Once part of Britain, this tiny archipelago is like a miniature Scarborough transplanted into the German Bight
We’re in search of a forgotten piece of Britain. But right now it feels as though we’re on a fool’s errand: stuck on an ageing passenger ferry, rolling side-to-side in the bleak North Sea and surrounded by hearty Germans tucking into herring sandwiches. A sea fret claimed the Lower Saxon coastline an hour ago and we’re left staring at the endless choppy sea; the only apparent connection to the United Kingdom is the grey weather.
Things look up when the mist makes way for a clear blue sky. A stubby island emerges on the horizon, its sheer cliffs coloured a deep red, as though someone has positioned a small Uluru in the middle of the water. This is Heligoland, a tiny archipelago 29 miles off the German coast that has long attracted the attention of both holidaymakers and warring nations. From its seizure at the height of the Napoleonic Wars in 1807, until 1890, it was a British colony, dubbed the “Gibraltar of the North Sea” and considered of similar strategic importance as its Mediterranean equivalent.
Comedian Mark Thomas found his idea of rambling along the Israeli barrier in the West Bank even more fraught than it sounds
The dubious honour of being the first person to walk the length of Israel’s barrier in the West Bank, to the best of my knowledge, belongs to, well, me. Admittedly it’s not a hotly contested title. Israel’s massive barrier covered in watchtowers, wire and soldiers is hardly a hiking trail but it will become one eventually. That is the fate of military follies, from the Great Wall of China to Hadrian’s Wall: they are destined to a future of tea shops and tour guides. I suppose I wanted to ramble this one before it goes mainstream and ends up covered with daytrippers wearing T-shirts saying: “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Gaza.”
There were other reasons for wanting to do the walk (primarily devilment and curiosity), but essentially I wanted to do for rambling what Hunter S Thompson did for journalism. Gonzo Rambling is what I was after (though without recourse to soaking the Kendal Mint Cake in acid) and where Thompson relied on drink and drugs for inspiration, I would rely on my natural talent for ineptitude.