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No man is an island, but I’ve had a good chance, says author Robert Twigger.

Autumn view of Derwentwater and some of its four islands

Stunning autumn view of Derwentwater and some of its four islands (Image: Getty)

It might have started with Kirrin Island and the Famous Five, or maybe it was the Wild Cat Island of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows And Amazons fame, but as a child, I read children’s books about adventurous journeys to such remote places (often with treasures buried) was filled with the desire to make that journey myself.

Although I once went to a scout camp and was unknowingly only a mile from Silver Holme on Lake Windermere, which inspired Ransome’s Cormorant Island, I resisted the Lake District’s call to adventure. about so many.

But it was the rereading of Ransome’s books that propelled me, later, to become a travel writer specializing in adventures. If they were island adventures, all the better.

I remember reading about the island of Buru in Alfred Wallace’s great 19th century book, The Malay Archipelago. It was said to be a great place for giant snakes. I went there with a Channel 4 crew and tried to catch the world’s longest snake for a £50,000 prize offered by the New York Wildlife Conservation Society.

Sadly, the former headhunters the team employed to find the giant python decided to eat the snake rather than turn it over to a zoo…we left the island with a movie, but no prize snake.

I also made several trips through the Sahara dragging a cart with my equipment but there were no islands there. However, during a trip to Canada to follow the exact route of Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to cross North America, the islands became a vital subject.

His original journey through the Rocky Mountains took two years, as travel was impossible in winter when the rivers were frozen. Summers were also harsh with swarms of mosquitoes and horseflies.

Traveling in a homemade birch bark canoe didn’t make it any easier. At first, we camped along the creeks that flow into the main river, but after a bear charged us looking for fish, we decided that camping on islands in the middle of the stream was a safer idea. Islands you on an island…, king for a time more or less was again in my life.

Robert Twigger crossing the Sahara on foot

Robert crossing the Sahara on foot (Image: Courtesy of Robert Twigger)

Back living in England for a while, I walked a straight line through many of our ancient monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury, Old Sarum, Mam Tor, Ilkley stone circles and ending at Lindisfarne.

One of the most memorable nights was when I was looking for a place to camp in Yorkshire and couldn’t see anything but planted fields.

Then I saw a small stream running around a piece of land with a single oak tree and enough land to pitch a tent.

That’s when I realized that when you camp on an uninhabited island you are king for a night, or so it seems.

So it seemed natural in my latest book to finally focus on the islands, and what better place to look than the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District?

This was also at the time of the pandemic and a part of me was also thinking about finding a hideaway, a place to escape to if things really started to break down.

It wasn’t an entirely serious thought, but at the same time, if he was looking at islands, why not assess their hiding potential as well?

Compared to the mountains, hills and lakes themselves, the many islands of the Lake District have been largely overlooked.

Although there are many walking guides and volumes dedicated to the peaks and valleys, I found that the number of islands in the lakes within the Lake District was not even agreed upon.

Coniston Steam Yacht Gondola

Coniston Steam Yacht Gondola (Image: Getty)

In the end, I decided to skip the smaller lakes and focus on the main lakes. Of these 12 have islands. There are about 18 on Windermere alone, although at any given time, depending on the water level, the islands can join other islands or even the mainland if they are close enough.

As soon as I started visiting, I saw that making a definitive list was not that simple.

But this uncertainty only added to the sense of adventure. I calculated that there were 36 islands in the 12 lakes and my trip involved following a route around all of them.

I slept in quite a few, using a small tent, although I was careful not to have a fire or leave any mess, as camping is frowned upon. Only two of the 36 are inhabited: Derwent Isle, on Derwentwater, and Belle Isle on Lake Windermere.

Oddly enough, Lake District sage William Wordsworth thought both buildings were hideous (like me, he preferred uninhabited islands). But to the modern eye, they look like quite beautiful large 19th century houses. On these islands, you can look but you can’t land, but that still leaves 34 of a very different nature.

Take Watness Coy on the little-visited Devoke Water. High up on the western side of the Lake District you have to walk rather than drive. It is a tiny island about 150 meters from the coast, stalked by cormorants in the empty air of the moors. To get there, I recommend one of my go-to island hopping tools: the inflatable packraft.

It looks like one of those little boats that downed pilots used to end up in, but it’s made from high-tech material that’s extremely lightweight (mine is only 1.5kg) and extremely durable (you can drag it on ice with no problem). ). ). With one of these in your pack, even a high-altitude island like Watness Coy can be easily reached.

Robert Twigger Inflatable Packraft

Adventurer’s Trust Inflatable Packraft (Image: Courtesy of Robert Twigger)

The largest islands are found in Derwentwater and Thirlmere.

St Herbert’s Island was the inspiration for Owl Island in the Beatrix Potter story Squirrel Nutkin, another favorite that preceded my interest in Swallows And Amazons by a few years.

St Herbert’s is also the furthest from land in the Lake District island – over 400 meters into the loch and, with its expanse of beech and wild mushrooms, a wonderful haven from busier places like Keswick at the other end of the loch. .

On certain days of the year, religious followers gather to celebrate its namesake, who established a hermit outpost on the island in the 7th century. When I was there I just met a bunch of young delinquents on a day trip with Outward Bound.

A much more remote island is Wood Howe Island in Haweswater, a reservoir created from a much smaller lake in the 1930s.

The island is all that remains of Mardale, a town drowned when the lake was created.

Peel Island of Coniston

The ‘Secret Harbour’ on Wild Cat Island, also known as the Peel Island of Coniston (Image: Courtesy of Robert Twigger)

The old stone walls can still be seen on the island, a ghostly reminder that this was once the highest point of a small community now sunk beneath the murky waters. Would this be a good hiding place if society collapsed? Well maybe.

As I made my way around the lakes, seeing them from this new angle, I knew the highlight would have to be visiting Wild Cat Island from Swallows And Amazons.

The children of the story yearn to go to this island and, giving them permission, their father sends them the enigmatic telegram: “Better drowned than fools, if not fools do not drown.”

Was I going to be a fool crossing Coniston Water in my windy packraft? I hoped not.

Robert Twigger sketch

Robert’s sketch (Image: Courtesy of Robert Twigger)

Paddling out to Peel Island, which inspired Ransome to create Wild Cat, I waited for the National Trust’s Steam Yacht Gondola to pass – it’s one of Britain’s oldest working steamboats and has been plying its trade on the loch for so long that it was used by Ransome as a model for Captain Flint’s houseboat.

The waves splashed and threatened to capsize my own boat, but after a long row, I reached the island just as the sun was setting.

There is something about approaching an uninhabited island that is the very essence of adventure. I’m sure this is what makes books like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island so popular over time.

You approach the island full of excitement and apprehension, though in my case a slight apprehension that someone from the National Trust might bother me.

Luckily they didn’t – visitors are allowed, but no stays – so I camped where the Swallows camped all those years ago.

I was able to find the secret port which in real life is even more impressive than Ransome’s illustration in the book.

Robert Twigger's book is now available

36 Islands: In Search of the Hidden Wonders of Robert’s Lake District is now available (Picture: )

At night, as I looked out over the silent waters, I could see just over the lake to the hills beyond.

It was one of the many magical moments that the islands allowed, being a bit far from the crowded mainland. The next day when I left Wild Cat Island, I came across a man rowing in the lake. “Did you camp?” he asked. “I did,” I admitted.

“Very bright!” she said, and so it was!

  • 36 Islands: In Search of the Hidden Wonders of the Lake District by Robert Twigger (W&N, £20) is out now. For free UK P&P visit expressbookshop.com or call the Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832



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