HAVING ROUNDED UP MAINLAND UK holidays last season, its time to see what some of our islands have to offer.
Im talking about islands that are far enough from the mainland to require us to stay there or on a liveaboard to get the most from the diving, rather than making day trips. Islands that are not connected to the mainland by bridge. Islands that make you feel as if you are going overseas, even if they do still speak English there, use the pound and dont require a passport.
Some are the sort of places where crime is virtually unknown, and no one locks their doors or even has locks fitted.
Offshore islands usually have their own micro-climates. For family holidays, they usually have beaches all round for sandcastle-building whatever the weather, and local economies oriented towards tourism.
Some are a bit busy and crowded, while others are virtually deserted.
And from a diving point of view, the great thing about an island is that there is always a sheltered side.

THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and a host of lesser rocks and reefs are closer to France than they are to Englands South Coast.
They came to Britain with William the Conqueror, and remain with us as a relic of the Duchy of Normandy.
Car ferries run to Jersey and Guernsey from Weymouth, Poole and Portsmouth. Smaller passenger-only ferries then connect between the islands. You can also fly there from many mainland airports.
Diving conditions are dominated by enormous tides. There are few sites, from shore or boat, that do not require slack water, unless the plan is to drift.
A tidal range of over 10m means that rocks at the bottom of the beach can become respectable offshore dives when the tide comes in, and that a dive suitable for open-water divers at low tide requires a deep speciality at high water.
Wrecks range from archaeological sites to modern, with a good collection of German supply ships and their escorts from the occupation in World War Two.
The minesweeper M343 was sunk in 30m between Jersey and St Malo. While partly broken, much of the wreck remains, including torpedo tubes and the main gun. A more intact sibling is the M483, sunk in 51m between Sark and Alderney.
Also between Jersey and St Malo in 26m is the armed trawler Hinrich Hey, again with guns and depth charges, and a hull broken in two where a torpedo hit the engine-room.
Just out of St Peter Port on Guernsey, the armed trawler Rudolf Wahrendorff is more intact, having been sunk by air attack, and rests in 33m.
From the supply ships being escorted, we have the Oost Vlaanderen to the south of St Peter Port and the Krowick and Schokland on the approaches to St Helier on Jersey, in similar depths.
Among the more modern wrecks, to the north of Jersey the small motor ship Heron rests intact in 30m.
A more serious prospect is the 6680-ton Captain Niko, sunk in 40m north of Guernsey. The wreck is overturned to starboard, with the stern broken off and the hull collapsing.
With big currents sweeping across, just about any rock or reef on the charts offers a great scenic dive, with colourful anemones, gorgonians and nudibranchs. You dont even have to go far, so there are scenic options whatever the weather, such as Grune de Nord just out of the harbour on Sark, and Forein just outside St Peter Port.
Between dives, youll find a selection of maritime museums and fortifications to walk round, from ancient through to the concrete of Hitlers Atlantic wall.
The German occupation also used slave labour to dig miles of tunnels to provide storage, barracks and hospitals for the occupying forces. Many of those remaining are now museums and
tourist attractions.

