Many people think of Britain as synonymous with England. While London is the capital of Britain, Britain is actually made up of four different countries that share the same group of islands: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It’s also known as the United Kingdom or the U.K. While there are two main islands, there are also hundreds of smaller islands scattered around that are also a part of or ruled by Great Britain (in addition to overseas territories). Here are six that you’ve never heard of.
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is one of the larger islands found in the sea between Great Britain and Ireland. It has a long and complicated history, being ruled by just about every civilization that has inhabited the U.K. The first rulers were the Celts, but they were ousted by the Vikings around 1079. Much of the culture found on present-day Isle of Man is reminiscent of the Vikings. After being passed to the Scottish in 1266, the English took control of the island and has held onto it ever since.
Today, Isle of Man is a crown dependency. It has an independent government with the ability to pass its own laws but relies on Britain for defense and diplomatic representation. Although the inhabitants of the island are British citizens, the island isn’t officially a part of the United Kingdom.
The island is only 30 miles long by 10 miles wide. In the center is a 2,036-foot high mountain called Snaefell. There are hardly any trees on the island, as most of the land is covered in grass. The climate is temperate with summers averaging 58 degrees Fahrenheit and winters reaching 41 degrees. A smaller island just off the southern edge of the main island, called Calf of Man, acts as a bird sanctuary.
Guernsey is another crown dependency like Isle of Man. The inhabitants are British citizens, but the island is not technically a part of the U.K. Guernsey, also called the Bailiwick of Guernsey, is located south of the main island of Great Britain, right off the coast of France.
During World War II, Guernsey was the only British land occupied by the Germans. Hitler was so concerned that the British would attempt to reclaim them that he built a series of defensive structures all over the island. After D-Day, the German troops who remained on the islands were cut off from supplies and eventually forced to surrender their position.
Today, Guernsey, and especially the smaller surrounding islands, are popular tourist destinations for their natural beauty. History buffs enjoy the islands because of the remnants of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and the rich WWII legacy.
The Hebrides are a group of more than 40 islands off the coast of Scotland. The ones closer to Scotland are called the Inner Hebrides while the ones farther away are called the Outer Hebrides. Their terrain is hilly and sometimes mountainous. The Cullin Hills is one of the steepest and most spectacular mountain ranges in Britain. Some of the peaks can reach over 3,000 feet.
In addition to the natural beauty, the Hebrides also boast a wide biodiversity. Red deer, ponies, wild goats, and Highland cattle call the islands home. One of the islands, called Rhum, was turned into a Nature Conservatory Research Center to study all the plants and animals that inhabit the islands. The Hebrides are a popular destination for nature lovers.
If you head southeast off the Guernsey coast, you’ll run into another small island, named Jersey. The island is mostly one large plateau surrounded by picturesque cliffs. Temperatures on the island average in the low 50s all year long.
Unlike the crown dependencies, Jersey is officially governed by the British monarch. Because of Jersey’s proximity to France, the inhabitants speak both English and French. The island is now a tourist destination for people looking to get away from it all.
Sark is a tiny island off the eastern coast of Guernsey. It’s 80 miles south of Britain and 24 miles west of France. Technically, it’s the smallest and last independent feudal state in Europe.
The small island has had a rough history of sieges and raids, sometimes by Vikings, sometimes by the French. At one point in time, the population was down to just 400 people. To help reinforce the island, the Queen of England at the time, Queen Elizabeth I, appointed a feudal fief to look over the island and protect it from invaders. The fief had complete control of the government but was still loyal to the Queen, a setup that remains in effect today.
Because of its small size, Sark has no airports, cars, or paved roads. All transportation is by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. There are some people who visit the island to relax and enjoy the slower pace of life.
Alderney is one of the smaller Channel Islands; it's only three miles long and one mile wide. It’s the northernmost Channel Island and sits directly off the French coast.
Alderney is a popular destination for its many restaurants and local shops. Because of the loose liquor laws, there are plenty of bars scattered about for tourists and locals to enjoy. There aren’t any commercial fast food restaurants or attractions, so this island is for people who want to slow down and escape the fast pace of modern life.