No Boat Required
Exploring Tidal Islands
When is an island not an island? Peter Caton takes us to all four corners of England, Scotland and Wales to find out.
Sharing our nation’s fascination with islands, but mindful of an unfortunate teenage experience involving a small boat, rough sea and bucket, Peter set out to be the first person to visit all 43 tidal islands which can be walked to from the UK mainland.
We read of the many challenges he faced – of precipitous cliffs, vicious dogs, disappearing footpaths, lost bus drivers, fast tides, quicksand and enormous quantities of mud, but also of wonderfully scenic journeys by road, rail and on foot. He contrasts the friendly welcome from most islanders and owners, with the reluctance of others to permit visits and tells how he was thrown off one secret island.
An entertaining narrative illustrated with colour photographs, No Boat Required contains a wealth of information as the author unearths many little known facts and stories. It tells of the solitude of the many remote islands and the difficulties of balancing the needs of people and wildlife. We learn of the islands’ varied histories – stories of pirates, smugglers, murder and ghosts, of battles with Vikings, an island claimed by punks and another with its own king. He writes of the beauty of the islands and our coast, and reflects on how these may be affected by climate change.
In No Boat Required Peter Caton takes us to explore islands, some familiar but most which few know exist and even fewer have visited. He finds that our tidal islands are special places, many with fascinating and amusing stories and each one of them different. It adds up to a unique journey around Britain.
ISBN – 99782848767010
Publisher – Matador (Troubador)
350 Pages £12.99
In September 2011 Peter was interviewed by John McCarthy on BBC Radio Four’s Excess Baggage programme. The programme can be listened to through the following link. (Peter is on from about 21 minutes).
Peter Caton’s “No Boat Required: Exploring Tidal Islands” is an engaging and thoroughly enjoyable account of a series of excursions by the author to reach all 43 of the tidal islands that can be walked to (not necessarily all with dry feet) from the mainland of Great Britain. You’d think that in the modern era there was nothing entirely new left to do, especially on this relatively small island of ours, and you’d also think that in the information age everything that was knowable about just about anywhere would already be known, and readily available.
What makes “No Boat Required” such a wonderful read is the sense that it represents a real journey of discovery by the author. He starts out with a clear rationale for wanting to visit tidal islands (he likes islands, but gets easily seasick), and a clear definition of what he means by a tidal island (of significant size, with traces of human habitation, and which is both passable and impassable at least once each month). He also starts out under the impression there are around 20 such islands, but by the end of the book has become the first person to visit all 43 tidal islands. He also considered, and in some cases visited to check them out, a similar number of “nearly tidal islands”, which failed to meet the definition for a variety of reasons.
As the book unfolds we accompany the author through both successes and failures as he ticks off several islands in a day: or spends hours waiting to access an island along a non-existent route that remains stubbornly beneath the waves. Adding greatly to the atmosphere of the book is that in order to visit his islands the author made some 30 separate trips from his Essex home, using public transport wherever possible, and only as a last resort hiring a car. This adds to the sense of genuine exploration that gives the book an attractive nineteenth century feeling: complete with an explorer trying to find his way through – all too often – inadequately mapped tidal margins. Though partly because of this, the inclusion of sketch maps of the islands covered in each chapter would have been a considerable benefit.
The best books of exploration inevitably inspire their readers, and “No Boat Required” is no exception. We knew of some of the tidal islands Peter Caton visited around Scotland, but have only visited one ourselves (Cramond Island): and quite a number were simply unknown to us. Our “must visit and photograph” list has just grown a little longer with the addition of the author’s other Scottish tidal islands.
I highly recommend this excellent website for discovering Scotland – Peter
Following the success of ‘Essex Coast Walk’, Peter Caton now ventures to the furthest extremities of England, Scotland and Wales to give us ‘No Boat Required: Exploring Tidal Islands’. With the help of excellent colour photographs, this book can be read straight through, as an entertaining narrative of an odyssey never before undertaken, or selectively, if we choose to begin with chapters offering a fresh insight into islands we already know and love.
Once again, the author demonstrates his intrepid appreciation of public transport by travelling to remote shores by train, bus, foot and, in direst extremities, hiring a car. Defining tidal islands as those which can be safely walked to with dry feet from the UK mainland, but which are totally surrounded by water at least once every month, the author visits each of the 43 which meet these criteria, involving 30 separate expeditions from his Essex home. Each island is comprehensively researched and his experiences described, with disarmingly frank honesty and wit, in this immensely enjoyable book.
