An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Inspiration for an outdoors 2020 with some of the best events on the islands of the British Isles. Explore dark skies, festive swims, fire festivals, low tide events and adventure camping. Here’s some of our favourites for each month.

January

Shetland Fire Festivals, Tuesday 28th January 2020

The only time that Shetland is the noisiest place in the world.  Many of the Shetland islands have their own unique fire festivals but the largest is the Viking-themed Up Helly Aa which takes place in Lerwick. The day involves a series of marches and visitations but the best is kept for the evening. At 18:50 the men, known as Guizers (as they are in disguise), gather to receive their torches. At 19:30 a rocket fired into the sky is the signal for them to light their torches and begin the procession. It’s a superb spectacle with almost a thousand men marching, led by a large squad of Vikings, the Jarl Squad, pulling a Viking Galley. When the Galley reaches the burning site, the torchbearers form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song and the torches are hurled into the galley to set it alight. The flames quite literally light the night sky. More details here

Romantic pilgrimage to Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey to celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day on 25th January, 2020

St Dwynwen’s is the Welsh patron Saint of lovers and the 25th January is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day where cards and love-spoons are exchanged. Make a romantic pilgrimage to the ruins of St Dwynwen’s Church on this wonderful island with a loved one and enjoy wild sands, the rolling waves and a tranquil walk through magical Newborough Forest on the way. More details of the walk here

February

Hebridean Dark Skies Festival, Isle of Lewis, 7th-22nd February 2020

A new festival that includes theatre, live music, film, visual art, food, astronomy talks, and stargazing. The Isle of Lewis has some of the darkest skies in the UK and many astronomical delights can be seen through the naked eye including the Milky Way and the Great Andromeda galaxy. Lewis is also one of the best places in the UK to see the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis. More details on the event here. Or check out how much more outdoor fun there is on Lewis here.

March

Coll and the Cosmos, Isle of Coll, 28th-29th March, 2020

A stargazing weekend break on the Isle of Coll which makes the most of the island’s dark skies. It is a collaboration between Coll Bunkhouse and Cosmos Planetarium and uses state of the art technology to deliver an amazing stargazing learning experience in a fantastic location. No prior knowledge of astronomy is needed and all equipment is provided. More details here

April

Adventure Camping Brownsea Island from 1st April – 30th September, 2020

The National Trust says ‘Experience the peace and tranquillity of Brownsea Island on a campsite steeped in history, surrounded by sheltered woodlands, sea views and rare wildlife. For the seasoned camper this is a low impact, back to basics opportunity to spend time soaking up the natural sights and sounds of Brownsea. You can stay on the island by yourself or gather friends and family together for a real group adventure. The island is your home for the night, and with several protected wildlife habitats on your doorstep and dramatic harbour views, there’s plenty to explore and enjoy when all other visitors have gone home’. Bring your own camping kit, hire it on the island, or hire a pre-pitched tree tent (sleeps 3) or single hammock. There are toilet and hot shower facilities as well as sheltered cooking stations. More details here. Or check out more on Brownsea Island here

May

World Pilot Gig Championships (1st – 3rd May, 2020) and low-tide event (8th May, 2020), Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly is hosting the World Pilot Gig Championships when crews compete for the title of World Champions. A colourful, energetic and very friendly event where you’ll have a lot of fun joining the crews and their supporters in their celebrations around the traditional bars of Scilly. More details here. Stay on a few more days and you can experience the surreal low-tide event where you can walk on the seabed between Tresco and Bryer stopping for a glass of bubbles half-way. More details on the event here. Or check out more outdoor adventures on the Isles of Scilly here

June

Hayling Island Kitesurfing Armada Festival, 19th-21st June, 2020

Voted the best UK Kitesurfing event for the last three years this is a colourful and lively weekend of kitesurfing, live music, entertainment, family activities, fundraising, camping and more. Everyone is welcome! Photo credit to Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay. More details of the event here

July

North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival, 27th July – 7th August 2020

Volunteer to restore the last example of community farming in the UK. North Ronaldsay is famous for its seaweed eating sheep and the wall that keeps them on the beach. Winter storms batter the wall and the islanders need help keeping it maintained. They have put together an annual festival of wall building and an eclectic mix of traditional music, dancing, talks, visitors v islanders football matches and various traditional craft workshops. This is one of my favourites festivals – and all for a good cause. More details here. Or check out how to walk the whole island on a superb coastal route here

August

Alderney Week, 1st – 9th August, 2020

One of the biggest and infamous annual carnivals in Britain with over 100 events taking place in the main town and beaches and plenty to keep all ages busy. Past events have included a mix of the following – a ‘Quarry party’, ‘Man powered flights’, beach Olympics, live music, ‘Daft Raft Race’, ‘Iron Man/Lady’ competition, triathlon, beach volleyball, geo caching, films, ‘bunker party’, Mr Alderney parade, water fights, dawn breakfast, torchlit procession and fireworks. Can you find something that would amuse you? More details here. Or check out the fabulous coastal path around the whole island here.

September

World Stone Skimming Championships, Easedale Island, nr Oban, Argyll, Scotland. Date TBC

Are you a world champion stone skimmer waiting to be discovered? Can you skim an Easedale stone more than two times and achieve the longest distance before it sinks? Sounds easy and the best way of easing yourself into it is the ‘Pre-skim Party’ the night before at the island Community Hall. The World Stone Skimming Cup is presented to the over-all winner; The Puffer Trophy to the winning team; ‘The Bertie‘, named after the event’s founder, is presented to the Easdale Islander who skims the furthest; and ‘The Old Tosser Walking Sticks‘, are awarded to the male and female contestants over 60 with the longest skims. More details here

October

Surfers Against Sewerage Autumn Beach Clean, any beach between 17-25th October, 2020

Join thousands of others and clean your local or favourite beach to free it from plastic waste. Photo credit to Jasmin Sessler from Pixabay. More details of the events here

November

Northern Lights at Holy Island, Northumberland

Northumberland is one of the best places in England to see the Aurora and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) make an ideal spot to head out across the causeway or onto the vast beach to experience it. Here the Milky Way can be seen overhead and you might even be lucky enough to spot Meteor showers. The Lindisfarne Priory makes for a spectacular backdrop for the photographer too. Before you go check out the Aurora Forecast  or set up an automated Aurora watch alert; also check the weather forecast for a cloud free evening and make sure that you are not heading out on a full moon as it will dull the effect of the Aurora. Check out the superb round-island coastal route and an epic tidal crossing here

December

Take a Festive swim on Christmas Day or Boxing Day 2020

Before or after a Festive feast purge yourself with a plunge on one of the many Christmas Day and Boxing Day swims. Our favourite island festive swims are the Isle of Wight, Mersea islandJersey and Guernsey. There is more to do throughout the year too – check out Jersey and Guernsey here, and the fantastic coast path route around Mersea island here

Watch out for our next blogs on the best islands to visit for astonishing wildlife in 2020 and the top island challenge events in 2020.

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