The Halligen Islands are so low-lying that top tides flood them every winter, however the laid-back inhabitants are greater than equal to the problem
Higher floor … on the Halligen Islands homes are constructed on artifical mounds to maintain them above the waterline.
‘And listed below are the beds,” mentioned Alina, information on the Kapitän Tadsen Museum, pointing to some tiny wood cots constructed into the wall like cabinets. “They’re so short because the people slept sitting up.”
I raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Well,” she mentioned, “they thought that if they slept lying down, the devil might think they were dead and steal their souls.”
Had I not been on the Halligen Islands for 24 hours already, this element may have shocked me, however this old style world view appeared completely in tune with the place. All however unknown exterior Schleswig-Holstein (and dubbed the “Forgotten Islands” consequently), the Halligen are 10 extraordinarily low-lying islands off the north-west coast of Germany. So low-lying, in actual fact, that each winter the best tides carry the Wadden Sea flooding in, inundating the pancake-flat salt marsh. Each home, nevertheless, is constructed on a warft, a artifical mound that (normally) retains it safely above the waterline. With every winter flood – or landunter – every mound turns into its personal island, a tiny outpost within the foaming brine.
It’s a lifestyle distinctive to this nook of Europe and, with rising sea ranges, its future is unsure – a number of uninhabited islands have already vanished beneath the waves. In a bid to not hasten the drowning of the rest of this Unesco reserve, I’d adopted my common no-flying apply and brought the prepare from London, in summer season.
A bit ferry conveyed me from the harbour at Schlüttsiel on the mainland to Langeness, the biggest island, a slender six-mile-long affair. Alighting alongside a tractor pulling a wagon containing the island’s publish, I checked in on the Hilligenley resort – a rangy farmhouse-style constructing typical of the islands, and marched off searching for the museum and its quick beds.
In spring and autumn the islands are awash with migrating birds, however even in summer season they’re alive with avian life. A tame redshank assumed the position of information and minder, main me alongside the empty single-track street, whereas Arctic terns and black-headed gulls tussled noisily for supremacy of the skies.
Sea stage … aerial view of Norderoog, one of many 10 Halligen Islands off the coast of Germany. Photograph: Alamy
Next day I hopped on a ferry for the half-hour voyage to Hooge, made considerably circuitous by the necessity to keep away from numerous sandbanks, on one among which a pod of seals was having fun with the afternoon solar. Hooge is the bustling metropolis of the Halligen Islands: its two sq. miles comprise 10 warften, properties to a inhabitants of about 100. A really pleasant inhabitants because it turned out. The commonplace greeting right here, regardless of the hour, is Moin! (pronounced Mo-een), and I found myself exchanging this salutation all day.
Pension Hus Waterkant, a brief stroll from the dock, was my base for 4 nights. Cheery proprietor Karen had thoughtfully positioned a pair of binoculars and a few laminated wildlife-spotting playing cards in every bed room. These helped me establish the various flowers – whats up, purple halligflieder and yellow strand-salzmelde – on salt marshes which help species not found anyplace else on the planet.
The Kapitän Tadsen Museum on Langeness island
Low tide exposes large mudflats on which guests can take guided walks. I used to be taken far out on to this ephemeral desert by volunteer rangers Charlotte and Ella. They launched me to a tiny mud snail, the wattschnecke (“you get about 100,000 of these to every square metre of mud,” Charlotte knowledgeable me), and a curious worm known as a sand mason (“basically, a long tube with a mouth”). We additionally performed a game known as “sea fog”, by which I needed to don a white blindfold – replicating a dense sea fret – and attempt to stroll 100 paces in a straight line again in direction of Hooge. Despite my ethereal confidence beforehand, once I took off my blindfold I found I used to be blithely strolling out to sea once more.
I’m one thing of an aficionado of small islands – I’ve even written a e book about them – however I’ve by no means been anyplace just like the Halligens, with their broad horizons in virtually each route, large bird-filled skies and odd little hillocks – every a hamlet unto itself – virtually full lack of motorised automobiles and blissfully unhurried and seemingly precarious lifestyle.
As the times handed, I cycled fortunately about on my rent bike; walked miles of low sea wall; waved to the drivers of horse-drawn carriages; inflicted my fanciful German on restaurateurs and the employees on the Halligens’ solely grocery store; picnicked in strandkorben – canopied wicker seats – with a neighborhood Flensburger beer; visited the 2 tiny museums; and watched a movie within the world’s solely Sturmflutkino (Storm Flood Cinema), which exhibits dramatic footage of latest inundations (“Last year it flooded on Christmas Day,” one native later informed me ruefully).
And on one memorable afternoon I took the ferry to the minute island of Gröde. There, a murmuration of silver-grey knots (a sort of wading chook) flew so low over my head that I may hear the collective whoosh of their furiously fluttering wings.
Way to go
Rail travel was supplied by Voyages-sncf.com, which has returns from London to Husum (35km on public transport from Schlüttsiel) from £342 return. Hamburg airport is 180km from Schlüttsiel.
Where to remain
Accommodation was supplied by the Germany vacationer board. The Hilligenley resort, Langeness, has doubles from €74 B&B and singles from €50. Pension Hus Waterkant, Hooge, has doubles from €56 B&B and singles from €29.