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After hitting the public eye by spending a year on the island of Taransay in the BBC's 'Castaway' programme, Ben Fogle has become a staple figure on the small screen presenting animal and travel related programmes such as Animal Park and Extreme Dreams. I've always found him personable and friendly in his shows so thought 'what the heck' when I spotted his book 'Offshore' in my local library. At only 258 pages, it wasn't going to take long to read even if it was complete rubbish - which, it turned out, it wasn't.
'Offshore' details Ben's travels to islands in the British Isles in the search for an island that he can buy and/or become King of. His trail takes him the length and breadth of our 1,000 or so islands, from the more obvious Isle of Man to obscure lumps of rock I'd never even heard of, such as Rockall. All in all he visits 13 islands (Sark, Caldey, Bardsey, the Skerries, Isle of Man, Muck, Eigg, Gruinard Island, St Kilda, Shetland, Heligoland, Sealand and Rockall), getting the lowdown on island life from the islanders, boats crews and pub owners. Each island/island group is given a chapter ensuring quite a large amount of information is given on each, however, there is no mention of why he picked these particular 13 islands out of the thousand, which I would have liked to have known.
I wasn't expecting too much from this book so was pleasantly surprised to find Ben writes quite entertainingly, and the book is very well researched with lots of interesting background information about the history of the islands and the occasional mad islander. Who knew there was an 'Island Games' where a kind of Olympics is held purely for island nations? Or that there is still an island monastery off Wales, who sell their own perfumes and chocolates to keep financially afloat? Or that there Rockall 's ownership is disputed by Britain, Ireland and Iceland (because, although the rock is a tiny, uninhabitable lump of rock, its seabed potentially holds oil). I found all this random knowledge, no doubt highly useful for future games of Trivial Pursuit/pub quizzes, intriguing.
The main negative I had about the book is that it doesn't have a single map, which I found a crucial omission as I've got no idea where half these islands are. One map would have saved lots of unclear sentences hopelessly trying to describe a location in the middle of an ocean.
This book is unlikely to win any literary prizes, but it is an interesting and fun romp through some strange parts of the UK that most of us are unlikely to visit anytime soon, and he certainly meets some really eccentric characters! If you like travel adventures, and a bit of a laddish point of view, and fancy an easy read that won't take any concentration then this book is worth the few hours it'll take you to read it, although I'd recommend borrowing it, rather than buying it.