SCILLY ISLES
The Isles of Scilly are a continuation of the big scenery of Lands End out below the Atlantic. The granite breaks the surface briefly 16 miles out at the Seven Stones reef, then, 28 miles out, rises far enough above the sea to collect soil and allow grass and trees to grow. These are the Scillies.
The only island with a sizeable population is St Marys, where the ferry and helicopters run from Penzance.
A few other islands have 100 or so inhabitants, and the remainder are unoccupied.
One of the great things about the Scilly Isles is that many wrecks lie against spectacular reefs. Browsing the bookshops in St Marys and pubs throughout the islands will reveal old photographs showing where many ships have struck the rocks before sliding off and sinking. Most of these shots were taken by the famous Gibson family.
In many places, small scraps of wreckage and cargo can still be found on the shoreline and in rock pools, like the famous bead pool on St Agnes.
In 1906 the steamship King Cadwallen ran onto Hard Lewis Rock, then slid down its north face, with the stern in 48m and most of the wreckage lying in 25m.
Three years later, the Plympton drove on to Lethegus Rocks, initially coming to rest almost upright on the rock before rolling down the reef to break up upside-down, bow in 18m and stern in 35m.
In 1917 the Italia ran onto Wingletang Ledges, and now rests along an anemone-filled gully from 15-45m.
In 1920 the Hathor also struck Lethegus, then sank across the Plympton, bow in 48m and stern in 15m.
Most recently, in 1997 the Cita broke across the rocks by Newfoundland Point, with the deepest part off the stern at 40m, and the forward mast at the bow rising to less than 10m.
Much older is HMS Eagle, part of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovells ill-fated fleet, which blundered onto the rocks in 1707.
The fleet also lost Shovells flagship Association, the Romney and the Firebrand. These are all historic wrecks, so you need the licence-holders permission to dive.
The site of the Eagle is a surge-filled gully from 35-15m, containing piles of cannons and a few anchors.
Often you will share the dives with a seal or two. For more seals, you can take a dedicated seal-swimming trip.

ISLE OF MAN
Draw a circle on the map that fills the top end of the Irish Sea and Liverpool Bay, and the Isle of Man is right in the centre of it. Car ferries run from Liverpool, Heysham, Belfast and Dublin, or you can fly from various UK airports.
In many places the coastline consists of steep cliffs, often etched with sea caves, though there is also a good selection of sandy beaches.
The surrounding seabed drops to about 40m, and doesnt go much deeper until well out into the Irish Sea, so wrecks are generally at a comfortable depth for experienced divers.
Having said that, most visiting groups are there for the inshore scenic diving, the seals and, in early summer, for the basking sharks.
The best scenic diving is towards the south of the island, especially round the Calf of Man and in Calf Sound, which separates the Calf of Man from the main island.
Here the broken remains of the steamship Clan MacMaster rest below the rocks at the western entrance, diveable for a short slack water, followed by a drift along the sound that builds to a screaming rate with the tide.
The seabed is like a stunning wall dive, but all laid flat.
Other top scenic spots are beneath the Burroo, a rock to the south of the Calf that looks like a drinking dragon, and by the North Stack, also on the Calf.
At the Sugarloaf Caves to the south of Port St Mary, wave action has widened cracks to leave a system of tall caves and swim-throughs on a grand scale.
After the Clan MacMaster, offshore wrecks in easy reach include the steel-hulled clipper ship Thracian in 33m, the coaster Ringwall in 38m and the steamship Liverpool in 38m.
The most recent wreck is the small scallop-dredger Fenella Ann, close into the Calf in 40m. For those who want to stay shallower, the wreck of the small steamship Citrine averages 15m.
The Isle of Man is famous for its motorcycle racing. Even if you arent there in TT week, there is the classic race, the Southern 100, the Grand Prix and practice weeks for all of these.
For more sedate action, horse-drawn trams provide public transport along the seafront at Douglas.

OUTER HEBRIDES
This chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland includes, from north to south, Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra and numerous smaller rocks and islands.
Lewis and Harris are really just one island, as they are connected by a neck of land. Together, they form the largest island in Scotland.
Several ferry routes operate from the mainland and from Skye, with convenient options on tickets that chain together routes for a grand tour.
The Outer Hebrides have sprawling coastlines of flat reefs and golden sand. Wrecks that struck the rocks are generally shallow, while those that sank further offshore are too deep for any but extreme technical diving.
The most intact is the Stassa, a 1685-ton steamship that sank in 1966 at the top of Loch Rodel on the east side of Harris. Shallow, intact and sheltered, the Stassa is a perfect wreck for everyone.
More famous is the 7939-ton steamship Politician, the wreck from the classic British film Whisky Galore, now dispersed in shallow water in the Sound of Eriskay, south of South Uist.
What remains is largely buried in sand with kelp growing above, but its still one to tick off for the log-book.
Others wrecks to have a look at include the steamship Thala, well broken in 20m to the east of Eriskay; the tug Henrietta Moller, also in the Sound of Eriskay, which sank with the Mulberry harbour unit it was towing; and the steamship Burnside, to the south of Lochmaddy on North Uist.
The intact Burnside still breaks the surface, and can even be picked out on satellite photos.
Forget the wrecks for a while - they are just the side-show.
The real diving gem is the spectacular scenery of St Kilda, a volcanic rim just about reachable as a day trip in a fast boat from the Outer Hebrides, or for a few days by liveaboard.
Or how about exploring some of the lesser-known rocks that stick up on the way there
For a break from the diving, tour a distillery or go on the Monty Halls trail, following the locations of the intrepid ones latest TV show.

