaring sea cliffs of Ramsey Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire are a sanctuary for seabirds, such as Manx shearwaters, along with peregrines and choughs. During May and June, members of the resident RSPB volunteer warden team lead walks around this remote outcrop, when the breeding season is at its height. It’s a chance to learn more about Ramsey’s wildlife and history, and to look out from the footpaths for other bird species. Wheatears and little owls forage in the maritime grass, which is grazed by the island’s Welsh mountain sheep. Boats depart for Ramsey from St Justinian’s. Adult £23; child £11, RSPB members: adult £17; child £8 (07836 535733, rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events).
FOR… A WILDLIFE ENCOUNTER
Brownsea Island, Dorset
The birthplace of the Scouting movement, Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour is a haven for red squirrels and internationally important wading and seabirds. From spring to autumn, the National Trust runs Early Bird Wildlife Walks around the island, which take place before the day-trippers arrive, allowing you to get closer to nature. After setting off from Sandbanks by boat at 7.30am, the springtime tours will focus on the birdsong that fills the air. In summer and autumn, Trust guides will lead an exploration of the island’s lagoon and its rich birdlife. Each foray concludes with a breakfast roll and a cup of tea. Adult £25; child £12.50 (01202 707744, nationaltrust.org.uk/brownsea-island).
FOR… AN UPLIFTING RAMBLE
Douglas, Isle of Man
A week-long walking trip on the Isle of Man gives an insight into its intriguing heritage, as the route weaves past stone circles, Celtic crosses and Norse landmarks. Centred on Douglas, this Ramblers Walking Holiday also features a hike to the to the top of Snaefell – the island’s highest peak – from which the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, Snowdonia and the Cumbrian Fells can be seen. As well as gorse-strewn moorland and dramatic cliff-tops, you’ll come across curiosities such as horse-drawn trams and four-horned Manx Loaghtan sheep, introduced by the Vikings. From £1,049pp, includes seven nights’ half-board accommodation and local transport (01707 818339, ramblersholidays.co.uk).
FOR… A SERENE SETTING
Rathlin Island, North Antrim
Rathlin – the only inhabited island in Northern Ireland – has a rich and fascinating history dating back 8,000 years. Among the many historic landmarks are an Iron-Age fort and a Viking cemetery, and legend has it Robert the Bruce took refuge in a cave on Rathlin, where he watched a spider spin its web over and over again. Currently home to 150 people, the island’s compact size lends itself well to a day’s walking – and the rocky landscape is further enlivened by puffins from early May (look out for seabird chicks hatching on the cliffs ledges from the RSPB Visitor Centre). ‘It’s a beautiful place,’ says Seamus Milliken of Milliken Tours, a family company that leads full-day walks around Rathlin, departing by ferry from Ballycastle. From £45pp (028 28583355, 07900 621943, millikentoursireland.com).
FOR… FINDING FOSSILS
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is renowned for its fossils, and on a guided tour led by the Dinosaur Isle Museum, you can learn more about the 36 dinosaur species that once roamed here. The walks, led by a qualified geologist or palaeontologist, are held at several locations, including Shanklin, Yaverland, Brook Bay and Compton Bay. At Yaverland, Mantellisaurus remains are commonly found, while at Compton Bay there are dinosaur footprints visible in the rocks. The distance covered is usually around 1.5 miles, and both Yaverland and Shanklin are easy access (beach wheelchairs are available). Adults £5; children (3-15) £4; family (2+2) £16.50; family (2+3) £19.50; concessions £4. Booking is essential (01983 404344, dinosaurisle.com).