Birmingham adventurer visits every inhabited island in the UK and meets billionaires & a king

Adventurer John Chatterton, aged 74 from Moseley, spent five years trekking around 220 islands

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A 74-year-old adventurer has finished a five-year mission to visit every inhabited island in the UK.

John Chatterton has been greeted by eccentric billionaires and taken part in quirky local customs while visiting 220 islands around the British Isles.

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And on Thursday (June 14), he was given permission to step onto the restricted 84-acre Whale Island, near Portsmouth, Hants - the last remaining location on his UK list.

The climate change consultant has spent thousands of pounds and used rowing boats, aircraft and cable cars to reach remote islands around the country.

His most impressive conquests include Piel Island, Cumbria, home to its own ‘King’ and Foulness Island, Southend, requiring him to make the “most dangerous” walk in Britain.

And the determined pensioner has even sneakily made landfall on the occasional islet where he couldn’t get the landowner’s formal permission.

John Chatterton, from Moseley, Birmingham. heading from Herm to Jethou, Channel IslandsJohn Chatterton, from Moseley, Birmingham. heading from Herm to Jethou, Channel Islands
John Chatterton, from Moseley, Birmingham. heading from Herm to Jethou, Channel Islands

What has John said about his travels in his own words?

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John, from Moseley, said: “There are some wonderful, beautiful islands around the UK, each one has a story to tell, and there are some wonderful, quirky characters.

“I’ve been welcomed by billionaires and Bear Grylls, experienced some fascinating local customs and learned how people live on the fringes of our islands."

John is no stranger to record feats after becoming one of the first people to walk 5,003 miles around the British coast in 328 days, over a six-year period.

And a decade later, he decided to set off on his new challenge - taking solely ocean going vessels, and the occasional plane, to reach his destinations.

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He said: "On the first 5000 mile walk, when I was reasonably fit, my first big mantra was ‘I won’t take any ferries’. My next idea was the opposite: ‘Why don’t I go to every inhabited island in the British Isles and only take ferries.’”

John ChattertonJohn Chatterton
John Chatterton

So what about these unusual customs on the islands?

Along the way, John has encountered some of the bizarre practices and traditions that are familiar to many small island communities.

He said: “Piel Island, just off Barrow-in-Furness, is home to the ‘King of Piel’, who’s actually the local publican,”

“[And] we were transported to Dry Island in Loch Gairloch on a pontoon bridge and welcomed by the owner who offered to stamp our passports as he’s proclaimed his own country, Islonia.

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“The owner of the Isle of Ewe picked us up in his boat and took us across – it’s a popular haunt for honeymooners apparently because it’s pronounced: I love you.”

John Chatterton landing on Soay from Isle of SkyeJohn Chatterton landing on Soay from Isle of Skye
John Chatterton landing on Soay from Isle of Skye

Who owns the islands?

John’s also rubbed shoulders with celebrities who own private islands.

He said: "Last weekend, Bear Grylls, who has an island off the coast of North Wales, was extremely welcoming when I went there.

“It’s just an old hump of rock with a lighthouse on, and he’s converted the lighthouse. It’s called St. Tudwal’s West. He has this rib boat he uses to get onto the island."

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John has travelled by foot, car, ferry, causeway, pontoon bridge, rowing boat, cable car, pleasure cruiser and aircraft to reach islands around the UK.

He’s also taken the shortest scheduled flight in the world, lasting just 90 seconds, between Papa Westray and Westray in the Orkneys.

But even when he managed to make a tricky crossing to islands, his mission to step foot on them hasn’t always been straightforward.

To visit Foulness Island near Southend, he paid a guide to lead him on “the most dangerous walk in the British Isles”, home to quicksand, tides and a live military range.

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And although the owners of another Essex Island weren’t keen to allow the pensioner on, he sneakily slipped across the causeway to visit one evening.

John Chatterton crossing from Crinnan Harbour to Eilean Da MheinnJohn Chatterton crossing from Crinnan Harbour to Eilean Da Mheinn
John Chatterton crossing from Crinnan Harbour to Eilean Da Mheinn

Did he ever encounter any difficulties on his travels around the islands?

But nothing compares to one inhabited island, in Clew Bay, County Mayo, where he was met a pack of baying dogs at the jetty.

The island security guard refused to let him put a foot ashore, so the best he could manage was tapping the pier with his walking stick.

Despite this, John said most of his encounters have been pleasant - although he said contacting billionaire private island owners had made him "nervous".

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He said: “I went about contacting billionaire island owner with trepidation to be honest.

"One of the island was Brecqhou off Sark, in the Channel Islands, and that’s owned by the Barclay Brothers.

“And what I did was I wrote to their estate managers and explained what I was doing. They was very welcoming and wrote back to me and were quite happy to host me."

“There has been two or three of those very private islands, which you get a little bit nervous about, as one of the reasons they want to stay on the island is for privacy."

John Chatterton on the low tide crossing Tresco to Bryher, Scilly IslesJohn Chatterton on the low tide crossing Tresco to Bryher, Scilly Isles
John Chatterton on the low tide crossing Tresco to Bryher, Scilly Isles

Is that it for John’s British Isles island hopping?

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John needs to travel to just three more islands before he can say he’s visited all 223 that sit in the waters around the UK and Ireland. And following that he plans to release a book about his experiences.

On Thursday, he was given special permission to visit Whale Island, in Portsmouth Harbour, which is usually off limits to non-military personnel on Wednesday. The island is home to 500 sailors and Royal Marines on a regular basis.

During his stay, Lieutenant Commander Ian Pratt, the island’s executive officer, gave him a tour and said he was “delighted to help John complete a wonderful adventure”.

And following his visit, John said that he thought the base was “superb” and thanked the Lieutenant Commander for his hospitality.

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He said: “I’ve seen the navy on my travels – very active off the Scottish coast around Gareloch and off Plymouth. “Whale Island has been a superb end to a lovely project and the Navy’s hospitality has been fantastic.”

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