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Eel Pie Island

August 22, 2010

Yesterday I was down in the Twickenham area so I made a short visit to Eel Pie Island.

Fifty years ago the island was famous as a thriving venue for blues and jazz bands but in the past ten years the only thing that seems to have happened was an invasion attempt by Danny Wallace. Nowadays it’s a combination of secretive dwellings holding around 150 residents, odd studios, Twickenham rowing club and some docks – but all with a creepy and sinister undertone.

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island - click to view larger

Not having possession of a boat, my access to the island was via a footbridge (#1 on the island image above). I was met with a sign saying “Private Island’ and subtext stating there was no thoroughfare to the river, and that I wasn’t allowed to cycle (2). Now a big sign saying ‘private’ is generally an indicator to keep out; however this sign didn’t actually tell me I wasn’t allowed to be there so with a little uncertainty I continued. The path I was on wound itself around to the left and there were tall bushes and trees on my right with closed gates leading off to various houses. On my left were a few more buildings in a row, some of them shops (I think) – perhaps all of them, I wasn’t too sure. Everything was closed though, or appeared to be at the least.

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

This path followed on for a little bit before I arrived at a large structure for Eel Pie Island Slipways Limited. This is where the path ended, though within the blue painted steel walls was a blue door (3). I tried it and it was open, swinging heavily on its hinges. I stepped inside and, once my eyes had adjusted to the sudden darkness, found I was in a basic shed type structure, along with a huge boat.

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

I quickly passed through this to the sunlight I could see on the other side and found myself at the start of another thin path winding through shacks and looking a little bit like I was in a junk yard. An old guy was sat on a piece of wood with his back to me. He wore a black suit and a black hat, his left hand was on a black cane and the only indication that he was alive seemed to be the cigarette he was smoking.

Inhale.

Exhale smoke.

Inhale.

Exhale smoke.

No other movements.

Inhale.

Exhale smoke.

I started off, curiously walking down the path and winding my way through the shacks until I found myself at a little clearing where the buildings ended and the trees started. There were some chairs placed around an old drum fire, odd trinkets, lots of metal and lots of pieces of boats. There were also a lot of mirrors. It was all a bit strange (4).

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

Eel Pie Island

I was feeling a little spooked also. I wasn’t sure if this was an area I was meant to be in. Sure, there were studios here and the signs said they were open, but the place appeared abandoned. Not only that, it appeared like it was suddenly abandoned. That whoever had been here had left in a hurry. With all the mirrors and dirty windows I also had that unsettling feeling like you’re being watched, which wasn’t helped by the whistling of leaves in the trees or the flaps of canvas on nearby boats as the wind caught them.

As I was taking a few more photos I suddenly heard someone speaking, a man’s voice – deep and throaty. I froze attempting to determine the direction it was coming from; the path I had just come up it turns out. I peeked around the corner of the building I was at but couldn’t see anything; I couldn’t here anything either.

I wanted to hide. I don’t know why, as I was doing nothing wrong. I had the feeling as if I were an eight year old and was somewhere I shouldn’t be so my natural instinct was to hide away until I could find a safe exit. So I retreated a little, back towards the gathering where the drum fire was.

I saw him then, in front of me. Only he couldn’t have been in front of me, of course, as the voices had been from the path behind me. I froze again, staring at him. He hadn’t seen me, I was looking at his back. I was also looking in one of the many mirrors that were there, which is why he had appeared to be in front of me.

He turned and disappeared out of view.

‘This is silly’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m a grown man and here I am hiding from another person when I have done nothing wrong and he’s probably a lovely old fisherman. I bet, if I were to go and say hello to him he would offer me a cup of coffee from a flask and perhaps give me a Werther’s Original.’

And so I took a breath, stepped out onto the path and went to face the stranger and claim my piece of toffee.

He wasn’t to be seen though. I’m not sure where he had gone to.

I didn’t wait to find out either, and quickly retraced my way back where I had been.

The old guy was no longer sat on the piece of wood – which pleased me.

The blue door was still slightly ajar which was how I had left it and also comforting.

The footbridge was still there, though in my mind I was expecting it to have disappeared for some reason.

Danny Wallace, Eel Pie Island is all yours mate; I don’t want it.

Eel Pie Island

Comments

8 Responses to “Eel Pie Island”

  1. Wavatar tenderhooligan on August 24th, 2010 9:23 am

    Looks well creepy. Can’t believe you went alone!

  2. Wavatar murphyz on August 24th, 2010 9:25 am

    oh no, I didn’t go alone.

    I came back alone.

    Mxx

    (just kidding, I didn’t kill nobody!)

  3. Wavatar Lemastre on January 9th, 2011 4:41 pm

    Google’s resources vis-a-vis Eel Pie Island support your own experience in showing the island to be a genuine bohemian enclave. I’m amazed that some real estate developer hasn’t managed to buy out enough residents to scare away the rest and enable him to turn the island into a clot of overpriced condominiums.

  4. Wavatar Bronwen on March 14th, 2012 10:46 am

    Brilliant post, made me feel like I was right there with you! What a curious and bizarre sounding place.

  5. Wavatar Colleen Bradley on September 5th, 2013 4:20 pm

    We love Eel Pie Island! This is our fifth time staying here from Australia and wouldn’t stay anywhere else. Perhaps you went down the wrong path!

  6. Wavatar Paul Double on June 30th, 2014 11:35 am

    My Gran and Uncle lived on Eel Pie for many many years.
    I have some very fond childhood memories of the island and many of its residents.
    It really was and still is a very special and unique place.
    Not all of the islands residents and dwellings are quite like the dump yard (sorry, ‘Bohemian’) area which you explored….
    Unfortunately my Grans house ‘Hurley Cottage’ was damaged in a fire then demolished several years ago, but the memories still live on..
    A very special place indeed.

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