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Wayfarer
Sunday, October 2nd, 2005, 09:22 PM
You don't have to be mad to live here...



By Alan Crawford


The Reverend Adrian Glover arrived on the Shetland island of Papa Stour from Bournemouth with his faith in one hand and a dream of a better life in the other. Earlier this year he turned his back on the picturesque island forever, his dreams of a simple family life far removed from the big city in tatters. He had become embroiled in a bitter island feud that led to three court appearances, a rock being hurled through his van window and – the final straw – a bucketfull of dog excrement emptied over his head.

Island life may appear idyllic, but as Glover can confirm, it’s not always plain sailing.

The National Trust for Scotland last week offered two families the opportunity to find this out for themselves, with a discreet advertisement placed in the Shetland Times announcing simply “To Let on Fair Isle”.

By advertising two houses for rent on one of Scotland’s most remote islands, the National Trust is offering more than mere property (although it’s not stretching to a job): it is holding out the prospect of a lifestyle change, one which has the potential to bring about Zen-like happiness or to descend into humiliating farce.

The lure is obviously a strong one: as of last Friday 120 people had requested information on the Fair Isle properties, “Taft”, a two-bedroom house and “Auld Haa”, boasting four bedrooms and a large garden. Around 70% of the enquiries have come from the US, where the story was carried on national radio – proving that the appeal of Scottish island life, at least the romantic idea of it, knows no geographical boundaries. Several applications have been lodged already, including one from America, with this Tuesday the deadline for aspiring islanders.

Interested parties would do well to consult Dave Wheeler, who moved with his wife from Edinburgh to Fair Isle in 1972 in response to a similar advert placed in The Scotsman.

“I read the article during a lunch break at work. At the time I was working for Scottish Television in Glasgow and then Edinburgh and I was just looking for a change.”

He and his wife Jane arrived in winter but had the distinct advantage of having spent a couple of years in South Georgia, where they lived in a community of 14 and their nearest neighbours were 800 miles away.

Wheeler, who provides meteorological data for the Met Office as well as running a croft, said small island life was a “strange confliction” between independence and reliance on others. You may not see eye to eye with everyone, but the common thread is community.

“You’ve got to create your own employment to have a means of living on the island, so you’re really very much an individual. Yet you’re living in a small, remote place and you’re very dependent on the rest of the island. You’ve got to work together to survive, just to keep the island going. You have success or failure through your own abilities, yet at all times you’ve got to think of all you do as really being for the benefit of the island.”

Many applicants will fall at the first hurdle. A short leet of more promising candidates will be drawn up and they will be encouraged to visit Fair Isle and meet the locals. However, it will be the National Trust, most likely informed by a community representative, rather than the 70 or so islanders that will make the final selection.

Fair Isle is regarded as something of a model for island living, with various forums and committees running different aspects of the island and feeding back into the island as a whole at three-monthly meetings.

The same is not true of every community. Prior to the Glovers’ departure, Papa Stour, just 50 miles or so to the north of Fair Isle, had become sadly synonymous with inter-island conflict as the result of a clash of personalities between Glover and his family on the one hand and the Holt-Brooks on the other. The Holt-Brooks – who were not involved in violent altercations with Glover – arrived over 30 years ago in response to yet another advert in the press, moving in with their first child and not a lot else from a hippy commune near Drumnadrochit to help found another commune. Their second child was born in a wooden hut and had a fishing box lined with wool that had snagged on fences for a cot.

“We were all equal in that none of us had any money behind us,” explained Sabina Holt-Brook when I interviewed her about the disruptions in early 2003. It was a tough lifestyle: there was no electricity; it was generators and Tilly lamps. It was a simple but good lifestyle.

“We had pantomimes in the school, dance classes, drinks at each others’s houses. Back then there really was a sense of community.”
The Glovers were at the forefront of a new wave of immigration in the mid-1990s and from the outset seemed to want to shake the island up.

Sabina went on: “To us the environment is important, but when people started coming just because the land and houses were cheap, well, their reasons for being here are very different.”

And so the two factions on Papa Stour failed to observe Wheeler’s maxim of working for the benefit of the island; capitalism intruded into the communist enclave.

Life on a Scottish island can be exhilarating, soul-enriching and incredibly fulfilling. But it can also be expensive, lonely, and bad for your health, while job opportunities tend to be limited.

Naturally, Scottish islands differ enormously, even within island groups. Some are flourishing, but despite decades of effort at government level to help sustain Scotland’s peripheral communities, others are suffering depopulation and an ageing demographic profile, prompting fears for their long-term future.

The last census shows a total of 99,739 people lived on Scotland’s islands in 2001, 3% down on the 1991 census compared to a 1% rise in the Scottish population as a whole.

Sixty-four islands experienced a fall in population in that period, with 35 islands witnessing a rise. Of the 14 most populous islands, only four – the Orkney mainland, Skye, Arran and Great Cumbrae (Millport) – showed an increase in population.

