Monday, 18 July 2011

Island living....we do it our way....?!

Hmm, now you'd think being asked to 'blog' about island living would be easy wouldn't it and a good excuse to pop a puffin picture in.....!? It would appear its got me with writers block or bloggers block or something like that. Surely not me, the wellie-wearer of far too many words! Well, there you are. Why am I so blog-tied you might ask? Well, I don't take myself very seriously, you may have noticed this? The ridiculus hats, wellies and fashion-less dress might give me away on that front. Don't get me wrong, underneath the frippery and silly socks is the heart of a keen environmentalist/island-liver/parent/try-to-be-gardener. Therefore, when thinking about 'island life' blog, I've tied myself up in knots because, I know I'll be flippant, and I won't want to be. This kind of life is not for the faint-hearted, nor should it be taken very seriously as you'd probably go bonkers! But, it does have alot of beaches, and we do like those! (Told you I'd be flippant!)

Living on an island then, the non-sensible but sometimes serious reasons we live as we do on a remote island. Having been asked the question, I've been pondering my own reasons. I'll give you a few and then if any discussion evolves we can expand on anything folk want to know, I'm generally an open book and highly opinionated in real life, so I'm sure I'll manage to generate some kind of discussion, even if its only with myself! So, why do I live on an island and what's it like? I'll give you a bit of my own background - I've lived on 3 Scottish islands: Colonsay (95 people when I arrived), 3 ferries a week, 2 hour, 10 minute ferry ride to the Scottish mainland, via the ferry port of Oban. Islay (3000 people), 2 hours ferry ride to the mainland port of Kennicraig and of course Orkney (20,000 people), 1-1 1/2 hour ferry ride to the north of Scotland (Thurso or John O' Groats) or a 5 hour ferry ride to Aberdeen. All the islands I've lived on have been quite different, there's bits I've loved of all of them and bits I've found challenging. I have to say I like Orkney, whilst we are remote, we're hardly cut off (15 flights a day, 3 ferry operators, upto 7-8 ferry's a day to the mainland and I can't count how many to the other islands) and I think I like that quite alot. We're independant enough to have all of the proper utilities and services to sustain everyday life, but you can also get back to the mainland easily, albeit it does cost a bit. Oh and the traffic's never too bad, not much in the way of a rush-hour, no motorways, no traffic lights, and maybe 4-6 roundabouts!
So why are we here, we've no relations here, infact my nearest relative is in Wick (my dads family) but aside that our other family is 200+ miles away and a down side to this type of life is how little you see people and how much you miss them. However, like many folk, perhaps you sacrifice those things a bit because of the quality of life you can have in this kind of an environment. On a meagre budget, we have a nice sizable house, a bit of land, outbuildings and privacy. We're only renting, but our £'s here buy far more space and rental than it possibly could in many areas of Scotland, never mind England. So, for a single parent family, on  a moderate budget, this kind of place offers us more for our money and the opportunity to have the kind of life we'd like, on less money, so that's a plus. And, if folk are buying an idea of price/cost of houses here is from one of the many estate agents here, there are many more though.........I'm not a home owner, but I think its fair to say you get more for your money here than 'sooth' in some respects anyway. So island living can mean more space for less money, but that has to be balanced by greater or increased heating costs due to the climate, lack of choice of heating fuel (no mains gas here, no forests for wood etc), internet service providers, fuel for the car, cost of living can be higher, but insurance (car and home) and those kinds of costs can be lower. There's pro's and con's to the cost of living here. I think generally we win on that one, but its often a bit up and down but we've space and a lovely view!
Ok, island life, why live here? Well, I've a couple of children, I may have mentioned them once or twice (?!), so one of the main reasons we moved up here was the eductation, healthcare and general way of life. Schools here often have smaller class numbers, a great deal of choice and music tuition, is, for the moment, free. When you've two young minds to educate and a budding musician in the family, school's being fantastic is a huge draw to island life. Also, having rushed my daughter to casuality at the local hospital after a brotherly encounter which ended up with the statement  'honest I didn't mean to lodge the skimming stone directly into her head' incident, to find no wait and her being attended to right after we'd got there, was actually very nice, and how healthcare should be, although the reality elsewhere is probably often as good, at least you'd hope it was. So, good eductation, excellent health service and amenities - these are the benefits of island life I'd say, and for us a pretty important benefit. There's also a lot of employment locally, providing these services, farming and fishing, tourism and so forth, there is work, and generally  low unemployment.
It's also pretty safe environment, I'm not saying nothing bad ever happens, that would be a lie, but generally, its fair to say life is more, um, perhaps more accountable, might be a good word.  Its not crime free here, but the level of crime appears to be generally very low. There are less folk living here, you do bump into folk you know or don't know often, you have nodding aquaintances with folk and therefore with that I think comes a greater sense of community, perhaps?  I think for the children that's very helpful, as there's a sense of 'responsibility' or 'consequence' for your actions. For children the ability to roam free and easy, be it beaches or fields or whatever, I think is brilliant. To walk a mile home from the bus, or to walk around town, or go in alone and safely wander without fear of harm, is brilliant. They have freedom that I had as a child and I'm not sure they had when we lived in towns or cities before. In fact I know that's true, I don't have the parental paranoia of them being hurt or anything terrible happening (touch wood), they might get lost, or go off wandering, but I'm not terrified something bad has happenned if we don't manage to meet as planned or whatever. Perhaps I'm niave, or maybe I'm lucky, but this kind of environment, I think is more child friendly, greater freedom and safety than many I've lived in. But, I'm often called niave, its just my experience of living here I'm giving you and in my opnion for my family, its been breathtakingly open, engaging, safe and wonderful. (Remind me of that when I wibble on about the wind again, miss trees, or my garden is being trashed, or when I'm feeding hens looking like a ninja!).  I guess the wind keeps the windsock happy...
And then of course you balance the scenery and wildlife, breathtaking, gorgeous, unspoilt, open, glorious - with the weather - which can be amazingly good, often windy (average 20 kmph windspeed, 10 days average a year with NO wind), low temperatures (average 10 degrees annual temperature with little variation), rain we do get a lot of rain (1000 mm a year) and this kind of climate limits the plant crops that can be grown, the season is shorter (by nearly 100 days compared with England and I'm not sure of the difference between here and central Scotland, which I should know, so I'll find out). There's a lack of trees, yes we do have some, but we're not exactly overrun with forests, lumberjacks and wood processing factories. The climate limits alot of what can grow, but the stuff that grows incredibly well, like grass, sustains a vibrant farming industry, worth over £25M to the local economy, as does tourism, which brings in about the same annually. So, its pretty, open scenery, richly agricultural island living here, but the climate, as I often joke keeps away many a robber! Food is amazing here, imported food costs a bit more than 'sooth' but due to everything being imported, I guess that's got to be the case, mean more local eating, oh dear what a chore that will be...............!

So pro's and con's of this family, living on this island.............

We're a long way from most of our loved ones, which is a bit sad, but folk do come and visit!
Scenery, wildlife and landscape is some of the most exclusive, free and breathtaking in the world
But, gardening can be challenging, short season, windy windy windy, not the the faint hearted!
However, we've got fantastic local food, among the most amazing in Scotland and standard of living which kings would appreciate, on a meagre budget
Some things are cheaper like houses (rent or buy), insurance and stuff like that
However, some things are more expensive like imported food, fuel, heating, telephone/internet and getting things delivered by anything but mail, costs a fair bit.
Each return trip to central Scotland costs in the region of £200+ before you've even bought a cup of coffee..........and that's with the subsidies we get for travel (!)
Schools and amenities are amazingly good, due to remoteness and smaller population
Crime appears to be low, which makes for a nicer way of life and positively impacts on house/car insurance etc
Its a more 'free' kind of existance, but if you live rurally, you have to rely on a car more
It's not 24/7 existance, and the nearest fast food chain is sbout 200 miles away
Its a bit windy and wet and often a bit challenging but worth it I think!!
You don't keep your hair do for very long, and waterproof clothing handy to have!

For more information on island blogging, from inherently more sensible folk with probably better things to say, and probably less wellie action, have a look at this island blogging site........... (thank you kind reader for pointing the link out!)

Happy to answer any thing that comes up from this very unstructured ramble!


  1. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed you 'unstuctured ramble' being an islander myself I can totally understand where you are coming from! we upsticks and moved from england up to the isle of lewis in january..we had visited lewis for the first time in october and didnt want to leave so we went home sold the house and came back! We have 5 littleones and the life up here is so much more relaxed! less hustle and bustle, and as you say less crime, and lots of beautiful beaches & scenery!! Its not for everyone though, we have had visitors who wanted to stay forever and other people who havent been yet who have already decided that they wont like it here!! lol..really good to find someone else who loves island life as much as we do!! :) keep smiling xxxx

  2. Just reading this post with my hubby and he's spotted a business opportunity - a fast food franchise!!! He's have to do something as fighting crime is his thing! Don't know if I would like the remoteness forever, but a good few months of it would suit me well. xxxx

  3. Interesting thoughts, and somehow, much as expected! We lived on northern Skye for a while back in the mid 1970s, have since travelled extensively and now based in Andalucia, where it's too hot and I've had enough of always learning/speaking and having to initially think in a different language! I am keen to return to Scotland, as a Scot, and have a particular interest in either Lewis or Orkney. My wife is a keen gardener, so has her reservations about a proposed move; she also worries that she'll miss 'trees'! It's a difficult decision, and anyway we are trying to sell our houses in both Sweden and Spain before we make a move. So it could taks a while! Thanks for your thoughts. Look forward to keeping up with this new blog!

  4. But you living living there! We left before the subsidies (Just before "they" must have known we were going) and it is expensive going "sooth". I was looking at all the photos of our garden there for a post I did the other day. Memories.... If you're round that way go and have a wee peek over the garden gate (the new owners added,tut,tut)and let us know hoe it looks!

