On our way to Brownsea_2
Islands have an air of mystery about them; they hold a fascination for most of us.

As a child brought up around Poole Harbour, which was at that time classified as the second largest natural harbour in the world, I was always aware of Brownsea Island. This is the largest island in the harbour. When I was a child I was saving my pocket-money in the vain hope that I could buy the island!

I loved Brownsea, and its air of mystery was deepened by the knowledge that trespassing was prohibited. At that time Brownsea was owned by a reclusive lady, Mrs Bonham-Christie. She had guards patrolling the shore-line. Whether I ever actually landed on the island in those days I’m not sure. I like to think that I did, on a beach as far away from the castle where the owner lived as could be.

Nor was I the only person to be fascinated by Brownsea. Enid Blyton spent many holidays in the Purbeck area of Dorset and the countryside inspired her work. In her book ‘Five Have a Mystery to Solve,’ published in 1962, she wrote about an island sometimes referred to as Whispering Island and it’s likely that this was Brownsea Island.

The castle on the island was built during the reign of King Henry VIII for coastal defense. Forces were stationed there in times of conflict from that time, even when it was privately owned.

Mrs Bonham-Christie gained possession of the island in 1927 and proceeded to set it up as a nature reserve, evicting most of the islanders and just retaining those she needed. When she died in 1961 she left it to her grandson. In 1962 the National Trust took it over.

Bird totem pole by hide
Carved totem pole outside the bird hide.

Another claim to fame for Brownsea Island dates from before the time of Mrs Bonham-Christie. The very first Boy Scout camp was held there in 1907, under the supervision of Robert Baden-Powell. Twenty one boys attended, a mixture of boys from public schools and ordinary working-class local boys.

Statue of Baden Powell
Statue of Baden Powell

Now it’s said to be our favourite nature reserve run by the National Trust. It’s a beautiful island, a lovely day out. You never know which birds or animals you may see, even the fairly rare (in the UK) red squirrel.




giant chess board on island

8 thoughts on “Magical Islands

  1. One of my mother’s favourite stories involves St Michael’s Mount, off the coast of Cornwall. Apparently we were wandering around it when I was about five years old, when I suddenly paused, thought for a bit, then declared: “I’m going to live in a house like this one day Mummy”. She still laughs about it now when she tells people. Ironically we were already living on an island at the time, Nauru, but I think it’s the possible seclusion of a small island that is so inviting (and the castle, obviously, in the case of St Michael’s Mount!) It’s like another world, only one cut off by water instead of space. Jx

    1. Thanks for the comments which are most interesting. St Michael’s Mount is truly a magical place. We lived in Cornwall for 14 years so knew it quite well, and just the sight of it stirs me. Also interesting is your comment that you lived on Nauru; I’ve not been there, but my husband Mike knew it well in the late 60s (obviously before you were born!) He worked as electrician on a ship travelling around the Gilbert & Ellis Islands as they were then, and visited Nauru quite often.

  2. What fascinating history. Hardly surprising Enid Blyton likely drew her inspiration from Brownsea. Have a few ideas of my own after reading this post! 🙂

  3. I went to Brownsea Island once when I was a teenager, the thing I remember most was that it was a hot, sunny day and I got sunburnt. Not much chance of that happenning today!
    I didn’t know about the Enid Blyton connection. I wasn’t really a fan of her Famous Five books but I did enjoy her Adventure series, including The Island of Adventure. I wonder if she was thinking of Brownsea when she wrote that?

  4. She may well have been, I can’t remember now after all these years! I devoured all her books as a child, just loved them. It was a good introduction to life as a reader. Let’s hope the sunny days will soon be here again anyway.

  5. Good to read about Brownie Island, and happy that it is a good Nature Reserve now. A little sad that You could not ‘buy’ it! Haha. Only one thing I do not like, so much. All those people evicted. Were they ‘exploiting’ the island?

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