Lewis and Harris continued its downward trend, with a population of 19,918, down about 8% on 1991. Yet, more recent estimates suggest that the population of the whole Western Isles as of June 30, 2004 showed a modest increase of 160 on the previous year. The council urges caution, however, arguing it is not clear whether this recent shift indicates a change in the island’s long-term trend of a declining and ageing population.

Island populations in general are older than the Scottish average, a situation with implications for local economies. However, employment levels are roughly parallel with the mainland. Statistics released last week show Shetland to have the second highest employment level in the UK, at 85.8%, with Orkney not far behind on 85.1%, number four in the UK.

One island, Unst, stands out in the census as having witnessed the greatest outward migration of any island. In 2001 there were 720 inhabitants compared with 1055 in 1991. The reason is the “draw-down” of the island’s RAF base at Saxa Vord, a Cold War relic that is to close altogether next year.

Sandy Macaulay, a director of Unst Partnership, established to help attract jobs and people to Britain’s most northerly island, said the population was projected to fall to 600 or less by the end of 2006.

“What we are talking about is the population virtually halving over a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006,” said Macaulay, who came to Unst from Aberdeen in 1988. “It’s all related to jobs, which is why we’ve never gone down the Fair Isle route of trying to recruit people. What we need is to create jobs – that’s the only way to sustain a population like Unst.”

Despite the problems, or perhaps because of them, community spirit on Unst is “incredibly strong”, one of the principal attractions of island life.

Islands that seek to bolster their populations always run the risk of attracting layabouts fleeing the mainland for one reason or another, who seem to wash up on island shores with greater regularity than islanders might wish. People with their own idiosyncrasies also enjoy the isolation that islands afford, regardless of the shocked reaction of locals.

Hamish Haswell-Smith, author and illustrator of the best-selling book The Scottish Islands, doesn’t live on an island, but he’s visited enough of them to gain an insight into the type of people who succeed at island life.

He says any would-be islander must be a “very special kind of person”.
“A lot of people have a very idealised view of living on an island, but when you get down to hard facts you can’t be a private person at all.”

Muck, one of the Small Isles reached by ferry from Mallaig, is one of those isles that periodically advertises for new recruits. Islanders have a say on the successful applicants, although says Haswell-Smith, “they’re very cautious about who they take on”.

People who want to “drop out of the rat race” are more often the failures, while entrepreneurial spirits are more liable to success, he said. “You’ve got to be the type who’s ready to rough it out through a cold winter or you’re not really going to manage. So many people see the place in the summer and just think it’s going to be lovely. But you think of the long winter nights and you’re cut off, it’s only a certain number of people who could stand that.”

That’s not necessarily the view of Kevin Byrne, 58, who moved from Ireland to the inner Hebridean island of Colonsay in 1978 with his wife and three children to run the local hotel.

He says the many challenges of island life are best tackled by simply addressing them little by little. The goal is normality, and ideal candidates for island life are those who could “make a go of it anywhere”.

When Byrne and his family arrived in 1978, Colonsay was one of the most isolated places in the UK, although that has improved with better, more regular ferry services to Oban. Hopes are high that connections will improve further next summer with the introduction of a light-aircraft service between Oban and Colonsay, Coll and Tiree. Broadband internet has also made communication easier.

It’s a far cry from Colonsay in 1978. “Back then we didn’t have mains water or electricity, running a hotel was a challenge. On the other hand we were impressed with the positive nature of the community that lived here – the kind of people who had travelled the world with merchant vessels. They weren’t people buried away; this was their land and they expected and intended to live normally.”
More recently, he has noticed a rise in the number of people moving to Colonsay to take early retirement as well as people who have “effectively decided to leave the rat race”.

Byrne, a webmaster, boatman and publisher of House of Lochar books, quotes another islander on the latter category of incomer.
“Frankly,” he said “if they can’t keep up with the rats, this is no place for them because it’s actually more competitive. Nearly everyone who has said they’re coming here to get out of the rat race has left within two or three years. Normally people who make a success have come here with their eyes wide open.”

He added: “If I were persuading people to come to Fair Isle, I would be very cautious about the ones who say they want to drop out, because 10-to-one they won’t be staying long.”

02 October 2005
http://www.sundayherald.com/52041

Milesian
Sunday, October 2nd, 2005, 09:35 PM
Remote Scottish Island looking for residents

My first thought was - "Haven't some English people already moved in yet?"


The Reverend Adrian Glover arrived on the Shetland island of Papa Stour from Bournemouth .....

