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How to knit a jumper

...and other life lessons from the Inhabitants of Fair Isle, Britain’s furthest-flung Inhabited Island
Yarn made from Shetland wool by Kathy Coull in her cottage on Fair Isle. Opposite: View of the South Lighthouse, built in 1891 by David A and Charles Stevenson (cousins of the author Robert Louis Stevenson)

Fog. Fog to oft, stern, port, starboard. The deck of the Good Shepherd IV yaws and pitches, spray flying as we plough through the swell. According to a blip on the navigation screen, out there is the remotest inhabited island in the British Isles. Fair Isle. Maybe you know the name from Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast. It not, you might recognise its knitting patterns, as featured on Christmas jumpers. But if you had to pinpoint it on a map, you’d probably struggle. In tact, Fair Isle is north. Way north. When the weather’s good, it’s a 20-minute flight from Shetland, or a choppy two-hour crossing. When it’s bad, it can be cut off for days, a week or longer. As recently as 201 8, the electricity shut off after 1 1pm, until two wind turbines brought 24-hour power. Apart from the bird observatory-cum-hotel, a shop, a little school, the lighthouses and a handful of crofts, the island is empty - an outcrop of rock where sheep and seabirds outnumber humans by thousands to one. And yet Fair Isle exerts a peculiar hold over the people who come here. On the rare occasion a croft becomes available, the National Trust for Scotland receives hundreds of applications. As I step down onto the island’s granite quayside, I wonder what it is that draws people here - and why some decide to stay for good.

Skipper of the supply ship

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - May 2019
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