Just a speck in the ocean, Fair Isle is home to a handful of people, an
abundance of birds and a way of life most only dream of.
BY KEVIN PILLEY
There were only two of us waiting for the flight to Britain's most remote, permanently inhabited island, 250 miles west of Norway. Florrie had just gotten her hair done, which involved a 25-mile flight across the North Atlantic and North Sea and then a bus or taxi ride to her stylist -- unless, of course, a friend picked her up.
We waited in a small room at Tingwall/Lerwick Airport on Shetland, a somewhat less-remote island than Fair Isle, our destination, but still 100 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Florrie knows all the pilots. She has lived on Fair Isle all her life and runs the taxi service there with her husband.
"I think it's Andy on today's flight. He was on the Papa Stour and Out Skerries run last week," she said with an insider's knowledge of the inter-island staff schedules. "I wave at the planes as they come right over our house. They tip their wings back me."
Florrie told me that the island she calls home is just under five miles long by a mile-and-a-half wide and has 50 residents, two listed lighthouses, one school with five pupils, two churches, a shop, a nurse, the fuselage of a shot-down Heinkel bomber from World War II, some old watermills, 14 monuments, a handful of full-time knitters, a large number of twites (a finch-like bird) and, well, quite a lot of wool.
Soon we were aboard a six-seat Britten Norman Islander and soaring into the cloudless sky over Sumburgh Head. Below were small fishing boats jumping the whitecaps and ahead were 100-metre-high sea cliffs and our destination. Before long we saw white crofts and lighthouses and were over rocky moorland. Sheep scattered.
Florrie tapped me on the arm, pointed and shouted over the propeller roar. "That's the Presbyterian kirk and the Methodist chapel -- 1880s or around there. And that's Kathy's house. And the Murrays'. And that's the Haa House, the old laird's home. And Sheep Rock. And that wee cove down there -- we call that Stroms Heelor -- that's where the El Gran Grifón was wrecked...the Spanish Armada. Some folk think it's haunted by drowned Spanish sailors." Florrie was smiling, happy to be back home.
The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2016 issue of Scottish Life.
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Click here to preview our column on Scottish Music by Edward Scott Pearlman.
Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.
Photos © Allan Milligan / Scottish Viewpoint; Charles Tait