An enticing exploration of the smallest islands of Britain from the award-winning, bestselling author of The Butterfly Isles.
The people of the British Isles are an island race. We are distributed across an archipelago of two large islands and 6,289 smaller ones. Some, like the Isle of Man, resemble miniature nations, with their own language and tax laws; others, like Ray Island in Essex are abandoned and mysterious places haunted by myths, ghosts and rats. There are resurgent islands such as Eigg, which have been liberated from capricious owner-dictators; holy islands like Bardsey, the resting place of 20,000 saints, and still a site of spiritual questing; and dying islands such as St Kilda, famed for the evacuation of its people, and now dominated by wild sheep and seabirds. Our small islands are both places of freedom and imprisonment, party destinations and oases of peace, strangely suburban and deeply wild. They are places where the past is unusually present, but they can also offer a vision of alternative future. At times of crisis, the centre often looks to the periphery for escape, and inspiration.
In this evocative book, Patrick Barkham travels from larger small islands to ever-smaller islands in search of their special magic. Meeting all kinds of islanders, from nuns to puffins, from dropouts to rare subspecies of vole, he seeks to discover what it is to be an islander. How do communities function on small islands? Are they insular or outward looking? Are eccentrics attracted to islands, or do islands make people eccentric? Do they keep us sane or drive us mad? Patrick's journey across the British Isles sets out to answer these questions. Along the way, he uncovers bizarre and touching stories about island life, meets a host of curious characters and native species, and explores some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain.
Patrick Barkham was born in 1975 in Norfolk and was educated at Cambridge University. He is a features writer for the Guardian, where he has reported on everything from the Iraq War to climate change. He is the author of The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals, Badgerlands: The Twilight World of Britain's Most Enigmatic Animal and Coastlines: The Story of Our Shore. He lives in Norfolk.