You could say that Tim Severin is a historical re-enactor, but that would conjure all the wrong images, of renaissance fairs and Colonial Williamsburg. At nearly 80 years old, his accomplishments are better described as experiential archaeology, recreating legendary journeys to prove they could have happened. His historical adventures are based on years of upfront study, working with scholars to decipher ancient texts and find period-appropriate technology and materials. I only recently learned about Severin’s work, through his 1978 book that documents a fascinating early project called The Brendan Voyage.
Islands aren’t always synonymous with isolation, and a tightly grouped archipelago can create a shared sense of identity. Sometimes that relationship results in a hierarchy, where islands like Streymoy or Eysturoy in the Faroe Islands are referred to as the “mainland” when compared with the smaller outliers. In other places, like the Aleutian Islands, the chain of siblings is so long that they’re often lumped together as a whole.
In contrast, the tiny island of Sula Sgeir sits truly alone. Technically part of the British Isles, it’s separated from its nearest inhabited neighbor by 40 miles of rough North Atlantic sea. But despite that distance there is a strong tie between the island and the distant village of Ness. Sula Sgeir is a plentiful breeding ground for northern gannets — and every year, for centuries, a small group of men spends two weeks on the island hunting them.
Off the west coast of Scotland lay the Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands that look almost like a shield being held up by the mainland to protect itself from the rugged North Atlantic. Beyond that, a full 40 miles further west, are the lonely islands of St. Kilda, a tiny archipelago forged by volcanos and sculpted by violent winds and waves. It’s not exactly a convenient place to live, and yet these islands were occupied for nearly four thousand years, an incredible testament to subsistence living and human perseverance. The story of life there, and the eventual decision to evacuate, is the unlikely subject of an illustrated children’s book called Child of St. Kilda by the British author, illustrator, and printmaker Beth Waters.