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Britain is an archipelago made up 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 foxes. There are resurgent islands such as Eigg, which have been liberated from capricious owners to be run by their residents; holy islands like Bardsey, the resting place of 20,000 saints, and still a site of spiritual questing; and deserted islands such as St Kilda, famed for the evacuation of its human population, and now dominated by wild sheep and seabirds.
In this evocative and vividly observed book, Patrick Barkham explores some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain as he travels to ever-smaller islands in search of their special magic. 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 an alternative future. Meeting all kinds of islanders, from nuns to puffins, from local legends to rare subspecies of vole, he seeks to discover what it is like to live on a small island, and what it means to be an islander.
Patrick Barkham was born in 1975 in Norfolk and is Natural History Writer for the Guardian. He is the author of The Butterfly Isles, which was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize; Badgerlands, which was also shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Wainwright Prize, and Coastlines. He lives in Norfolk.