As part of my series of 10 questions with …. here are the thoughts of 2 school children (age 15) from Out Skerries Junior High, who live on Out Skerries in the Shetland Islands. Out Skerries consists of three main islands, Housay, Bruray and Grunay. Of the three only Grunay is un-inhabited. Housay and Bruray are linked by a bridge. The two school children are Scott Arthur and Owen Anderson.
Scott is 15 years old and lives on the western side of Skerries with his family. Owen is also lives on Skerries with his family. He also has two older sisters and an older brother that live on the mainland.
1) How do you see the future of Skerries?
SCOTT – I’m hoping that the future for Skerries isn’t all doom and gloom. The population might decrease due to old age and lack of services, but then again it might increase due to people coming over here because they think the island is lovely.
OWEN – The future in my opinion is not looking too good. There have been a couple of new births on the island but the secondary department in the school is closing, so the children will have to eventually go to a High school on the mainland. The job situation is not getting any better as new families and businesses are not being encouraged to come to our island. The ferry service is constantly getting reduced which means it will be harder to get to Skerries or get to the mainland.
2) What are the main problems that Skerries face now and in the future?
SCOTT – Mostly our problems are with attracting young families and the reduction of our ferry services. The secondary department in the school has closed, so every child who has reached secondary level has to go to Anderson High and this will discourage young families from coming to live on Skerries. Also, the Skerries ferry services have been cut by quite a lot.
OWEN – The main problems that face Skerries now are that the Secondary department is closing and the lack of jobs, which discourages young families from moving here. The Ferry service is forever getting cut and this discourages families even more.
3) What are the biggest advantages to living on a remote island?
SCOTT – The advantages are that there are no people you don’t want to meet like drug dealers or alcoholics. The air is much fresher than in Lerwick (mainland Shetland) and there is more freedom around here, it is like an extended family.
OWEN – Being on an island is like being in a big family and everybody cares for each other. There are occasional fall-outs, but they are always sorted out. I think it’s a great place to live and raise children because of the freedom we have here in Skerries. In Skerries nobody has any problem with anyone being on their land so you can walk anywhere you want.
4) What are the biggest problems living on a remote island?
SCOTT – The SIC (Shetland Islands Council) are cutting our services and the weather can be very unpredictable. Sometimes the Ferry doesn’t come at all in winter. Also, the winds reach really fast speeds and many things that aren’t tied down like car parts, loose objects e.g. wood,plastic/metal panels etc could take flight and either end up hitting something valuable such as a car or a window. In one of the worst cases the wind actually bent a Hydro-pole.
OWEN – One of the biggest problems I think is the ferry service. If you wanted to go out for an event for e.g a birthday, on a Monday, you would have ton go out at 9.30am arriving on mainland Shetland at 10.45 and you would have to be back for 1.00pm. If you missed that Ferry, then you would have to wait until Wednesday for the next ferry. This means you would need to rely on friends and family for accommodation, or you would need to stay in a B & B or Hotel, which can be very expensive.
5) What wildlife do you encounter around the island?
SCOTT – Mostly we encounter lots of birds, especially sea-birds and puffins; some are quite spectacular! Birdwatchers come from all over as occasionally we have rare migratory birds landing up here when they are blown off course in storms. We also see mammals like otters and a lot of rabbits. There are quite a few seals around Skerries and whales have been spotted as well.
OWEN – In Skerries you can come across a whole variety of mammals, birds, fish and wild flowers. We get rare migratory birds that are blown off course in the storms around winter. There are also Orca whales that feed on the seals that lie upon our shores.and we also see lots of garden and sea-birds.
6) What are the main attractions/things to see on Skerries?
SCOTT – There is (if the weather is decent) some really good views of the land from nearly anywhere you go, especially Long Ayre on a calm, sunny day. It is a peaceful, tranquil place. We have a circle of stones which are known locally as the ‘Battle Pund’. This is where people settled their differences through combat. On one of the smaller islands, we also have a Lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson.
OWEN – There are many attractions on Skerries, like the Lighthouse which was built in the 1800’s. There are rare flowers and rare wildlife and there is an old stone circle known locally as the ‘Battle Pund’ where it was believed that people settled their arguments through combat. There are also a few shipwrecks around Skerries, from the last couple of centuries and some are rumoured to still contain valuable artefacts.
7) Have you visited any other Scottish islands? If so, which one’s?
SCOTT – I haven’t really been to any other Scottish islands.
OWEN – I have visited Orkney, which I think is very similar to Shetland, except they rely on farming more than fishing. Orkney also has flatter land which is better for farming and Shetland is further north, which is better for fishing. Shetland has more peat bogs than Orkney, but Orkney has more trees. Shetland is very similar to Orkney, but also very different.
8) Have you met any famous people, who have visited Skerries?
SCOTT – Not that I can remember, but I do know some that visited Skerries, like Bill Oddie from the Goodies who is a famous Birdwatcher and Aly Bain who is a famous Shetland Folk Artist. The Queen and Prince Phillip had a royal visit to Skerries in 1960 and Princess Anne visited the Skerries Lighthouse a few years ago. I did meet Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who stayed with my grandparents and cooked some salmon recipes using the local farmed salmon for his TV series.
OWEN – Yes, I have met the TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall, who came to Skerries to look at the organic salmon farm and to cook some of the salmon, which I tried! The Queen also visited Skerries, but this was before I was born, My granny was only 9 years old when she presented the Queen with flowers. Princess Anne visited the Lighthouse i 2006 although she was never on the main islands. Bill Oddie from the Goodies used to visit here every year, but he has not been here for quite a few years.
9) Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
SCOTT – I really don’t know. Ideally, I would like to come back to settle and get a job here, but I have so many friends down in Lerwick and jobs on the mainland have higher wages. I really would like to stay on Skerries for the peace and tranquility, but sometimes you just have to go and see the outside world for a while and see what happens through life.
OWEN – I don’t really have a plan yet,but I am focused on doing well in school which is hard due to the council, shutting the Secondary department, which has forced me to go to the mainland for school in my most important year. This year is important because this is the year all the S4’s start revising for their prelims and exams. So the council is forcing me to move away from home, which is really stressful and making me go to a different school which is even more stressful.
10) Where can I find more information on Out Skerries?
There is an area guide on the Visit Shetland website for Out Skerries. Also, there is an Out Skerries page on Love Scottish Islands.