‘Have you ever wondered what it would be like to own your own islands?’ asks the blurb on the back of Sea Room: an island life. Well, no, not in the plural. But, as a kid, I fantasised about having my very own island. I knew exactly what it would be like (a cross between Arthur Ransome’s Wild Cat Island with its secret harbour, and the Famous Five’s Kirrin Island with its secret tunnel to the mainland). I drew countless maps of my fantasy island. I even knew where it would be situated: about half a mile off the coast of my beloved Anglesey. It also had a house and a lighthouse, and lots of cliffs inhabited by lots and lots of seabirds.
Sadly, my fantasy island doesn’t exist.
Adam Nicolson had no need of a fantasy island, as he inherited three very real islands from his father: the Shiant Islands (pronounced Shant) off the east coast of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides (another fantasy island from my childhood, for no other reason than my middle name is Lewis). Nicolson has now handed the Shiant Islands on to his own son. Before finally doing so, however, he wrote this very enjoyable book.
Sea Room is an entertaining blend of memoir, opinion, nature writing, and history. In places, the history of these remote islands is unsurprisingly sketchy, but the ‘romantic landowner’ does his best to fill in the gaps with reasonable conjecture.
The Shiants might not have a secret tunnel to the mainland, or a lighthouse, and their harbours come across as barely accessible rather than secret, but there is a house (of sorts), and there are plenty of very high cliffs with lots and lots of seabirds, especially puffins. They sound like a lovely place to spend a few weeks.