The appeal of island life

Close-knit, full of natural beauty and pleasantly secluded, people have been drawn to islands for centuries

From Homer’s Odyssey, to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs via To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, islands have long held an important place in human culture: they are objects of fascination for the collective imagination.

For all the physical and symbolic appeal the word ‘island’ carries, it has a relatively loose definition. The dictionary describes an island as an area of land which is smaller than a continent and surrounded by water, be that an ocean, sea, lake or river. This vagueness is one of the reasons why there is no set number of islands in the world. In the UK, the Isles of Scilly archipelago alone is estimated to have about 145 of them. In the statistic-obsessed society in which we live, the uncountability of islands adds to their charm.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_.jpg

Relaxing in the gardens of London City Island

Dr Lisa Drewe is an island lover who has visited more than 500 of them around the British Isles. Her fascination, or islomania as she calls it, has led her to create the Islandeering website as well as author two books on the topic: the award-winning Islandeering: Adventures Around the Edge of Britain’s Hidden Islands and, most recently, England and Wales Island Bagging, which will be published in October 2021.

She explains why islands are such an attractive concept: ‘For me it is the “wholeness” of an island, it’s on a human-scale and I can define and understand it.’ They are small worlds on which we can project our fantasies and hopes and, as Drewe says: ‘It’s also about escape, being close to water and being able to see the horizon all around.’ With proximity to water comes wellbeing.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_2.jpg

“Islands are small worlds on which we can project our fantasies and hopes. It’s also about escape”•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_3-768x1007.jpg•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_4-768x1007.jpg

Whether in their flora and fauna, the architecture that shapes their skylines or the communities that live on them, islands each have their own distinct identity. Living on an island, as opposed to just visiting, means island dwellers develop a deep connection to their home. Drewe lives on the Isle of Skye. ‘We feel part of this island, its roots, its culture and its spectacular nature – here people know our names,’ she explains. Islanders across the world experience a strong sense of belonging, something which also holds true for islands located in cities – London City Island residents will know the feeling.

During her travels, Drewe has visited a number of urban islands. She describes them as places with ‘incredibly colourful culture and histories’. She adds that, ‘The appeal of an urban island is much the same as a wild island – being surrounded by water  – but with the added bonus of vibrant communities and workspace as well as leisure space.’ The 12-acre London City Island on the River Lea is a case in point: located on a site that is steeped in history, this island has a tight-knit community of island dwellers as well as a number of independent restaurants and shops. Although still very young, London City Island has quickly created a strong sense of identity for itself.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_5.jpg

London City Island has a tight-knit community of island dwellers as well as a number of independent restaurants and shops

Carefully designed from East to West and North to South, London City Island captures the very essence of island living. Although mere minutes from the rest of the city, it is a small oasis at the heart of a metropolis.

An urban island, of which there are few, London City Island also belongs to another, rare subcategory: it’s man-made. This places it in a list along with the likes of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah or Rokko Island in Japan. On the world’s coastlines, estuaries and rivers, man-made islands join their natural counterparts in offering us the opportunity to live, dream and escape.


Words by Ginger Rose Clark

“Islanders across the world experience a strong sense of belonging, something which also holds true for islands located in cities”

Inside our favourite islands

From man-made world wonders to a floating village, The Islander takes a look at some of the world’s most intriguing and spectacular islands.

Palm Islands, Dubai
Whether you love them or hate them, the artificial islands built off the coast of Dubai are undeniably incredible feats of engineering. Most famous of all is the Palm Jumeirah, the self-proclaimed ‘8th wonder of the world’, which is actually the first completed in a planned ‘Palm Trilogy’. Construction of the Palm began in 2001 and the development consists of a 3-mile long ‘trunk’ and 17 ‘branches’. At the apex of the Palm is the palatial Atlantis The Palm, one of Dubai’s most recognisable landmarks, which features a five-star hotel, first-class restaurants and the world’s largest waterpark. Elsewhere on the island you’ll find premium real estate, shopping and entertainment complexes and even an artificial reef.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_6.jpg

Palm Islands, Dubai

Uros Floating Islands, Peru
Located 4,000 metres above sea level on Lake Titicaca is the incredible floating village of the Uros tribe. Indigenous to Peru and Bolivia, the Uros people built their mobile homes hundreds of years ago as a means of escaping the invading Incas. The islands (around 62 in total) are constructed from tightly bound layers of the native totora reed, which is sturdy but naturally buoyant. Around 1,200 members of the tribe still live on the islands to this day, and while a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is a necessary part of daily life, the Uros have also embraced modern technology (and tourism) with televisions, motorboats and even a radio station broadcast.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_7.jpg

Uros Floating Islands, Peru

Gladden Private Island, Belize
Gladden Island describes itself as the world’s most private island, and is available for exclusive hire for the ultimate secluded getaway. The island is owned by businessmen David Keener and Chris Krolow, who spotted the white-sand paradise over the crystal-clear waters of the Belize Barrier Reef. The island is home to a 3,000 sq ft villa, and little else, meaning that guests (a maximum of 4 in total) get a true lost-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience, albeit with plenty of modern luxuries. A team of staff reside on a smaller island near Gladden and have adopted a ‘privacy metre’ to indicate whenever a member of the team is on the main island, meaning guests needn’t see another soul for days on end.•-LCI_website_July_IslandLife_Inset_8.jpg

Gladden Private Island, Belize

Words by Gemma Billington