Robert Macfarlane includes a disclaimer in this article, he’s been involved with, and is a contributor to, the first issue of Archipelago by Clutag Press – previously noted here – and he’s also written extensively on the subject matter, archipelagic writing, as evidenced by his collection of articles for the Guardian. ANYway.. from his article in Saturday’s Guardian Review
Archipelago: (k p l g), def. 1 “Any sea or sheet of water, studded with many isles.” We live, though this is easily forgotten, on an island group of exceptional intricacy. Together, the territories conventionally called England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales comprise over 5,500 islands, studding and separating the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. And between them, the languages of this archipelago muster dozens of words for “island”, depending on size, profile, and water-context (fresh or salt; running or still; marine, estuarine or riverine). Listed, these words form a poem of paraphones: skerrie, skellig, sgeir, eyot, eilean, islet, inis, ynys, inch, isle, ailsa, ellan, oilean.
And a little on the tradition of archipelagic writing from the article – which leans on his contribution to the first issue of the journal.
A tradition of archipelagic writing goes as far back as the Celtic peregrini of the sixth to 10th centuries AD: the monks, solitaries and pilgrims who travelled west to live on the remote littorals of Britain and Ireland, and who left behind them a literature that is devotedly alert to place. The nameless monk, responsible for drystone walling on the island of North Rona in the ninth century, who stopped his work to write a poem recording his delight at standing on a “clear headland”, looking over the “smooth strand”, to the “calm sea”, and hearing the calls of the “wondrous birds”. Or the 10th-century copyist, working in an island monastery, who paused long enough to scribble a note in Gaelic beside his Latin text: “Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins.” The margins of the island? The margins of the page? The one fades into the other.