Travel Special: RENT AN ISLAND

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Uninhabited for most of the year, Mason Island, a quarter of a mile off the Irish coast of Galway could be the ideal holiday hideaway for birdwatchers or recluses prepared to rent the only renovated and simply furnished stone cottage with an open peat hearth, sleeping six to eight persons.

There's only one holiday cottage on Brownsea Island, once a military stronghold protecting the entrance to Poole Harbour, now a wildlife haven for red squirrels, sika deer, terns, waders and many other bird species. Boats run frequently to the mainland during the day, but there are none in the evening.

Even more isolated, Norway's Vik Island is for those who truly want seclusion. To get to civilisation, you have to row across to a fishing village a quarter mile away on the mainland. You can live in a lighthouse there. Built in 1875, it has been modernised - there's boating, fishing and birdwatching galore.

If you want to be Lord of the Island, with every conceivable luxury from a Balinese-style house, plus a chef, staff, two floodlit tennis courts, two swimming pools, plus the Caribbean at the bottom of the garden, you can hire Necker Island, just off Virgin Gorda. Richard Branson bought it in 1978 as more-or-less uninhabited, transforming it into the ultimate holiday experience for those who can afford $11,000 to $15,000 per day.

Mason Island: Cottage rental from pounds 216 per week (sleeps eight). A package by ferry for car and up to five passengers costs from pounds 396. Shamrock Cottages (01823 660126).

Brownsea Island: Quay Cottage accommodates four, and costs from pounds 185 a week in the winter, from pounds 369 in summer.

National Trust (01225 791199).

Vik Island: The lighthouse which sleeps up to seven persons costs from pounds 300-pounds 400 a week for two people, pounds 100-pounds 170 for extra adults, prices including car ferry between Newcastle and Bergen. Contact InnTravel (01653 628811).

Necker Island: The rates for the entire island are $11,000 per day for between 1-7 guests, rising to $15,000 for between 15 to 24 guests. Prices include all food, drinks, watersports and boat transfers. Flights approx pounds 800. Virgin Holidays (01293 617181).