Where better to escape political disappointment than a tiny island? Each is a nation unto itself ready to be declared an independent democratic republic (with yourself as benign dictator-for-life, naturally). Flat Holm, a 24-hectare isle four miles into the Bristol Channel, has been home to hermits, farmers, military garrisons and a cholera hospital. Nowadays, it offers some of Britain’s most isolated accommodation: a hostel, a campsite and a cosy Grade II-listed former lighthouse keeper’s cottage. This last would make a perfect presidential palace from whose garden you could issue statutes banning fake news and charlatans, and welcoming all immigrants (well, except a certain blond one, perhaps). •Cottage £100 a night, sleeps 4, £150 for 6. Hostel adult £19, child £16. Camping adult £8, child £7, cardiffharbour.com. Boat from Cardiff Bay adult £32, child £20, bayislandvoyages.co.uk; landing fee adult £5, child £2.50 Dixe Wills
Uig, Isle of Lewis and Harris, Hebrides
On an island that’s essentially one huge, bleakly beautiful moorland, the region of Uig is in a league of its own, more Patagonia than Britain. It is an elemental hotchpotch of cliffs, geos, tiny townships and a mountainous skyline. Follow the B8011 to remote road’s end at the deserted village of Mealasta. Along the way hike across the vast Uig sands, where the tide retreats almost a mile and it feels as though you walk towards the sea for ever.
Around the township of Mangersta the cliffs are serrated and brutal; near Loch Ròg Beag plod through the peat-squelch to beehive shielings (summer dwellings), which resemble stone igloos, once home to Celtic monks seeking solitude. Drop into Loch Croistean, a restaurant run by the indefatigable one-woman band that is Marianne Campbell. Warm up on elderflower and lemon drizzle cake and spiced Moroccan chicken. The Bridge House B&B (rooms from £75 B&B) Brèinis has panoramic views and is great for wildlife-spotting. Mark Rowe, author of Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles from Lewis to Barra, bradtguides.com
Easdale island, off Oban, Argyll and Bute
Easdale is the smallest permanently inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides, 16 miles from Oban. Despite its remote location, it’s easy to access at short notice: either by tiny ferry or by swimming (though that’s not recommended in mid-winter). It was swimming that drew me there last summer. The island had seven slate quarries dating from the middle of the 17th century until the last slate was cut in the 1950s. These filled with rain water over time to create incredible, deep, turquoise lagoons with steep, dark-slate sides. Many locals learned to swim here and the pools are still used by intrepid wild swimmers who visit the island, and even swim from the mainland to get there.
When I visited in June there was a storm gathering, rain lashed my face and the wind was fierce. I arrived at the car park after a long, bumpy single-track car journey from Oban and rang the bell to call the ferry. A five-minute crossing in a little boat takes you to the island which has a wonderful, thriving community with a welcoming, award-winning cafe and folk museum.
I wandered around the various lagoons and settled on one to swim in that seemed the most sheltered – and easy to access. I was with locals who knew the site well so was in safe hands. Despite the grey sky, the water was an incredible Caribbean blue, but breathtakingly cold. With this area being visited by basking sharks, minke whales, seals and dolphins, as well as sea eagles, buzzards, golden eagles and kestrels it is an inspiring place for wildlife-spotting wildlife. While there, I saw an edible seaweed tour taking place on the shore at Ellenabeich back on the mainland, with delicious smells wafting over from the beach. It felt like a simpler way of life with a real connection with the landscape. Anna Deacon, co-author of Taking the Plunge: the Healing Power of Wild Swimming (Black & White, £20)
Prussia Cove, west Cornwall
Writing novels is an antisocial business, so I’m always on the look out for remote, inaccessible hideaways. And while in summer the Cornish roads snarl to standstill and the chocolate-box villages and clifftop paths fill with second-home owners, during the long winter it’s easier to find a secluded spot to write or, equally, to avoid post-election ghastliness. My current favourite – and the place I’ll be editing my next novel – is a tiny house in Prussia Cove.
