Mini escapes from the mainland
here’s something rather appealing about England’s islands. Being just a sidestep away from the mainland means that over the years these little communities have developed their own local quirks and traditions.
On the Isles of Scilly for example, one continuing legacy is pilot gig racing, where rowing boats and their six-man crews race between the main islands on May Day.The sport grew up after the islands’ lifeboats became competitive at helping vessels through their hazardous waters in the 17th century. There are, of course, other ways to travel between these great British Isles: in fact, at low tide you can walk between Tresco and Bryher ,and the warm shallow waters allow for easy swimming. The climate’s pretty good here; too (most of the time) allowing local farmers to grow bright daffodils and other blooms well ahead of the mainland – and even attracting migrating birds.
Aside from being beautiful, though, in days gone by England’s islands were often our first line of defence against invading armies. Nowhere is this more apparent than on St Michael’s Mount . This tidal island is crowned with a majestic medieval castle, filled with armour and canons. Of course, things are much more peaceful nowadays – especially when you’re strolling round the exotic plants that grow in the castle’s garden, or jumping on the underground railway down to the beach.
Over the other side of the country in Northumberland, Holy Island has been attracting visitors for thousands of years. As the name suggests, pilgrims came here to see the Benedictine Priory and enjoy its tranquility. Mind you, that all changed in the 16th century when Henry VIII used the monastery stone to build Lindisfarne Castle. It still stands today in the middle of Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve and is surrounded by sand dunes, mud flats and salt marshes. Bit of a change from the warring armies of the past.