Saturday, 28 January 2012

Isles of Wonder

That’s to be the theme of the Olympics opening ceremony but it strikes me that very few people in mainland Britain think of themselves on living on ‘isles’ or even, except occasionally, on an island.

How many of us have ever been to any other British isle?

Norman Davies’s big history book is called The Isles and historians sometimes refer to the British Archipelago or, I think I recall, the Western European Archipelago. Both feel odd. The cluster might be more like an archipelago if it weren’t for Ireland since an archipelago suggests a long line of islands -- like Britain and the Orkneys and Shetlands, with all the Scottish islands clearly belonging. I suppose if you think of it as an interrupted northward extension of Normandy and Britanny....

I've been totting up how many of the islands I’ve been to and I think it’s more than most people have. Yes for a start to the other big one, Ireland, though I don’t know it at all well. Otherwise, clockwise: Wight; not Scillies, not Skomer, Skokholm etc, not Lundy; Anglesea but not Man; Arran, Skye, Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Barra; no Orkneys or Shetlands; Farne Islands, Lindisfarne. The best trip was sleeping on the deck of a Macbraynes steamer on a warm starry night from Oban to Stornaway. Time I did more of Scotland, the parts I've visited and the parts I haven’t.

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