Fair Isle – Mist and Myths

On the road less traveled and the course less steered we visit places normally less frequented. They lie far beyond the mist or behind an unsurpassable amount of sea miles. Some times our voyage description does not do them justice. A summary together with some pictures should give a better idea of what to expect when we go the extra mile!

43 km north of North Ronaldsay and 38 km south of Sumburgh Head, Fair Isle lies right in the middle of the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles. On a clear summer day, a little cloud gives a way the location of Ward hill. At 217 mtr high this red sand stone bluff makes up the Islands NW shore. The dramatic and scenic South shore is made up of naturel sand stone and has many skerries and arches. Withstanding the teeth of time, Fire Isle or Far off Isle is part of the natural border between the North Atlantic and the North Sea. Right on the fringes of civilization.

This treacherous stretch of water did not seem to bother the ancient navigators. The grave tombs at Houlalie are dated back as far as 3500bc. At Landberg we find an Iron Age fort. The real legacy is in the many Norse place names. These old warriors used the Island on their way on raids in the Outer Hebrides. They created a system of fire beacons on the outposts of all the Isles to warn the coming of enemies! The Orkneyinga Sage has Earl Rognavalt sending one of his men to the Island to drench the beacon in water, to prevent it from being lite. This enabled the cunning Earl to make an unannounced land fall at Westray! 

Not all ships were lucky enough to pass the Island. In 1588 the Spanish Armada fled from an attack by Sir Francis Drake in the Channel. The direct way South was blocked making the only way to escape the route North of the British Isle. The 38 gun El Gran Grifon found herself of the coast of Fair Isle when a sudden squall drove her ashore. The proud flag ship proved no match for the rocks of Sivars Geo. Two hundred Spanish souls made it ashore. The local community of crofters cared for them as best as they could. However there supplies where soon drained. When the sailors took to the livestock the Islanders desperately rounded them up and, with a fair wind, sent the Spanish crew to Lerwick. The local grave yard is a silent witness of crews less fortunate. Before the days of RADAR every 4 years a ship would founder on the rocks of Fair Isle. The two light houses stand guard and have helped ships to stand clear of the rocks since 1892. Both were built by Mr. Stevenson and are well worth a visit.

  Early last century the population of crofters was declining rapidly. Total abandonment seemed inevitable. Were it not for the erection of the now famous bird observatory, this abandonment would have been a fact. The observatory founded by George Waterson greatly improved the infrastructure and communication much needed by this viable Island community. The Islanders today still live of their croft and supplement their income with fishing and their famous knit wear! We try to visit Fair Isle twice a year on our way up to and on our way back from Iceland. We are always very welcome when we dock next to the all-purpose ferry “The Good Sheppard”. After a nice stroll on the Island a visit to the observatory is a must. Here you can find the famous knit wear on sale.

At the end of the day we can join the biologists and bird spotters when they give a summary of al the birds spotted that day. This mix of nature and culture makes Fair Isle one of our yearly high lights!

Ullapool - Reykjavik

Visit Fair Isle while sailing to Iceland. More information on the entire voyage here.

Inspired by text out of the bestselling guide to every Scottish Island bt Hamish Haswell - Smith The Scottish Islands

Reykjavik - Ullapool

Visit Fair Isle while sailing to Scotland. More information on the entire voyage here.