Fair Isle is an extraordinary and magical place, the perfect location to relax and get away from it all. It is a truly far-flung island, just 11/2 miles wide and 3 miles long, lying 80 miles north of the Scottish mainland and 25 miles south of Shetland, at a place where the Atlantic meets the North Sea. Being remote means that the community of 50 residents is close-knit and you are sure to receive a kind-hearted welcome.
Crofting forms the main way of life on the island. Here, sheep are kept for their wool and some for meat. The main breed of sheep reared on Fair Isle is the Shetland which produces the finest wool of all the native UK sheep breeds but you can see other varieties too, such as Texel and Suffolk. If you visit in the summer, you may be lucky enough for your stay to coincide with the community getting together to gather in the sheep and cut their wool. If arriving in spring, you might witness lambing time (a glimpse of new-born lambs is always a heart-warming sight).
The island is rich in natural beauty, suffused with colour and light to inspire you. Fair Isle is best explored on foot (do bring stout walking boots and we recommend wet weather gear for the intrepid!); the landscape is both dramatic and wonderful. Our warm, comfortable croft house is situated on the southern end of the island with stunning views of the sea. You are free to wander the land and the coast – we have maps for your use and, of course, binoculars for those keen to observe the many rare bird species that visit.
Walks can be arranged with resident ecologists and ornithologists on the island for those who are interested. If the sea is calm and the weather is mild, it might be possible to arrange local trips out in a small boat to see the many caves in the rocky coastline and maybe see some seals too!
Whether you find yourself blessed with clear skies, shrouded in mist or weathering a storm, we urge you to come and experience the allure of this wild place. You will find a unique way of life at one with the natural world. Getting on and off the island can sometimes be challenging—please allow a few days flexibility for your onward travel plans. In order to ensure that you enjoy the full span of your holiday with us, we refrain from taking any bookings in the following week specifically so that we can guarantee to accommodate you in the event of late
arrival due to poor weather. In this vein, we ask you to make sure you will also be able to stay extra days should the weather dictate a shift in your departure. Equally, it’s a good idea to build in a buffer of time on Shetland mainland after your proposed stay on Fair Isle so that you don’t miss your on onward travel.
THE KNITTING TRADITION
The Fair-Isle Jumper by Stanley Cursiter, painted in 1923.
© estate of Stanley Cursiter.
Edward, Prince of Wales, 1921 by Sir Henry Lander
Paul McCartney at his High Park farm in Scotland in 1970
For hundreds of years, knitting has been an important part of the way of life for the islanders.
The success of their distinctive approach with striking colour work and complex patterns was such that the island gave its name to a generic knitting technique that embraced much more than just the ‘traditional Fair Isle knitting’. The name is now used worldwide to describe stranded colour knitting.
However, authentic Fair Isle knitting follows three rules:
– It must be made of Shetland wool
– It only uses no more than 2 colours per row.
– It adheres to traditional Fair Isle patterns
Additionally, if it is made on Fair Isle you are guaranteed the genuine article!
There are only a few people still knitting commercially but it remains a big part of the island economy. The crafts-manship is passed down between generations and generously gifted to any incomer showing interest.
Originally the knitters were knitting using “wires”—very fine double-pointed needles. The knitting was often done in the round, helped by a knitting belt (a specially designed leather padded belt used to hold a needle in place and so free one hand to allow the agile knitter to increase speed).
Nowadays, people still continue to knit by hand on the island but usually only for pleasure. In order to use time more efficiently, professional knitters use flatbed knitting machines as a mechanical aid. To achieve a perfect re-sult, it is paramount to all Fair Isle knitters that items are hand finished with the highest attention to detail. Usually 50% of the work of making a garment is still done by hand.