Fair Island is a small, privately-owned island located in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. It is known for its many sheep and its inaccessible location, which has made it an ideal place to raise sheep since the Middle Ages. The island has around 350 residents, who can only reach it by boat or by walking across a narrow isthmus. The island’s economy is based on agriculture and tourism.
Fair Island is thought to have been first settled by the Picts in AD 470. The island was uninhabited until 1695 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Ker Porter from the Earl of Cromartie. The island’s name comes from an incident that occurred during this purchase: a group of Dutch sailors mistook Fair Isle for an Irish island and threw stones at its inhabitants as they sailed past.
The first settlers were sheep farmers, and their presence on the island has remained consistent throughout history. In 1910 there were around 1,000 sheep on the island; today there are just over 350. The island’s sheep provided 40% of the country’s entire lamb produce during most years from 1963 to 1988; this gave the Island a greater total annual income than any other part of Scotland, although agriculture is now only one factor in creating wealth on Fair Isle.
The general lifestyle for residents of Fair Isle has changed little through time: it is an isolated group who live near their farms and have few social contacts with outsiders until their boats or cars come ashore at Pentland Skerries ferry dock. It was not even reached by road after 1922 until a causeway opened in 1969 and vehicle access to the island in 1974.
The majority of residents are married, with more than one-third living alone; after 1695 this proved challenging for a large proportion of men who had lived on Fair Isle their entire lives without female companionship. The only grocery shop is Oxgang Farm Shop (or “the farm”), which sells groceries several times weekly from early March until Halloween; other shops close during winter weather.
Fair Isle has a temperate oceanic climate, with cool summers and mild winters. The average rainfall is about 650 mm per year, which equals about 44 inches or 1.4 meters annually on Fair Isle’s short wet season (typically October to March), but provides only a thin cushion for farming when the long dry spell begins in April and lasts until September.
The island experiences strong gales from the north-east during winter; however, over 60% of days have wind speeds below 10 km/h (6 mph). Because of this moderating effect by the surrounding water, Fair Isle’s climate is milder than one would expect from other high-latitude locations of similar latitude.
A meteorological station has been installed on Fair Isle, where it measures air pressure and humidity levels at a height of about 256 meters for more accurate readings, but the results are not published with spatial-temporal details (a “Mean 4”). The most important factors affecting weather patterns in this part of Scotland include the Gulf Stream aloft and sea currents along the British coast.
Fair Isle has retained its mainly Scottish culture through the generations, with both Gaelic and Norse cultures having had a significant impact. There are several churches located on the island: Fair Isle United Reformed (1800), Holy Trinity Anglican (1807), St John’s Roman Catholic Church (unconfirmed, 1853?), and Oxgang Free Presbyterian Church building began construction in 2018; Fair Isle is also home to the only school on the island- Fairisle Schoolhouse Museum Education Centre which serves as an archive for historical artifacts from 1901–2003.
Fair Isle is part of the parish of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Elections for members to North Uist District Council are held every four years and Fair Isle votes as one constituency. The current council consists of an SNP majority, with candidates from Labour and Conservative also present. The island is divided into four areas called “brigs” (boroughs), each of which elect a single representative to the Northern Upland District Council, who then cast votes for only local issues. Fair Isle is represented by Jimmy ‘Radcliffe’, Carol Wilson and Angus MacPherson at the Northern Upland District Council.
Fair Isle does not have responsibility for its own primary School however through fundraising projects has been able to support two different schools; The English school in Fetlar on Northrepps Head provides education up age 16 whilst St Columba’s Primary School caters mainly as an English speaking school for children of Scottish descent. Both institutions are located on the island with one in Fetlar and St Columba’s being based at Oykles, Middle Head just up from the Schoolhouse Museum which operates as an archive to preserve Fair Isle past.
Fair Isle is served by the local GP’s surgery at Northrepps and Fetlar. There are also pharmacies in both villages as well as a post office on the island. There is no police service on Fair Isle however there are six Stations of Scotland Police officers who cover the whole Outer Hebrides region including North Uist, which includes Fair Isle.
Fire and rescue services operate from Fetlar and Northrepps respectively with these stations able to provide assistance to all parts of the island should it be required . These services are operated by Northern Constabulary and the police stations both have 24 hour patrols.
Secondary schools on Fair Isle use either Fetlar or Northrepps for transport although there is no bus service to most parts of the island in winter days however as a result of growing demand good connections on fair isle mean access can be made from Rua Farm, Barra Head & Fulassie station with buses travelling at 20 minute frequency during rush hours many times even appearing after midnight making it possible for students to travel safely through darkness bringing their education closer home.
Due to its unique culture, stunning landscapes and relaxed way of life Fair Isle attracts visitors from all over the world. The island has a wide variety of visitor attractions catering for all ages including North Uist’s acclaimed Schoolhouse Museum which preserves the history and traditions of Fair Isle Schools, while also providing educational exhibits about the island’s natural features.
There are also several café-restaurants, guesthouses as well as small businesses that cater for those who wish to purchase locally produced goods.
The most popular time for visitors to arrive on Fair Isle is during spring when wildflowers carpet the ground and just in time for the rare and spectacular isle to flower.
Summer offers visitors even more opportunities with fun-fairs, traditional piping sessions and an agricultural show whereby every year producers showcase their wares to a range of people interested in supporting local economy and culture.
Fair Isle is a small island that has retained its traditional culture and way of life. It attracts visitors from all over the world, with its unique landscape and culture being one of the main reasons why people come. It is a great place to live as so much of what it has to offer comes with links. Both history and the world today can be experienced here, whether through visitors on Fair Isle or from living elsewhere in Scotland. Many have found this place will bring them closer to home itself making many new friends that love their country more than any other place around the globe.
What Are the Fair Isle’s Top Attractions?
North Uist Schoolhouse Museum, Traditional Piping Sessions and Agricultural Show.
What Are the Fair Isle’s Top Events?
The traditional piping sessions and agricultural show are popular events on Fair Isle.
Is There Accessibility for Disabled Guests?
Yes, Fair Isle has high levels of accessible infrastructure.
How Much Does Accommodation Cost on Fair Isle?
Accommodation ranges from camping and hostels to small self catering cottages.
What is the Currency on Fair Isle?
The Scottish Pound Sterling.