Destinations range from the much-loved, idyllic Holy Island of Lindisfarne to the tiny London refuge of Chiswick Eyot. On rare occasions, Peter Caton found himself barred from a privately-owned island, such as neglected St Catherine’s Island in Pembrokeshire, where the most prominent features were the abandoned Napoleonic fort and the abundance of Keep Out signs. Nothing daunted, he still provides a fascinating account of each island and his considered opinion of its owner. Where protection of nature is the reason for restricted access, we are offered a clearly explained, often moving account of the vulnerability of the island’s wildlife, ecology and very physical survival
Surprisingly, the English county boasting the highest number of islands is Essex, with between 30 and 40, of which 6 merited a visit as ‘tidal’. In an appendix entitled Reflections, the author helpfully lists the personal highlights of his pilgrimage, guaranteed to entice many readers to follow in his footsteps. Mindful of the magical lure of islands, which his book conveys so vividly, Peter Caton warns graphically of the hazards he also encountered on his `road to the isles’. The book contains frequent, essential safety warnings, and we are clearly reminded that, just as dangerous as the encroaching tide, soft mud and sharp rocks can take unwary lives. But the abiding memory that this book leaves in the mind is the special atmosphere of these places, cut off from the mundane life of the mainland, where every island is unique and its islanders fiercely protective of the special nature of their home and way of life.
S. Howlett – Mersea Island
I am three quarters the way through this book. It is a self published book and I think all the better for it. It is astonishing how much information Peter Caton has found out about each of the island he visits. He has put a great deal of work in to this book and it deserves to be read. There’s hardly an island he describes I don’t hitch to visit afterwards. He can be a little pedantic at times, particularly when describing how he travelled out to these islands, but this is something I relished – a conventional publisher would have cut it and it would have been a great loss. It is also physically a very well produced paperbook a credit to the company the author employed. On the strength of reading this book I’ve ordered his book on Essex.
I.C.N. – England
I had just recently visited the Island Davaar, to bag its high point and found this book helpful filling in the history of the place. Easy reading and should be very helpful in planning further Island bagging trips.
I just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed your “No Boat Required” book. My wife bought it for me at Christmas as a great and unexpected present. I loved the honest writing style and particularly the down-to-earth comments about the nice treat food that you were enjoying! I also liked the fact that you didn’t give up easily when challenged either by difficult routes or difficult islands.
We live in Cheltenham but spend a week in Lindisfarne every year and love being staying on a tidal island – especially when the ‘tourists’ have gone off the island each day! We’re going to stay at Whitley Bay on our way to Lindisfarne this year and, as a result of your book, we’ll try to visit St Mary’s island while there.
Thanks for writing the book.
A very informative and interesting at all times. Never waffled or rambled on.
Certainly inspired me to go out and get to a couple of them (noting the safety tips given on each!)
Great effort, bet it was brilliant going round to each of them.
– Eppy (online review)
Following on the heels of Essex Coast Walk Peter Caton is again venturing out to discover an unusual bit of the UK. This time he is exploring tidal islands, i.e. islands which can be walked to during low tide but are separated by water from the main island during high tide. He identifies 43 of these and starts his tour at St. Michael’s Mount, a place I can relate to as I have been there myself.
What I liked is that except for a couple of places in Scotland, the author was able to reach all islands by public transport. What I also loved are the history and the many tales Caton recounts of all the islands he visits. One could almost conclude that this isn’t so much about walking but an excellent guide to local history.
Walking to some of these tidal islands is outright dangerous and the author doesn’t fail to mention this on more than one occasion. On the other hand, I had to laugh about the people who got stuck on their way to or from Holy and Mersea Islands. Some people appear to believe that they are `extra-safe’ if they bring the car. The North Sea knows no mercy.
The author’s conversational style I find a plus. All told this is a fine book. I hope it will not encourage more people to visit tidal islands because doing so is a hazardous business.
– Thomas Koetzsch (online review)
No Boat Required – Peter Caton. Such a good book, well researched and well written. Peter describes his journey around Britain to visit every tidal island in the country. A tidal island is one that is cut off by the sea on a regular basis – Peter does defines this more carefully in the book. He meets some interesting people as well as unearthing facinating information about these islands. An eccentric book in the best tradtions and complements his book about walking the Essex Coastline. That’s one I must get and read as it inspired me to think about writing of our mission to walk the Kent Coastline. Whether or not I will is another matter!