Ah.....
Why can't these immigrants learn to live peacefully and harmoniously?;)

Loki
Sunday, October 2nd, 2005, 09:53 PM
My first thought was - "Haven't some English people already moved in yet?"
Ah.....
Why can't these immigrants learn to live peacefully and harmoniously?;)

English people are superior Germanics. Can only be a good thing. :)

Milesian
Sunday, October 2nd, 2005, 10:18 PM
English people are superior Germanics. Can only be a good thing. :)

Yes, but they aren't all Nordish Germanics. So I'm not so sure how accurate that "Superior" thing actually is ;)

Wayfarer
Sunday, October 2nd, 2005, 11:19 PM
English people are superior Germanics. Can only be a good thing. :)
Naw mate yer wrang ;)
Are the local Shetlandic folk lesser Germanics? I dont think so.

When the hordes of English immigrants (the largest immigrant population in Scotland) descend on mass to parts of Scotland pushing up house prices so much that the local folk can no longer afford to stay in there own towns and places of origin is that a good thing?
This is actually the main cause of anti English resentment in many parts of Scotland.

But presently theres no much chance of that happening on this particular Island. :D

Milesian
Monday, October 3rd, 2005, 02:27 AM
But presently theres no much chance of that happening on this particular Island. :D


Naw mate yer wrang ;)

That sounds more like the dialect of Ystrad Clud than Hjaltland :P

Wayfarer
Monday, October 3rd, 2005, 02:50 AM
That sounds more like the dialect of Ystrad Clud than Hjaltland :P
Aye mibbay but am sure he kent whit a sayd :D

anyway in Shetlandic its gan da fuck oot o ma lan

Milesian
Monday, October 3rd, 2005, 12:53 PM
Aye mibbay but am sure he kent whit a sayd :D

Aye mibbay right enough. Someone here speaks Appalachian, it's funny tae see some Scoe'ish wurds in between all the rest o' the gibberish.


anyway in Shetlandic its gan da fuck oot o ma lan

Is that no Geordie? ;)

Wayfarer
Monday, October 3rd, 2005, 08:12 PM
Aye mibbay right enough. Someone here speaks Appalachian, it's funny tae see some Scoe'ish wurds in between all the rest o' the gibberish.
Whats gibberish? Etymology is history mate, the history of who we are. Scots is a good example of that with an Anglic base and vocabulary made up mostly of Germanic, Brythonic and Gaelic origin. I consider it greatly disrespectful and insulting to denegrate a dialect irrespective of where that dialect is spoken.
Well maybe with the exception of Cockney or if your a man talking in a East Anglian accent. I dont mind women with that accent but for a guy it sounds so gay :D

Is that no Geordie? ;)
Aye your right. In Shetlandic its gaeng da fuck oot o mi lan.:P
The word gan(g) is a common word in all Scots and Northern English dialects. Mind that they all share the same Northumbrian roots.;)

Shetlandic grammar (http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wirhoose/but/zet/gramnot.htm)

Loki
Monday, October 3rd, 2005, 08:26 PM
Yes, but they aren't all Nordish Germanics. So I'm not so sure how accurate that "Superior" thing actually is ;)

Ah, yes, unfortunately some of them still have considerable pre-Germanic blood... ;)

Weg
Tuesday, October 4th, 2005, 01:14 AM
Good. I plan to move there as soon as possible. I need some fresh air.

Milesian
Friday, October 7th, 2005, 03:14 PM
The word gan(g) is a common word in all Scots and Northern English dialects. Mind that they all share the same Northumbrian roots.;)
Shetlandic grammar (http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/wirhoose/but/zet/gramnot.htm)

It doesn't exist in Glaswegian ;)
I listened to the Northumbrian dialects, I don't see it as being very close to my own. Perhaps to some of the east coast dialects. They don't sound much like Glaswegian though. I always though it showed greatest affinity with speech of Ulster.

Wayfarer
Saturday, October 8th, 2005, 02:14 AM
It doesn't exist in Glaswegian ;)
I listened to the Northumbrian dialects, I don't see it as being very close to my own. Perhaps to some of the east coast dialects. They don't sound much like Glaswegian though. I always though it showed greatest affinity with speech of Ulster.
Unfortunately like many urbanised areas local dialects tend to get lost. You can still hear folk saying gang in some of the more rural areas near Glasgow, although its more common in elder folk. For example "gan doon tae de shops".
Also its present in "gangway" the going way or the way to go. ;)
Dialects differ from region to region including Scots which has many local variations. Glaswegian may not sound similar to Northumbrian but the difference is more accent than dialect. The roots of many words in Scots and Northumbrian are similar and you will find many words in Scots and Northern English dialects that are not to be found anywhere else.
But sadly Scots is a dying language and most people in Scotland no longer know anent de Scots leid (about the Scots language) but rather speak Scottish English or a Scottish dialect of English, or English with a Scottish accent. :(
As for Northumbrian, they succumbed to London rule much earlier than Scotland and Estuary English had longer to influence the dialects there. Also Scots has other influences on it like Gaelic for example.