Sunday, 20 May 2012

Fabulous Fair Isle

Early in 2011 my sister and her family moved onto Fair Isle, Shetland to take up the positions of Warden and Administrator of Fair Isle Bird Observatory.  The realisation of a long held dream to live and work in the Shetland Islands.

We visited them in August and that’s when my own relationship with the island began. Fair Isle was the inspiration behind my “Shipping Forecast” piece (now available to buy on Etsy) and also the inspiration for some exciting work you’ll get to see later in the year.

As year round residents of this beautiful island I thought it best to let my sister and her husband share the highlights of this island with everybody, through their words and pictures.

Why did you want to move to Fair Isle?

We have always loved Shetland and were looking for a way to move up to the Islands.  For birders [which they are] running the Bird Observatory is a dream job.

What are the highlights of Island life?

It is a truly beautiful place to live, with a wonderful community. I feel so lucky to be part of that. There aren’t many places in the UK where you feel so completely at home and safe, and it is a great place for a family.

I love going down to North Haven Beach when the sea is so calm you can see the sand on the bottom of the seabed and the water is a beautiful bluey-green. It is so still, with the sea birds wheeling over your head and the seals coming right in close to the shore. It is so calm and peaceful and you have the beach to yourself – not just at 5 in the morning but perhaps 11am.

Bright sunny spring mornings watching the sunrise coming up over Sheep Rock

Late at night as the moon is just coming up, you can look out of the kitchen window and Sheep Rock is outlined in silver moonlight; the sky is so bright because the stars on Fair Isle are amazing and everywhere is bathed in this incredible silver light.

We were struck by just how much you could interact with the wildlife on the island

Part of the Bird Observatory’s role is to monitor bird populations and study migration. People can see a whole variety of birds up close when they are brought into the Observatory ringing room to be ringed before being released as well as the Storm Petrels ringing in late summer.

We have a large population of Skuas on the island and you can’t help to notice them as they whistle over your head protecting their territories!

If you go up on to Buness you can get really close to the puffins

Photo credit - Henry from Auld Haa Fair Isle

The seals are pretty inquisitive too.

The waters around Fair Isle and Shetland can be good for seeing a range of cetaceans, including Killer Whales during the summer, porpoise when the fish move into inshore waters, several species of Dolphin passing through and if you take a trip on the Good Shepherd larger species of whale such as Minke can be sighted reasonably regularly.

How much of the island are people allowed to explore?

Scotland’s outdoor access code allows people the opportunity to explore vast areas of the countryside. Here on Fair Isle pretty much the only places out of bounds are people’s private back gardens and crops.

What does Fair Isle have to offer its visitors?

People come for one thing and go away interested in a whole lot more. Visitors in the summer are often not ‘birders’ but get a lot from the experience of being on the island. Being on Fair Isle you get to do lots of other things you didn’t imagine when you came.

Image - South light Tommy Hyndman
Whatever period of history you might be interested in Fair Isle has played its part, whether you want to discover more about the Bronze age settlements and burnt mounds, the Spanish Sailors shipwrecked during the Armada, the ruined mill, the beacon warning system, the Stevenson Lighthouses or the World War 2 radar station and plane wreckage.

Perhaps you just want to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the island carpeted in flowers.

Even though the island only has a population of around 65-70 people there are still lots of skilled crafts people on the island.

We have skilled boat builders, artists, knitters, designer/makers and musicians.
Fair isle knitwear
Exclusively Fair isle Knitwear

 Fair Isle made in Fair Isle

Tommy Hyndman

Shetland Bunting

For more details check out the Fair Isle Crafts page here

Tell us more about the musicians

During the season we have a fortnightly music event on a Thursday night at the Bird Observatory.  Nearly the whole island attends and we are treated to sessions from Lise Sinclair, Fridarey and other local music.

Lise has produced a new CD with fellow Northern Isles musicians inspired by George Mackay Brown’s book “A Time to Keep” (you can find out more and watch a video here).

Fridarey have also produced CDs including “Across the Waters” and treat us to a selection of old Shetland and Fair Isle songs.

Fair Isle is a very special place, with a wonderful atmosphere and community. We can’t wait to go back for another visit in August. If you’d like to discover Fair Isle for yourself why not take a trip. Follow the links below to find out more about accommodation and some of the islanders blogs.

If you are into birds then the Fair Isle Warden's Diary is for you. And of course whether you want to look at bird or not you can stay at the lovely Observatory where my sister will take very good care of you - check out the site for more details

Tommy Hyndman writes a great blog which captures so much of island life. He also runs a guesthouse Auld Haa on the island too so you can go visit. (my especial thanks to Tommy who hopefully won't mind me shamelessly using some images from his site!)

You can also stay at these lovely places.

South Light

Upper Leogh

And finally for an amazing gallery of images take a look at Dave Wheeler's site here

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