Desolate Places: Fair Isle, Scotland

“Ian Moss, the captain, relayed the news that our leisurely cruise from Shetland to Fair Isle was to be superseded by a 6-hour rollercoaster ride with an uncertain smile. “T’s usually a two-hour crossing, but there’s a ruff swell offshore an’ we’re headed straight intae it.’ Even his crew were grimacy. I have a sailing background, and I’m used to high seas, but that crossing aboard The Good Shepherd is one I’d like to forget.”

~ Finn Beales, photographer

If one is seeking a place of absolute solitude, one can do no better than be marooned on Fair Isle off the northern coast of Scotland. Just three miles long and one and a half miles wide, Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the UK. Located about 25 miles from the Shetland mainland, it is not a place for the queasy. Howling winds and thick sea mists from the Atlantic are a regular part of life for the 50 or so inhabitants. The feeling of isolation is amplified when the weather is bad, and all transport links are cancelled. Sat atop precipitous cliffs high above the rolling sea, the inhabitants of Fair Isle are a resilient lot. They have to be. Despite the evident bleakness of the place, the folks who chose to live on Fair Isle have an appreciation and respect for the land, and a tolerance for each other that too many of us lack.

Fair Isle, Shetland Islands, Scotland. Photo: Tommy Hyndman.
Gulls over Malcolm Head, Fair Isle. Photo: Barkland Croft.
Puffins by a cliff edge, Fair Isle. Photo: David Gifford.
Puffins are a common sight on the island. Credit: Alamy.
Around 55 people now live on Fair Isle, which once claimed a community of almost 400. Photo: Alamy.
For centuries, islanders have knitted using wool from Shetland sheep, a tradition that continues today. Photo: Chris Morphett.
The only tarmac road on the island.
One of two dozen houses on Fair Isle. Photo: Oliver Berry.
Fair Isle’s only church from a distance.
Fair Isle’s church was built in 1892. Photo: Douglas Law.
Stackhoull Stores {the only shop on the island) where islanders can purchase groceries. Photo: Mavis Butterfield.
The lighthouse on Fair Isle’s northern coast.
Twilight on Fair Isle. Photo: Rachel Challoner.

Watch adventurer and TV presenter, Ben Fogle travel to Fair Isle to revisit islander and guest-house owner, Tommy.

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