ES­CAP­ING COL­UMN Ex­plor­ing mag­i­cal is­lands near and far.

Big or small, is­lands are full of charm and each one has its own mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences to o er

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Sian Lewis / Illustration: Bene­dict Blyth

For the Neverland is al­ways more or less an is­land, with as­ton­ish­ing splashes of colour here and there,” wrote JM Barrie in Peter Pan. What is it about ex­plor­ing an is­land that feels so mag­i­cal, so spe­cial? For me, it’s the plea­sure of life sim­pli ed – on smaller patches of land you’ll of­ten nd just one road, one post o ce, one pub. It’s also the joy of easy nav­i­ga­tion; know­ing ex­actly where I am, be­ing able to walk or cy­cle from shore to shore in an hour or two, truly un­der­stand­ing a neat and de ned land­scape. And there’s the charm of is­land com­mu­ni­ties; friendly, slow-paced, sup­plies shipped from a far-o main­land, sto­ries and leg­ends that de ne them.

I’ve col­lected is­lands on my trav­els like charms on a bracelet, and they range in size. The big­gest is Cuba. More a heady im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence than a des­ti­na­tion, this bizarre and beau­ti­ful Caribbean land mass still feels caught in a post-colo­nial and post-com­mu­nist fog. Wan­der­ing in Havana is like jump­ing into the pages of a book by Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez – beau­ti­ful old build­ings crum­ble in shady squares where old men play chess, peek­ing through door­ways re­veals cou­ples danc­ing pas­sion­ate tan­gos in court­yards, clas­sic Cadil­lacs with paint jobs so shiny you can see your face in them tour the roads. Cuba is proudly and de antly noth­ing but it­self.

My favourite short-haul is­lands are in Greece and Swe­den. Chios in the Aegean is not your stereo­typ­i­cal white and blue Greek is­land – it’s all warm colours, with an­cient aban­doned vil­lages tum­bling down the cli s, groves of leafy mas­tica bushes that pro­duce a liquoriceesque gum you can chew, in­cred­i­ble cave-like houses un­der the shade of le­mon and clemen­tine trees. The ocean here is a sparkling deep blue, where at night, if you’re lucky, you might see bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cence, like bright stars lap­ping on the beach. A com­pletely di er­ent ex­pe­ri­ence is found in Scan­di­na­vian ar­chi­pel­a­gos – from Stock­holm you can catch a boat to some 30,000 is­lands. The nicest, in my opin­ion, is tiny Grinda; a per­fect lit­tle place with small jet­ties reach­ing out over the sea, red gin­ger­bread-like houses, sun dap­pled wood­lands to wan­der in and one very friendly cat, named Bjorn.

But the best place to col­lect quirky is­lands? Bri­tain. Start your is­land col­lect­ing trip in the very north and catch a ferry across to one of the smaller of the emer­ald green He­bridean is­lands. I love friendly Colon­say, home to Bri­tain’s small­est brew­ery, and Sta a, whose an­cient vol­canic col­umns in­spired vis­i­tors as il­lus­tri­ous as Queen Vic­to­ria and Wil­liam Wordsworth be­fore me. The most charm­ing is tiny, un­in­hab­ited Lunga – the only res­i­dents on this patch of land, nick­named ‘a green jewel in a pea­cock sea’, are a colony of pu ns, who ar­rive in spring to lay their eggs on its cli edges.

And the loveli­est is­lands of all, the ones I could go back to for­ever, are right down the other end of Bri­tain, 28 miles o the Cor­nish coast. You can’t help but fall in love with the Isles of Scilly, a par­adise of white sand beaches and sub-trop­i­cal plants that you’d be hard-pressed to be­lieve is in Eng­land. The largest, St Mary’s, has roads, pubs and a thriv­ing com­mu­nity. The rest are car-free, and each is di er­ent – tiny Tresco has a glo­ri­ous Abbey gar­den, St Martin’s beach­side camp­site is the pret­ti­est in Bri­tain, o the coast of the Eastern Isles you’ll nd a colony of friendly seals to snorkel with. You can catch the ferry to the Scil­lies, but I like to y over from Land’s End air­port in their small Twin Ot­ter plane – as you ap­proach the ar­chi­pel­ago, it spreads out be­fore you like a trea­sure map. It looks ex­actly as I imag­ine Neverland to be, with as­ton­ish­ing splashes of colour here and there.

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