ORKNEY
Britains most famous island diving destination, the Orkney islands enclose Scapa Flow, an anchorage of the British fleet through two World Wars and, more importantly from a diving point
of view, the place where the German Grand Fleet of WW1 was interred and subsequently scuttled.
Between the wars, much of the fleet was salvaged for scrap or target practice, but three battleships and four cruisers remain. If this is not enough, there are also scattered areas of debris left from the salvage, a handful of smaller military vessels throughout the islands, merchant ships sunk as blockships in the entrances to Scapa Flow, and other wrecks lost in the normal course of shipping accidents.
In foul weather, while other islands offer a sheltered side, Scapa is already a virtually enclosed, sheltered body of water.
There are also some good scenic dives, no doubt about it, but this is not why anyone goes to the Orkneys.
Ferries run across the Pentland Firth from Scrabster and Gills Bay right at the north of Scotland, or a longer route from Aberdeen that carries on to the Shetlands. You can also fly to Kirkwall, ideally getting your dive kit shipped ahead in the post, because flights of this sort dont observe such niceties as a divers baggage allowance.
Between dives there is plenty of history to see, from Stone Age relics through Viking heritage and the Orkneys role as a key naval base in both world wars.
Particularly good, with lots of background information for divers, are the museums at Lyness and Stromness.

SHETLAND
Served by the same ferry route from Aberdeen, but 50 miles further on from the Orkneys, are the Shetland Islands. Even the tourists visiting Shetland are a hardier breed.
Shetland has a strong Viking heritage, but it doesnt have the diving luxury of Scapa Flow. Naval uses of Shetland have been small and low key, with the Shetland Bus of WW2 sneaking supplies and special operations operatives in and out of Norway. Nowadays, the main business is oil.
Shetlands most famous wreck is the Oceanic, a White Star liner and the Titanics predecessor. She ran aground off Foula while serving as an armed merchant cruiser in WW1.
The wreck is very broken and shallow, due partly to salvors Alec Crawford and the recently deceased Keith Jessop, who started their careers on the wreck.
Also to the west of the Shetland Mainland is the wreck of the 3847-ton steamship Highcliffe, which ran aground near Papa Stour in 1940.
More recently, the 486-ton motor vessel Goodwill Merchant ran aground near Burgi Stack - that was in 1976.
Further south off Mousa, just to the east of the Mainland, is the Murrumbidgee, a small steamship that ran aground in 1942.
Deeper at 37m, but more easily accessible in the approaches to Lerwick and sheltered from the west, is the Gulbenkian, sunk in a collision with the Flora while at anchor in 1917.
Other casualties in the anchorage are two Russian factory trawlers, lost by dragging anchors - the Lunokhod from 1993 and Pionersk from 1994. Both are sizeable wrecks, but somewhat devoid of marine life.
Many of the cliffs are cut by caves, tunnels and arches. What starts out as a small crack gets etched by waves into a cave, cut through into a tunnel, enlarged into an arch, then eventually the top falls in to leave a stack.
On Bressay, The Giants Leg is an arch on a tremendous scale. Behind it is a smaller cave, then, further back along the cliff, a tunnel through the headland some 300m long.