Saturday 31 December 2011

Dan's favourite islands 2011

1. Farne Islands
This has to be one of the greatest wildlife experiences in the UK. Where else can you get as close to nesting puffins, razorbills, shags and kittiwakes? On Inner Farne, at the right time of year, arctic terns dive-bomb your head while their fluffy offspring run under your feet. But the birds are only half  the story – the human behaviour is just as weird and fascinating.

2. Lindisfarne
Holy Island, tidal island, distiller of mead, home to a storybook castle and beacon for tourists from miles around. Being cut off by the tide twice a day gives the island its sense of magic and isolation. Staying overnight transforms the experience to a slower, more spacious and quieter understanding of the place, where faith and history thrum beneath the coffee shops, rambling outfits and rushed daily visits.

3. Darnet Island
At first, Medway doesn't sound quite as exciting as the Shetlands but I guess it depends on what you're doing there. We were taken out of our comfort zone on a canoe trip and a spot of wild camping on one of Medway's many islands: Darnet Island. Next to the shipping lane, a power station and amidst a ring of busy towns it's amazing where you can find wildness and the thrill of adventure. Thanks to our guide Dave Wise we discovered the incredible scent of sea wormwood, the comfort of sea purslane as a mattress, the haunting interior of Darnet Fort, the difficulty of pinhole photography and the joy of waking up on your own secluded island.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Outdoor Photography: Island Journal Pt 17

In Outdoor Photography magazine, Issue 147, Christmas 2011, T covers our canoe trip in the Medway.

Monday 28 November 2011

Thames Islands Pt 3 - Thames Ditton Island...

Ye Olde Swan public house – crossing point to Thames Ditton Island
Actually reaching the river is not always the easiest thing to do along the banks of the Thames. You can wander along the river's edge without seeing any water, just rows of houses. The access point to Thames Ditton Island takes advantage of a small slipway next to Ye Olde Swan. It wasn't until the early 20th century that holiday houses started to be built on the island.

Thames Ditton Island bridge
The bridge was built in 1939 by David Rowell & Co. of Westminter. Ownership is shared between the 48 households on the island after purchasing it from Ye Olde Swan's landlord in 1963. As well as providing easy access to the the island for residents, it also transports water, gas and electricity in, and sewage out.

Thames Ditton Island

Swan Island and Boyle Farm Island just behind
Swan Island, in the foreground, almost adjoins Thames Ditton Island. It used to house the ferryman before the bridge arrived. Just visible behind is Boyle Farm Island with its single house.

The official Ditton Island website is at

Tagg's Island

Tagg's Island has a long history of developmental prospecting and foiled plans. A lot of people seem to have lost a lot of money trying to make their fortune here. It was in 1872 that Thomas Tagg opened The Thames Hotel, attracting the rich and famous, and giving the island its current name.

Tagg's Island bridge
Tagg's Island bridge - going up
The road bridge wasn't built until 1982.

Tagg's Island bridge - going down
Tagg's Island houseboats
Building is not allowed on the island, so a ring of more than 60 luxury houseboats line the island. The addition of an inner lagoon in 1983 created extra space for mooring.

Tagg's Island sign
Small islet set adrift from Tagg's Island
Official Tagg's Island website (
Tagg's Island has a floating B&B
History in greater detail

Garrick's Ait

Unlike most islands in the Thames, Garrick's Ait has no bridge access. Around 20 bungalows are crammed onto the island.

Looking over the bank side houseboats to Garrick's Ait
The western tip of Garrick's Ait photographed from Garrick's Temple
The eastern tip of Garrick's Ait

Platt's Eyot

Sunbury water works
Reaching Platt's Eyot involves walking through a strange landscape of gravel filter beds and the geometric buildings of the Sunbury water works. The spoil from the creation of the nearby Stain Hill Reservoirs was dumped onto the island at the turn of the 20th century, raising the height of the western end.
Platt's Eyot bridge
While I was photographing the bridge from the island's car park a man, named Neil, asked if I was interested in the island. He ended up showing me around the island and his own photographic studio where he had some amazing furniture designs on the go. I was surprised to find that there was no residential property, just industrial units of various shapes, sizes and states of repair. Thornycroft made Coastal Motor Boats here for the First World War – a fast ship designed to skim over minefields and release torpedoes. Nowadays, Neil said, most of the units are used by artists, musicians and designers of one kind or another.

