Twenty years ago the first reality TV show captivated Britain. Millions followed from their sofas as a group of castaways, who had chosen to spend a year on the remote island of Taransay (off Harris in the Outer Hebrides), battled hardships, broken bones, romance and power play. It made one of the contestants, Ben Fogle, then an unknown adventurer, into a famous TV presenter. He described it as ‘life-changing’.
There’s little doubt that island living can be life-changing, as it provides a different perspective on life. By existing on a smaller scale you can get to know every inch of an island and really get to know and invest in the wildlife and surroundings as well as the limited number of people. Cut off from others or perhaps from certain luxuries only available on the mainland, people who live on small islands speak of building resilience, resourcefulness and self-reliance, which, in turn, brings a sense of power in one’s own capabilities.
This can be seen in the extreme in Palmerston, a tiny island in the Pacific, which has possibly the most isolated community in the world. 500 miles from its closest neighbour, the Cook Islands capital, Rarotonga, it has no airport, and sees a supply ship only twice a year. Its total population is not even fifty, mostly comprising three families descended from an Englishman’s marriage to the chief’s daughter years ago. Palmerston has no shop, just two toilets, and rainwater is collected for drinking water. Money is only used to buy supplies from the outside world - not from each other. Despite, or perhaps because of this intense way of life, the islanders pride themselves on their kindness, generosity, complete lack of crime and zen-like approach to life’s problems.
‘This is a place where the traditional advice for cyclones is to lash yourself to a coconut tree on Refuge Hill, the island’s high point at just under 20 feet.’
Many famous people have favoured islands as an escape from their daily life. Charles Dickens reputedly frequented Eel Pie island in London; William Shakespeare favoured Inchcolm, weaving it into his famous work, Macbeth, and Ben Fogle returned to his favourite, Taransay, for his honeymoon.
At a time when privacy, space and the great outdoors might well be becoming the new buzz words when it comes to ‘getting away’, an island is the perfect fit, not to mention a ‘safe’ way to have a holiday. The best news is that you don’t have to turn Robinson Crusoe to experience island living for yourself. Even better still, you don’t need to head for the tropics or have your own private yacht to get there. Believe it or not, there are 6,289 islands around the British Isles, many of which are open to overnight guests.
Here are three that are easily accessible from the mainland.
Rabbit Island – Ireland
Set in Lough Corrib in the west of Ireland, surrounded by twenty-six acres of land your only company will be a small flock of sheep. There’s a charming and luxurious lodge, originally built by Lord Headley in 1907, but now renovated to provide accommodation for seven. French windows overlook the lakeshore, panelled wood throughout completes the feel of a rustic lodge. Spend the days wild swimming and exploring in the boat provided and the evenings around camp fires or dinner at a castle nearby! For keen fishermen, a full professional ghillie service is available and catering can also be arranged if all you want to do is fish and relax.
Isle of Scalpay – Scotland
This gem sits just off the Isle of Skye, with three secluded cottages set amongst the wilds, all with mountain views. Situated in the stretch of water between the Isle of Skye and the Applecross Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland the island boasts magnificent views over to Skye, Raasay and the mainland. With some 200 acres of mixed and coniferous woodland, a multitude of freshwater lochs and burns, open hills rising from the sea to 1198 ft and more than 14 miles of shoreline, this might well be the place for long walks, lots of contemplation and a place to finish writing that novel!
Spitbank Fort - England
Lying in the south of England, this is the smallest of three man-made island fortresses in the Solent. Packed with historical charm and intrigue, the dramatic architecture reflects its exciting history, as a line of defence against enemy attacks during various wars. Now it is equipped with a firepit, sauna and hot tub on the roof. With nine decadent suites, this is a place for a feast or a celebration, with no neighbours to worry about the noise. Featuring a lighthouse and a wine cave as well this is island life at its most rarified, with only passing yachts in your sight line.