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.