From swimming with tiger sharks in Oman to hanging from a helicopter over the Sydney Olympic Stadium, adventure junkie Lisa Drewe has spent her adult life exploring the mountains and islands of the world.
This year, her award-winning book, Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands is the Christmas gift for everyone’s wish list. Why? Lisa explains that you don’t often hear of mountaineers that only walk halfway up a mountain – so why do we only explore half the island? Lisa has spent the last several years exploring the great wilderness of the British Isles. The sea is to her left and keeps going until she returns to the start. It’s impossible to get lost, she says!
As sponsors of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Awards, us here at Aquapac were so excited to hear Lisa and the team behind Islandeering had won ‘Best Guidebook 2020’ and were lucky enough to get the chance to catch up with her. Find out what she had to say:
Congratulations on your award, Lisa! Where were you when you found out you’d won?
“I was at the virtual OWPG Awards ceremony via Zoom. We should have all been at the Big Outdoors Weekend, our annual get together, in Malham Tarn. We’ll just have to have an even bigger celebration next year.”
You’ve done a fair bit of exploring! Which island stands out as your overall favourite and why?
“Every island of the 320 I’ve visited so far has its own wow factor – so I have favourites for lots of different reasons. Vallay in the Outer Hebrides for an incredible tidal crossing, vast sparkling-white beaches and views across to St Kilda. The magical landscapes of Eilean Shona, where you can really sense how it inspired the screenplay for Peter Pan. Orkney and Shetland for wonderfully vibrant communities both human and wildlife – sea birds, orcas, whales and dolphins. In Wales, I love bathing in the warm shallow green tidal pools of Ynys Giftan whilst enjoying the views of Port Merion, Snowdonia and the ruins of Harlech Castle. I love the coastline of Anglesey and exploring all of its tiny islands. In England I love the whole Scilly archipelago, each of its islands are so very different. From the wilds of uninhabited Samson and Tean, there’s the bustle of St Mary’s and the charm and great food of St Martin’s and Bryher. The Essex coastline was perhaps the biggest surprise. The islands here remain wild and largely hidden but the wildlife along the creeping creeks and salt marsh are astounding. Then there’s the Crown Dependencies. I had the best time ever on Alderney, a live and let live kind of island, with a history that seems to make the islanders celebrate every day like it’s the last. There are the beautiful sea caves and dramatic coasteering adventures on Sark, and the beach-scene on Herm. Finally, the Isle of Man, as a keen cyclist the roads here are a heavenly way to explore.”
What inspired you to write Islandeering?
“I discovered my addiction during a week-long sea-kayaking journey around the islands of the Scilly archipelago ten years ago. I fell in love with the wildness of foreshores, arguably the greatest wilderness left in Britain, with their spectacular geology, beaches and wildlife and where the ocean reveals its secrets twice a day. Amidst the smell of neoprene, that signature scent of time well spent, the simplicity of circumnavigating an island had me hooked and I wanted to circumnavigate more. I met many people on my journeys and many asked me to share my information so that they could do the same.”
If you had to pick one of the 320 British islands you’ve visited to go back to, which would you pick?
“I always love Scolt Head in Norfolk for a salty adventure. After wading out to the island there are loads of creeks to discover and pools to bathe in surrounded by wildlife. Last time I was there I bumped into a spoonbill. On the way back I love getting my wetsuit on, stuffing everything into my drybag and floating back to Burnham-Overy-Staithe on a rising tide.”
What unexpected difficulties did you encounter whilst exploring the islands around the coast of Britain?
“I learnt a lot in the early days. The difference between spring and neap low tides is the difference between a walk and a swim and I learnt this lesson the hard way – but at least I learnt that my rucksack floats. I also get incredibly seasick and then if it has been a really bad crossing, I get land sick which was a particular issue when navigating around the sea cliffs on the Isle of Muck in the mist. Getting stranded on a high tide and seeing this as a bad thing when in fact it led to a whole new experience and discovery about myself. I guess the biggest challenge for me though has been with technology – taking notes, taking quality photos in all sorts of adverse conditions, recording routes on a GPS. Some islands I’ve had to return to several times to get everything I need to publish.”
What was in your kit bag?
“I’ve learnt over many years in the mountains and islands that you can’t spend enough on staying dry and keeping water out of your camera kit. I always take my bullet-proof Arc’teryx waterproofs; an OS map and OS app; Nikon D750 camera, several lenses and tripod and iPhone 11 for photography and recording notes (paper and pen don’t work in Force 7 and rain). I always end up with bags within bag to keep this lot dry, with one extra one for Cliff Bars, sunscreen and small first-aid kit.”
If you could only take five things on your next adventure around a new island, what would they be?
“Good question as I’m just starting the research into my next book into some truly hidden islands that will involve plenty of getting wet and multi-day adventures. My essentials for this trip will include a McConks Go Further SUP it’s a 14-footer so I can fit my big wetbags and kit on (and a spaniel); Terra Nova tent; Wacaco Expresso maker and Jet Boil (I can’t do without a descent coffee); and full photography kit – and something to keep this lot dry.”
We argue that 2020 has been the year of exploration. Over half of Brits have taken up a new form of exercise during lockdown with many pledging to continue going forward. If you’re looking to travel closer to home whether it’s by bike, foot, board or boat, check out Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands.