Sailors have their holy grail destinations like St Kilda or Tristan Da Cuhna, and often go to extraordinary efforts to reach these inaccessible outposts. I would add Fair Isle to a bucket list of any wildlife loving traveler. The name is so familiar as Fair Isle is one of the weather stations on the UK Shipping Forecast, and they are famous for Nordic looking patterned jumpers. Fewer people know where Fair Isle lies geographically, and I bet not many have swum on its beaches.
Fair Isle lies between the Orkney Isles and the Shetland Archipelago, north of Cape Wrath. As you can imagine, not many Scotland West Coast yachts make it this far, but I can vouch for it being a great cruising ground. These are some of my photos from a few years ago. I visited in May. It was sublime but you have to pick your weather window. The longer the voyage you can find exploring the local area of Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, the more chance you have of good day to negotiate the dog leg entrance to the tiny main harbour on Fair Isle.
Tecla (seen in the photo below) is a regular visitor when she is not global voyaging, but this midsummer 2023 our top tip is to try schooner Trinovante. This 70ft three masted schooner has the perfect voyage to maximise your chance of stepping onto Fair Isle at peak bird watching time. Starting in Kirkwall, Orkney and finishing in Lerwick, Shetland, this 7 day voyage has Fair Isle on her hit list of favourite places to stop.
Trinovante Crew love exploring the North
Trinovante was purpose built by her current owners John and Su in 1994 to take 8 charter guests with them on exploration type voyages worldwide. They love places like Fair Isle, Orkney, Norway….in fact anywhere where the wildlife out numbers the humans and mountains and cliffs provide dramatic backdrops to your holiday. As skipper/owners they love what they do, have been creating unique sailing programmes for decades, and enjoy their guests company.
Skuas & Wild Swimming
Walking and swimming is thrilling but hazardous on Fair Isle. If you love swimming off the sandy harbour beach amongst the caves and kelp, it is cold but pretty special. Whilst a black guillimot cruising past my nose was rather beautiful, the splash of a well camouflaged seal creeping up on me from behind was a bit more than I had bargained for going for a swim. I dipped in May without a wetsuit, so June should be balmy!
Walking you need your wits about you. The edges of Fair Isle are precipitous cliffs and trip wired with puffin burrows. Some of the inviting open meadows are the dive bomb zone for skuas. Be ready to duck. These guys mean business.
Resilient Community – Famous Knitwear
When I visited there was a world renowned bird observatory where keen birdwatchers could stay. It burnt down, but there is a 7.4 million project to rebuild it. It wont be open again until 2023, at the earliest. So you really can wander lonely as a cloud on the narrow trackways and coastal paths. The island is an important stepping stone for birds migrating from Europe to the Arctic and back. The tiny human population means it has been an ocean bird breeding colony for many species.
The Fair Isle community is small and copes with hurricane force winds in winter. Their famous patterned jumpers are usually made to order, but you can generally buy their iconic hats. If you want a hat that doesn’t blow off whilst sailing in a gale then a Fair Isle fisherman’s hat is a must.
Fir information on the Fair Ilse www.fairisle.org.uk