The Summer Isles | Granta

The Summer Isles

Philip Marsden

In an old wooden sloop, Philip Marsden plots a course north from his home in Cornwall. He is sailing for the Summer Isles, a small archipelago near the top of Scotland that holds for him a deep and personal significance. On the way, he must navigate the west coast of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides. Bearing the full force of the Atlantic, it is a seaboard which is also a mythical frontier, a place as rich in story as anywhere on earth.

Through the people he meets and the tales he uncovers, Marsden builds up a haunting picture of these shores – of imaginary islands and the Celtic otherworld, of the ageless draw of the west, of the life of the sea and perennial loss – and the redemptive power of the imagination.

Exhilarating and poignant, Marsden’s prose has been widely praised. Bringing together themes he has been pursuing for many years, The Summer Isles is an unforgettable account of the search for actual places, invented places, and those places in between that shape the lives of individuals and entire nations.

  • Published: 03/10/2019
  • Hardback
  • ISBN: 9781783782994
  • 153x20mm, 352 pages

The Summer Isles is a gazetteer of toponyms that conjure a scintillating watery world


Marsden brings characteristic elegance and insatiable curiosity to bear on his voyage; we are whisked along as passengers, alternately enchanted by this unforgettable coastline and apprehensive of its treachery. Even the most dogged land lubber cannot fail to be exhilarated by these stiff salt breezes

Madeleine Bunting

A truly remarkable writer

Robert Macfarlane

The Author

PHILIP MARSDEN is the award-winning author of a number of works of travel, fiction and non-fiction, including The Bronski House, The Spirit-Wrestlers, and The Levelling Sea. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and his work has been translated into fifteen languages. He lives in Cornwall.

More about the author →

From the Same Author

Rising Ground

When Philip Marsden moved to a remote, creekside farmhouse in Cornwall, the intensity of his response took him aback. It led him to wonder why we react so strongly to certain places and set him off on a journey on foot westwards to Land’s End through one of the most myth-rich regions of Europe.

From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions at Tintagel, from the mysterious china-clay region to the granite tors and tombs of the far south-west, Marsden assembles a chronology of Britain’s attitude to place. In archives, he uncovers the life and work of other enthusiasts before him – medieval chroniclers and Tudor topographers, eighteenth-century antiquarians, post-industrial poets and abstract painters. Drawing also on his travels from further afield, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our own history but of man’s perennial struggle to belong on this earth.

Philip Marsden on

Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition

The Weather in Mongolia

Philip Marsden

‘Back in Ulanbataar, we went to Narmandakh's flat on the fourth floor of a grey, Soviet-style block in a crowd of other Soviet-style blocks’.

Essays & Memoir | Granta 102

Land’s End

Philip Marsden

‘Never by any chance will any wanderer from the world discover him in that illimitable wilderness.’