The Possibility of an Island is a better title than it is a book. Indeed, although I have read it I cannot for the life of me recall a single scene from Michel Houellebecq’s book, but the title has stayed with me. To me islands always seemed to be filled with possibility; they are an endless source of fascination. Perhaps it is because they are contained, a world in and of itself, that can be explored and mapped. There is an end to an island. A natural border.
A few weeks ago I read about a short journey I have always wanted to take. The writer Richard Carter had climbed into a canoe on Coniston in the Lake District and, slowly but surely, made his way across the lake to Wild Cat Island. No matter that the island’s real name is Peel Island, for any readers of Arthur Ransome’s wonderful Swallows and Amazons will know what it is really called, and thirty five years after reading the book for the first time (about six or seven years before I did), Richard discovered the magic was based on reality:
We drift past a low, rocky promontory and some rocks. This is so right: it’s just like in the book! We’re almost past it before I see it: back to our right—I mean starboard—a steep-sided, narrow channel leads straight into the heart of the island. A few feet to either side of here, and the channel would be invisible, obscured by rocks and headland. This is the place! We’ve found the secret harbour! Read more…
It has been a crazy month. It appears that launching Elsewhere, a new journal of place, even more than a blog about adventures beyond the front door, means you spend more time in front of a screen, behind piles of paper, or in climate-controlled storage facilities (that are at least a kind of Elsewhere because they could indeed be anywhere) than you do exploring the world around you. I am reading submissions based on places in Australia and Rwanda, the islands of Scotland and the two sides of Budapest, and it is all very inspiring if only we had the t…
No. There is no need for this. In my diary I have a note, scribbled every Monday. UaGS. It means don’t neglect the blog. Don’t forget the blog. But I have been neglecting and forgetting, and then I remember… adventures beyond the front door. That is how all this started in the first place. You can go to Rwanda and leave it all behind. You can go to the islands of Scotland. Or you can take a morning and, if you live where I live, you can go to Wittenau.
At the entrance to the village a sign warns us of free-running dogs and wild chickens. Not being a fan of either, I proceed with caution down the muddy track to the collection of cottages around an open green that makes up the tiny settlement of Kenmore on the banks of Loch Fyne. The green space between the cottages was no accident, it was the place to dry the fishing nets in this village that long made its living from the produce pulled from the loch.
We follow the path down the side of the green (no sign of the dogs) until we reach a stone beach and a rocky promentory. The cloud is low, hiding the surrounding hills. The water is flat calm, glassy. A grey heron flies by with long, beating flaps of its wings. Down on the shore oystercatchers pick their way over the stones. At the top of the rocks the shells of their catch lay battered and smashed, a crunchy confetti. A twin-sailed boat makes slow progress down the loch. Not far away a group of divers, heads and bodies encased in black, slip over the side of their motor dinghy.
Those readers of Under a Grey Sky who have been following the progress of my new project Elsewhere: A Journal of Place will already know most of this, but in case you missed it I wanted to record an update on the journal here on my personal blog as it is has been a challenging but rewarding process so far.
When Julia and I first met to talk about the project at the end of last summer, our aim from the beginning was to provide a platform for writing and visual arts that explores the concept of place in all its various meanings, whilst also committing to print and the desire to create a beautiful object with which to transport those words and pictures. A few days ago, after months of writing, editing, designing, crowdfunding, building an audience, meeting tax consultants, and all the various bits and pieces that we needed to do to get from there to here, we sent the first edition to the printers here in Berlin and now all there is to do is wait for the physical thing to arrive.
This post is from a trip Katrin and I made to Usedom in February this year… another Baltic exploration:
The Europapromenade leads the walker or the cyclist, the jogger or the rollerblader, out from the town of Ahlbeck on the island of Usedom in a straight line between the trees. The surface is smooth, the path lined with benches to rest and public toilets and bike parks at the points along the route where there is access to the beach beyond the trees and the dunes. Ahlbeck is the last town in Germany, and the promenade is well-named, linking as it does the bathing resorts of Usedom on both sides of the German-Polish border.
Just around the headland, having left the small village of Tegelort behind to once again be walking between the woods and the water, we were halted on the path by the noise. It was an incredible racket, disturbing and otherworldly, of frogs impersonating birds or birds impersonating frogs. We gazed down from the path, into the reeds, but there was no sign of what type of life was making the sounds that seemed to be surrounding us. Later, I listened to sound files on the internet, trying to trace it to source. The Great Reed Warbler seemed to be the closest, and once more I marvelled; this time at footage of a small bird capable of such an uproar.
At the end of the Western Harbour breakwater we came to the abandoned lighthouse and climbed through a hole in the fence. The view back across the harbour was spectacular, to Leith and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and beyond the Arthur’s Seat, the castle, and the rest of the Edinburgh skyline. We picked our way cautiously through the broken stone and glass spreading out from the open doorways of the lighthouse. Graffiti and litter. Evidence of illicit parties. Few better places, on a clear day like this, looking across the Firth of Forth with a fly-by of eider ducks, exiting the harbour ahead of a Spanish warship.
Below us, on the slippery stones just above the waterline, a couple of fisherman discussed strategy. One was teaching the other, acting out the motions with empty hands as his friend gripped the rod intently. They both ignored the signs warning about eating shellfish from this particular shore.