'Kelham Island epitomizes the change in Sheffield over the last three decades'
“I’m looking out on what I’m sure was once a polluted wasteland, now it’s actually quite beautiful to have this feeling of urban wildlife.”
Author Peter Naldrett is waxing lyrical about one of his favourite islands and this one is in Sheffield, his home city.
He’s talking about Kelham Island the only man made island to make it into his new book.
Treasured Islands is an explorer’s guide to more than 200 of the most beautiful and intriguing islands around Britain, says Peter.
From the northernmost tip of Scotland to the south coast of England, taking in islands of Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Scillies, the Channel Islands and the remote Faroe Islands along the way.
So how did landlocked Sheffield make it? “It’s probably the only man-made island in there,” says Peter, who is a geography teacher at Bradfield School when he’s not writing travel books.
“I wanted to include not just offshore islands, but inshore as well. There’s a few on the Thames and in the Lake District.
“I had to include Kelham because it is so legendary in Sheffield. It epitomizes the change in Sheffield over the last three decades.
“In the ’80s it was grimey and seedy, a red light district, so the change and transformation in Kelham is startling.
“It has gone from a depressing place of industrialisation to one of the coolest places in Europe to live.
“It makes me pleased that there’s somewhere in the city that has got that sort of cool reputation, like Camden in London, with a bit of water and cool flats, all about eating and drinking.”
In the book he references the Arctic Monkeys song When The Sun Goes Down which is about the red light times in Kelham. “I don’t mind the Arctic Monkeys, but I’m more a Pulp fan.”
Which is good because there’s a portrait of Jarvis Cocker as we chat outside the Kelham Island pub. “The fact that Kelham Island is being written and sung about adds to the legendary status.
“You would not have envisaged this in the 1990s and now we use the word bohemian.”
The page on Kelham includes a quote from Gemma Bott, who describes it as a melting pot of past and present. She is also a geography teacher at Bradfield.
“She takes the children on field trips to look at urban regeneration.
“This is a case study, how a city copes with industrial decline and how it bounces back. Kelham is a really good case because normally a text book would talk about Liverpool but we’ve got here on our own doorstep.”
Despite all the praise, there is still a best kept secret element about Kelham. “It is not massively widely known outside of Sheffield.
“There are so many bits to it, not just the island, so many side streets with eateries, you can always find somewhere that’s not rammed with people.”
The many bits he refers to include the museum, a favourite of Peter’s pupils and his two children.
“The museum is fabulous, I’ve been there as a parent, accompanied school trips, it is a fabulous insight into the past, the golden age of industry.”
And don’t forget the Kelham Island Brewery. “A great brewery and one of many micro breweries in the city. I like the fact that the name Kelham Island is associated with brewing.”
So what else do we know about Peter? He lives in Stannington, went to Myers Grove School which is now Forge Valley, and teaches geography two days a week. He says his pupils have no idea he’s a travel writer.
The 47-year-old had a spell as a journalist, training in Sheffield at Stradbroke College before working at the Harrogate Advertiser and then the Rotherham Advertiser, from 1997-2002.
He retrained as a teacher, but wanted to carry on writing so freelanced and started doing outdoor features for magazines.
At first he was writing about walking in the Peak District and the Lake District, but then he tried more challenging guides.
Days Out Underground was his first, which is 50 subterranean adventures beneath Britain.
Around the Coast in 80 Days came next and it was during the research for it that he got the idea for his latest book, as he kept seeing boat trips to islands and wanted to explore them.
The critics love it. World renowned explorer Levison Wood described it as ‘A wonderful book filled with hidden gems, helping us to connect with the majestic beauty of the British coastline.’
Fellow explorer Ed Stafford, who holds the Guinness World Record for being the first human to walk the length of the Amazon River, said: 'The definitive guide to Britain’s quirky and rugged islands. Islands have always had a mysterious allure – Peter has managed to capture the magical essence of our old favourites and lesser-known gems.'
Highlighting the best spots for foodies, wildlife enthusiasts, walkers and adrenaline-junkies, it is also entertaining.
Peter’s text ensures you won’t miss out on must-see attractions, picturesque nature spots, local food specialities, sporting activities, the best places to stay and eat, and the all-important transport links to and from the mainland.
Which is why Kelham sticks out but Peter hopes it can be a beacon for the rest of Sheffield.
“I went into the city centre for the first time in a while a couple of months ago and was upset about the number of shops which had closed.
“I don’t think you can predict how long it will be before we bounce back but I hope all the plans which were put on hold can now go ahead so regeneration can build. It is good to have cranes on the horizon.”
He says there are 600 islands in Great Britain and 135 have people living on them. “The book grew as we went on. It started in Scotland, then the Channel Islands were added, the Northern Ireland islands and so on.
“My favourite is Lindisfarne, a great place and if you time it so you can stay overnight once the tourists leave it is so secluded.
“The book took three years to write, a lot of travelling in what was not a grand time to be travelling. Some trips were shelved and the organisation was really difficult due to cancellations.”
Here are Peter’s top 10 islands in his own words.
Tresco, Isles of Scilly. With its own microclimate, this island in the Scillies is ideally placed to grow a range of trees and plants that can’t be nurtured anywhere else in the British Isles. The famous gardens on the island are a delight to wander around on a sunny day.
Berneray, Outer Hebrides. Miles of white sandy beaches make this a beautiful island to take a stroll and spend time playing with the kids. The sea is so clear that on a sunny day it will feel like you’re in the tropics.
Lindisfarne. Check the tide times and head across the causeway to the site of the first Viking invasion. There’s an abbey and castle to check out and some great cafes until it’s time to head back to the mainland.
Skellig Michael. Take a boat trip off the west coast of island and you may come across a wookie or a Jedi! This is the island used in the new Star Wars films, where Luke Skywalker was hiding out as a hermit.
The Isle of Man. Time your visit with the TT races to see this island come alive with sights and sounds as the motorbikes race through the urban and rural streets to complete a world-famous circuit.
Easedale. Plenty of islands have their own unique traditions, and on tiny Easedale it’s all about the Skimming Championships where competitors try to make their rock bounce on the water to the other side of the lake.
St Kilda. It’s a long day trip to this far flung island off the Scottish coast, where a community scraped together an existence until they were evacuated in the 1930s. It’s a stunning place to be.
St Herbert’s Island, Lake District. Sitting in the middle of Derwent Water, close to Keswick, you can take a kayak and explore the place that inspired Beatrix Potter to write the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.
Lamb Holm, Orkney. During the Second World War, Italian prisoners of war converted a building into a small church, giving it an ornate façade and painting the interior with such flare as to make it our very own Sistine Chapel. It’s a joy to visit.
Fair Isle. Sandwiched between Orkney and Shetland, arrange to stay at the RSPB observatory and enjoy time watching a wide range of rare bird species that visit throughout the year.
His plan now is to teach more which he is enjoying after a spell out of the profession. As we leave, Peter is off to renew his Sheffield Wednesday season ticket.
Owls must like islands.
Treasured Islands is published by Bloomsbury and costs £18.99. For information about the author visit his website http://peter-naldrett.co.uk/