Caught by the River

The Caught by the River Book of the Month: May

11th May 2015


Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fair Isle: A Celebration of the Islands Around Britain
Words by Mathew Clayton, illustrated by Anthony Atkinson.
Ebury Press, hardcover, 192 pages. Out now.

Review by Jon McNaught.

I’ve always had a passion for islands and for Britain’s remote places, so was very excited to find such a carefully assembled collection. This certainly didn’t disappoint. Clayton draws from a rich and varied knowledge, offering us fascinating insights and descriptions of almost 200 islands.

This is a familiar format, but it immediately feels like a unique and contemporary publication. This is partly due to Anthony Atkinson’s evocative black and white pen drawings, which burst from the page, often filling the entire space.


Using a combination of delicate cross hatching and bold brush strokes he creates a very dramatic quality, more akin to the style of graphic novels than traditional nature illustration. They bring to mind the artwork of Joe Sacco, or Robert Crumb, but have a hazy, gentle, britishness of their own.

The illustrations work beautifully, capturing the stark, otherworldly atmosphere of these places. We get a feel of the windswept grass, rolling hills, and billowing clouds, and a very particular sense of melancholy that is often present in island environments. There are dozens of haunting landscapes to admire, including the abandoned Kelp warehouse on the shore of Raithlin, the jagged rocks of St Kilda protruding from the sea, and the flooded causeway across to Foulness, stretching into the mist.

The atmospheric drawings fit very well with Clayton’s writing, which often focuses on the allure of history, and the ‘haunted’ quality that islands evoke, with remnants of the past still very much in view. Clayton describes abandoned villages, clifftop monastries, ancient standing stones, and remote lighthouses with an infectious delight in the mystery and drama that they have to offer.


Clayton’s writing also covers a wide range of more contemporary insights, referencing film, TV, politics and literature, in relation to British islands. Within the context of the book, these stories often take on an almost mythic quality. Such as the BBC film crew lugging their equipment over miles of bog to film The Great Climb in 1967, and the island of Dorinish, bought by John Lennon at the height of his fame, and turned into a commune in 1970.

It is clear throughout, that British islands are a personal passion for both Clayton and Atkinson. In his introduction Clayton describes childhood trips to the Island of Caldey, where he was shown the ancient ‘Ogham Alphabet’ and discovered the half-century old initials of his grandparents carved into the trunk of a tree. This sense of discovery and adventure run through the pages of the book, and reading it makes you feel like you’re making these discoveries for yourself.

I’ve thoughoughly enjoyed reading this book, and it has resulted in my list of desired holidays tripling in size. It’s a real treat to have all of this information collected into such a beautifully illustrated edition.

£7.49 in the Caught by the River shop. Buy it now.

We are hosting an evening’s entertainmemt with Mathew Clayton and Anthony Atkinson at Rough Trade East, London E1 on Thursday 11 June. Find out more HERE.