  5. Will you change your link? They've moved to

    I was one who asked - how it is. Sorry it hit you with blog block. We only wanted your view ;~)

    We came to live in Porterville, not an island, but a small country town - because we could afford to buy a garden sized space here. We have a 2 hour drive to Cape Town - to see family, buy fresh veg I find acceptable. We battle the summer heat.

    I love to read what you write about your life. I remember the first post I read of yours - whose SHOE is that?

  6. One other difference I've found since moving to the Isle of Lewis is the noise, or lack of it. No sirens, car alarms or anything like that, standing outside at night and hearing nothing bar the wind is something that is special. (Once I was woken by honking and wondered what idiot was honking their horn. It was geese flying over.)

  7. Hello again.
    I'm another ferry journey further on, on Stronsay - 600 miles from our nearest kith and kin :-) We've lived here for 5 years now and we love it. We have a house and an acre of land in a beautiful location - probably for the price of a terraced house back south.
    You'll find the outer isles are even more laidback than the Mainland. No one locks their doors/cars/toolsheds - it's a nice feeling.
    I missed trees at first but I went south earlier this year and found myself with a permanent, mildly panic-y feeling, which I finally put down to not being able to see the horizon. From my house and garden I can see the sea and the distant horizon in almost any direction and I'm accustomed to it now. So I've happily swapped trees for big skies.
    It's windy, it's true, but not as rainy as my old hometown in North Staffordshire. And gardening is a 'challenge' - but you're never far from a stick of rhubarb :-)
    Lastly, our solution to the horrendous cost of travelling south is to get more dogs :-) It's such a palaver travelling all that way with two hyper Jack Russells that we just stay home!

  8. Fascinating. I think you are really clear about the pros and cons. If we weren't committed to living with MIL and FIL, who would desperately miss easier access to grandkids, we'd seriously think about Island living up north. I'd have to have a polytunnel though... Where we lived on Anglesey was quite remote (though not on the same scale), and the wild beauty more than made up for the inconveniences. Realistically we have to consider easy and affordable transport links, good public transport to local shops etc. but you make an excellent case for Island life, despite the wind.

  9. that was a great read. I lived on an island as a child and there is something lovely about always having a "breeze" ... or wind lol ... and never being far from the ocean. I don't live there anymore and there are definitely some things I miss about island living. as was mentioned before, i clicked the BBC site and it took me to you could add your blog to their list if you like.

  10. Jts - that's so true, it's weird when we not feel the wind!!!!!! I'll change my link, adding though, who'd want to read?! And, which island...? Only if you'd like o tell .......or email me!

    Janet you're right, as a gardener, only liveable with a tunnel! Im on the ca i promise........for travel, now.......We have a 40% air discount, 30% ferry fares, but it's still pricey, it's. Long way from o that you love.

  11. Alice, we don't lock either, and you're right, I miss trees but find the lack of open space on the mainland a little disconcerting, views are obstructed, quite weird! I love your solution for travelling!!!! And I love big skies and trees, it's a quandary! Thanks for your post! Xx

  12. Tony, oh the stars' the lack of noise or light! And the geese, the curlews, oystercatchers, hens, COCKERAL(!!!!)' rabbits, etc, hardly the quiet life!!!! I get twitchy if I see headlights, even up on the main road :)

  13. Janet, I ken you 'd ken, I'll have a look when next I'm past!!! Xx

    Iain, you sound li you have your own idyllic life, with it's own challenges! With shelter many things are possible here, the views make up or the lack of trees - life IS amazing, good food, easy transport and northern lights, what's to argue with?

    Diane you make me giggle, he would indeed do ok in the fast food industry... :)

  14. Oh the stars! It wasn't until I came to Orkney that I understood why 'the milky way' was so called.

  15. Elephants eye, thank you for asking, I appreciate having to think! Living remotely is a challenge isn't it. Glad you've swapped for a more remote location to have some outside space, and you did indeed follow on from the lobbed shoe.

    :) thanks I'll change my link later x

    Alice indeed the stars are utterly amazing, no light pollution, and the northern lights...........

  16. Linzi, good for you! It's addictive isn't it! We love it, kids Love it, mainland is 'special' again - my kids will fly off to life from here, as happy folk, so making the most of my budget, I'm more than happy with that. They can grow here, safely, and that's worth my sacrifices, windy gardens and a lack of 24/7 life! Goodluck or your adventure, we have many and happy days and adventures to share them still :) xx

  17. i grew up in Alaska before TV. Before much of anything really. We had expensive food, wonderful schools, low crime, low unemployment, far far from families, etc.

    It was fantastic for kids. We had freedom and experiences that kids dont get today. We had good schools and they were an important part of our life so we concentrated more on school than partying.

    Sounds like island life is a lot like Alaska.

  18. Just reading this post with my hubby and he's spotted a business opportunity - a fast food franchise!!! He's have to do something as fighting crime is his thing! Don't know if I would like the remoteness forever, but a good few months of it would suit me well. xxxx