With no connecting road and sitting close to the edge of the cliffs in the idyllic Porth-en-Alls estate, the Look Out is a former wartime coastal observation station, where the only likely disturbance you’re likely to get is the wind, which howls banshee-like around the tiny, exposed house at all times of day and night. A small windmill and solar set-up provides just enough electricity to charge a phone and a laptop and when the wind lets up there’s an alfresco bath with views over Mounts Bay, plus you have your choice of sheltered coves and bays, so your winter dips are likely to be undisturbed too. •The Look Outsleeps 4, from £132 a week, prussiacove.co.uk Wyl Menmuir, author, The Many, ( Salt, £8.99)
Northey Island, Essex
In the distance are the brown-sailed barges on Maldon’s waterfront. The mudflats nearby are full of wildlife: oystercatchers foraging among sea lavender and samphire, avocets, redshanks and overwintering geese. England’s oldest recorded battlefield is now peaceful green fields and wild salt marshes, recently reclaimed by the sea.
Cut off at high tide, Northey’s low-lying hayfields lie opposite the (probable) site of the Battle of Maldon; in AD991, marauding Vikings landed on the island and challenged the waiting Saxon armies on the far side of the river. Like the Vikings, visitors still have to wait for the tide to recede before crossing the seaweed-slippery causeway. Northey is less than a mile from Maldon along the edge of the Blackwater estuary but feels remote. Walking the rough, uneven path around the island’s old sea wall, there are wide views and endless skies. There’s no cafe or hotel on the island. •Phone the National Trust’s warden in advance on 01621 853142 to visit (non-members should pay £2 at Northey House on the island), nationaltrust.org.uk Phoebe Taplin
Bardsey Island/Ynys Enlli, Llŷn peninsula, Gwynedd
Ynys Enlli is separated from mainland Wales by violent tide races. The high ridge on its eastern edge, which prevents the islands’ few tiny cottages seeing land, makes Enlli feel like it has its back to the world. A haven from human interference for countless rare species, the island also has a wealth of historical sites. It’s even said to be a graveyard to 20,000 pilgrim saints. But these are far from the only reasons to love the island. Today, Enlli is welcoming to those who brave the fierce crossing; its handful of occupants make this a productive place despite constraints of ocean and rough weather. The poet Christine Evans has lived here since 1964 and her precise, evocative work is about birth and growth in an “amniotic sea”, it shows the power of a weather-beaten place to produce clear vision on a world engulfed in very different kinds of hostile tides.
There’s a tiny boat (run by Colin, the poet’s son) that departs from Porth Meudwy, near Aberdaron, and it runs regularly through the summer, but people can book places on the boats taking provisions in the winter (as long as they check Colin is doing it in advance). •bardsey.org David Gange, author and lecturer
Holkham Bay, north Norfolk
When I need to refresh, recharge and reset, I often head for the cleansing open spaces of Holkham Bay on the north Norfolk coast. This vast wind-scoured arena of tide, sky and sand is framed by a wood of neat dark pines. Holkham is glorious but it is also well-peopled by Hunter-wellied, SUV-driving, pedigree dog-walking folk brimming with the joys of a new Thatcherite spring.
When I really need to escape, and encounter a span of time that makes five years, Brexit and even the entire edifice of late capitalism seem a ludicrous, hysterical flash in the pan, I head inland to Warham Camp.
This iron age fort opens a door to a different time, and another Anglia. Its great chalky earth banks – covered in wildflowers in summer – thrum with intensity, old lives, other eras. In winter, at dusk, barn owls quarter the water meadows beyond and a buzzard drops behind the hedge. I breathe in these other lives and this special place which, empty of today, hints powerfully of a very different tomorrow. The Three Horseshoes in Warham, North Norfolk has double rooms £90-£150. Nearby Wells-next-the-Sea has pubs with rooms, and numerous self-catering cottages listed on Airbnb and Glaven Valley. Patrick Barkham
Elan Valley, Powys
Unlike the jagged sharp edged peaks of Snowdonia in the north of the country and the mountain bike-friendly escarpments of the Brecon Beacons in the south, the middle of Wales often gets neglected – but that makes it a true escape. Just a couple of hours drive from Birmingham or Cardiff, the Elan Valley is 120 sq km of high moorland that seems to glisten purple in late July as the heather blooms, and shine green and auburn in the autumnal and winter months.
Hidden away between its hilly folds is a bothy called Lluest Cwmbach (free to stay in – but do consider joining the volunteer-run Mountain Bothies Association). There, phone reception is non-existent so the sound of texts and notifications about the latest news is instead replaced by the tweet of birds – during the day the sky is filled with them, including some of the UK’s rarest species and, come night-time, this enclave is a Dark Sky Park, so home to some of the best star gazing in the country. Phoebe Smith
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