Foula 2

Wandering through the mist on Foula and chatting with the locals.

I woke up, after my first night on Foula, a short while before before the first plane was due. I was wondering if I’d have to move my tent, but was surprised by how quiet it was. I know it’s a tiny airport, but surely there should be some noise? A quick look outside my tent soon confirmed that the mist was back down as heavy and thick as it had been yesterday. No flights then.

Gaada Stack
I stayed in my tent, reading, writing my diary and enjoying some thinking time until the afternoon. Then as the mist started to lift a bit I went for a walk to the north end of the island. I stuck to the road, but as I got towards the north the mist cleared enough that I could see the outline of the tops of the hills (hills I should’ve been walking in) and I did get to see Gaada Stack which is a spectacular looking arch standing on its own in the sea. It looked particularly good with the mist behind it.
The primary school
Peat drying
On the way down I’d passed the primary school so I had a peer in through the windows. It was a modern building and looked like it had great facilities. There was a big kitchen too, which I couldn’t see the point of. Later I was told that the school also contains the community hall and the kitchen is for community events. There are seven children in the school.
Keeping the ferry safe from storms

I walked back down to the pier and saw more seals and took pictures of the boat hanging up. It has to be winched up when not in use to protect it from storms. I passed a couple of the crew members tending their crofts and had a chat with them. As I walked back towards the airport a 3rd crew member pulled up beside me in his car. We had a chat and he checked that I was going out on the ferry next morning. He offered me a lift, which I accepted as I thought it would be nice to chat. He was going to the lighthouse at the south end of the island as one of his jobs is that of lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse is automated and so he just goes once or twice a week to check it. He’s about 70 and should be retired, but said that people on the island just tend to keep on working. The oldest islander is a lady of 92. He told me that when people get too old to really manage on their own the other islanders all muck in and help.

We did some off-roading to get to the lighthouse and briefly got stuck. He was only going to pick up a toolbox that the maintenance men had left there. They come once a year and are going to Fair Isle next. They’re probably the same ones I saw on Fair Isle last year. I was able to go into the lighthouse with him, though there was nothing exciting to see. Going in sets off an alarm in Edinburgh so he had to phone to say it was him. Otherwise they’d be phoning his house to tell him to go and check it out.

Things Brian told me before dropping me back at my tent are:

  • He’s lived in Foula for 35 years, which is half his life.
  • He was captain of the ferry but has now given that up and is an ordinary crew member. He still gets captain’s pay but with none of the responsibility.
  • The current captain (Kevin?) worked with him for 24 years before getting the captaincy.
  • Kevin (?) and some other islanders are the great grandchildren of the former laird Ian B. Stoughton Holbourn, whose book I’m reading at the moment. How horrified he would have been to find his descendands being ordinary crofters and ferrymen.
  • The current primary teacher is leaving after 5 years in the job.
  • The new teacher is a woman in her 50s and has a grown up family. She was previously working in Dubai.
  • Brian is a school governor.
  • The nurse is also giving up her job. Although it comes with a salary of £45k and she rarely has to do anything, she’s finding it boring as she was used to working in a busy A&E ward before. She and her husband are staying on Foula and have a croft.
  • People on Foula are pretty healthy and don’t tend to get ill. Instead they have rather dramatic accidents like rolling their vehicles over up on the tops.
  • Brian has rolled his 4WD twice. The passenger door had a big gap at the top where it had been bent. It had been his wife’s car, but she’s made him swap and give her his, after he damaged hers.
  • Rent for the croft (and I think for the house) is £8 a year. The landlords tried to put it up recently, but didn’t succeed.
  • You can buy your croft and house for ten times the annual rent, but if you buy you’re not eligible for grants. So people tend to get all the grants, do their place up and then buy it.
  • Brian hasn’t bought his yet, but is now thinking about it as his son has decided to stay on Foula.

He probably told me more, but that’s all I remember.

Once back at my tent I cooked and then spent the rest of the evening reading. Later in the evening a man drew up in his van outside my tent and asked if I wanted any fresh fish. I politely declined. The mist had really drawn in again by this time.

wild camp

During my walk I took photos of some of the many abandoned cars. As there’s no way of scrapping them, when they finally die they are just left to rot. Some of them are used for storage and are filled with bags of animal feed and tins of paint. Most people don’t bother with things like MOTs, road tax or insurance.

old crane abandoned car

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time.
Author of the forthcoming book ‘Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman’s Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic’.

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