A private but friendly island
Crossing the bridge to Platt's Eyot
The east end of Platt's Eyot
The west end of Platt's Eyot
Spice Girls studio?
One of Neil's stories involved this old brick building by the island's bridge. Apparently The Spice Girls recorded some early tracks within these walls and the young owners of the studio retired very early on a healthy £5 million payout! 

Current incumbents of Platt's Eyot
Industrial hanger on Platt's Eyot
This pleasant, creative state of affairs may not last too much longer though. Planning permission has been sought twice in the last decade by the owners for a huge development of housing and offices. Judging from the other islands along this stretch of water, it's surely only a matter of time before they get their wish.

More info

Grand Junction Island

Grand Junction Island
The island is now owned by Thames Water, but was previously owned by the Grand Junction Water Company who built a water intake on the island for the nearby reservoirs – hence the name. A few holiday chalets exist on the island as well as some boat moorings.

Sunbury Court Island

Entrance to Sunbury Court Island
The light was fading fast as I raced to Sunbury Court Island. This small gate above provides the only break in the endless residential barricade, giving access over a bridge to the island's charming entrance tower, which was in fact built to house a sewage pump.

Sunbury Court Island

Around 30 houses consume almost every inch of the island.

Sunbury Court Island tower at dusk

Swan's Rest Island and Rivermead Island

Swan's Rest Island
Swan's Rest Island is still marked on the London A-Z even though there is no longer any channel between it and Rivermead Island.

Rivermead Island footbridge
A bridge carries you over a narrow water channel or, if you prefer, you can cross the ford to Rivermead Island.

Narrow channel on the north bank
Rivermead Island park
No houses! The island is an open park with some lovely mature trees...

Rivermead Island
... and ducks.

Rivermead Island bridge

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Papp A Postcard competition

Five postcards dropped through our letterbox last week - a card a day. Each one suggested a British island for us to visit.

Monday delivered Flat Holm, enticing us with its “massive Victorian fog horn”.
Tuesday brought us Anglesey, promising “a village with the longest name in Britain”.
Wednesday gave us Handa Island, home to“North West Europe’s largest seabird colony”.
Thursday tempted us with the Monach Isles, from where “the last people… left in 1951”.
Friday completed the set with Walney and its “400 species of moth”.

The reason for these mysterious postcards? It’s all part of a National Rail promotion to get people out and about photographing whatever they discover. Pictures can then be uploaded to the Papp A Postcard app on Facebook for a chance to win a £500 Topshop/Topman shopping experience. If you'd like to enter, the closing date is Nov 28th.

As for us, we couldn't resist Anglesey, which hopefully we'll be visiting in December.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Outdoor Photography: Island Journal Pt 16

In Outdoor Photography magazine, Issue 145, November 2011, T covers our summer visit to Lindisfarne.

Monday 19 September 2011

Islands in the Thames Pt 2 - Teddington Island...

The north tip of Teddington Island, from Teddington
The south tip of Teddington Island, from Teddington
Teddington Island steps
Teddington Island bike ramp

Teddington Island Lock is an impressive feat of engineering. It's composed of three locks and a long, curved weir. The whole complex cascades from one side of the Thames to the other. A wooded, centre island links the lock to the weir as well as supporting the busy Teddington Lock footbridge. An elaborate stilted ramp allows the passage of cyclists. A short track below runs the length of the island to locked gates at either end. Anglers cast from the shore.

Teddington Lock Island

Teddington Lock Island
Teddington Lock Island flower beds

 Teddington Lock Island park
Teddington Lock Island lock keeper's cottage

Teddington Lock Island is a beautifully manicured park, replete with flowered borders, benches and public toilets. The attractive lock keepers cottage is the cherry on the cake.

Trowlock Island

Trowlock Island from the Thames Path
Trowlock Island
Trowlock Island chain ferry in action
Trowlock Island chain ferry
Trowlock Island chain ferry winch

From the Thames Path it's hard to see that you're walking past Trowlock Island – it looks like a continuation of the far bank. Looping round at Kingston and passing a series of private roads with "No access to the river" eventually brings you to Teddington Sports Hall and a footpath to the sailing club. From here you can observe, if you wait long enough for a resident, the eccentric little chain ferry in action, operated by a cartoon winch. A large sign on the island shore explains just how PRIVATE the island is for its 29 homes and Royal Canoe Club (the world's oldest canoe club).

An undercover report...

Steven's Eyot

Steven's Eyot
The Small Boat Club hut on Steven's Eyot
A tiny island located north of Kingston that is devoted to the pleasure of river cruising. Owned by the Small Boat Club (SBC), moorings are restricted to members only. For a nice overhead shot take a look here.