Big picture: Landing ground

Fair Isle Sea Stacks

Think of Fair Isle and what comes into your head? Perhaps the brightly patterned knitwear that is famous the world over, or the soothing rhythms of the shipping forecast warning of gales in the UK’s outer reaches?

Photography courtesy of Promote Shetland

If your interests are a bit more specialised, you maybe know Fair Isle as the site of the last manned lighthouse in Scotland or even as the UK’s best place for observing vagrant birds – 31 species have made their first recorded British landfall here.

For about 60 lucky folk, though, it is somewhere we think of as home. Fair Isle’s community has long been known for its welcoming attitude to visitors and, with an island as beautiful as this, it’s no wonder we’re proud to show it off. Families that have been on the island for several generations have been joined by others from all over the world, with everyone pulling together to keep things working. This is epitomised by the Sheep Hill, which sees all available hands help to round up the sheep from the heather-covered hills. Willing visitors are encouraged to join in and might even get to clip a sheep.

Other island traditions that visitors may experience include regular sessions of Shetland folk music and the famous knitting, with knitwear available from several crofts. There’s also a small museum and the possibility of a tour of the lighthouse.

With the crofting remaining non-intensive, the beautiful island landscapes are complemented in the summer by a wide range of wildflowers. You’ll also get a welcome from the thousands of breeding seabirds, which include very friendly puffins and less friendly bonxies, which will warn you if you stray too close to a nest by flying at your head. Ringing storm petrels is hugely popular with visitors who get a chance to enjoy amazing encounters with this tiny nocturnal seabird. The populations of seabirds are of huge importance and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory closely monitors how they are doing, alongside the systematic recording of the many thousands of migrant birds that has been in place since the ‘Obs’ opened in 1948.

There’s a good chance of seeing whales and dolphins, including killer whales, which are sighted several times a year as they come close to the island in pursuit of the abundant seals.

It’s no wonder that many people make the effort to come to Britain’s remotest inhabited island year after year – there really is nowhere else like it.

David Parnaby
Fair Isle Bird Observatory

Getting there

Visitors to Fair Isle must first get to Shetland, either by overnight ferry from Aberdeen or flights to Sumburgh from several UK airports. In summer there are six flights a week from Tingwall, the second airport on the Shetland Mainland, to Fair Isle and sailings on the ferry, the Good Shepherd, three days a week.

As well as en-suite 3-star accommodation at the Bird Observatory, there are three B&Bs and a self-catering cottage on the island.

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