FAIR ISLE – SOUTH LIGHTHOUSE
Over the last week or so, I have been able to speak to Dave Brackenbury, who runs a small guest house and conducts Lighthouse tours at the South Lighthouse on Fair Isle. As part of my 10 questions with … series, Dave has agreed to take the plunge and answer questions on the South Lighthouse, life on a remote Scottish island and a certain TV series filmed on Fair Isle.
1 – What brought you to Fair Isle originally?
Fair Isle! As I small boy in Derby I had a ‘Fair isle’ jersey. Living about as far from the sea as you can in our British Archipelago Fair Isle was distant and exotic, I wanted to live there. I grew up and realised my chances were vanishingly small so for the next 50 years I did nothing about it and followed life’s path – but kept Fair Isle as a dream. Then about 7 years ago thanks to a remarkable series of coincidences I suddenly found myself invited to live on the isle – I came like a shot and it is even better than I imagined. So readers hold on to your dreams, as it says in the ‘Discworld’ books, million to one chances can happen nine times out of ten!
2 – How is Lighthouse accommodation different to normal accommodation?
Actually in my case it isn’t. I am not in the lighthouse itself but the former lighthouse keepers’ accommodation, part of the lighthouse complex and a home to keepers and their families for over 100 years – now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
Though I do think that living on a remote promontory with a working lighthouse just outside and a sea view from every room is something rather special.
3 – What is unique about Fair Isle South Lighthouse?
It was the last lighthouse in Scotland to be automated, in 1998… It had Scotland’s last fog horn, decommissioned in 2005… It withstood two serious air raids during WWII…
4 – What is your favourite place on Fair Isle and why?
I don’t have ONE, I love all of it. I know of no-where else in Britain, let alone any island, where so much varied and spectacular scenery can be found within just 3 square miles. Cliffs, high moorland, stacks, arches, gentle croft lands, rolling hills, and much, more, its all here and all within a short walk.
5 – What are the best things about living on a remote island?
You must realise that from my perspective I’m not on a remote island, you are! Though many find it difficult to comprehend just how far from me they live. Take travel for example. It isn’t like hopping on a bus, the weather is constantly changing and people are constantly having their travel plans are thwarted. For some reason they are surprised by this. For me though it is part of the Fair Isle magic; nothing is predictable and every day is different. And then of course just being able to live far from the madding crowd has many compensations, though in Fair Isle’s case, alas, Julie Christie is not one of them.
6 – Have you visited any other islands around Shetland or Scotland? If so, which was your favourite and why?
After Fair Isle my favourite island has to be Papa Westray in Orkney. I love islands and over the years have visited many. Each has it’s own unique character but I suppose the reasons I like Papay are similar to my reasons for liking Fair Isle; outstanding natural beauty, great archaeology, abundant wildlife and a small, friendly community.
7 – How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves on the island?
Having taken half a century to get here, I ain’t going nowhere. In 5 or 10 years time I very much hope to be doing what I am now. In the longer term the isle has a beautiful cemetery and, though I have no plans to go there just yet, I can think of no better spot to end up.
8 – When is the best time to visit Fair Isle
Between January and December. You’d expect me to say that – but winter really is my favourite time here, though summers are lovely winters are awesome. However for a first visit I would say June with its (often) better weather, perpetual daylight, lambs and the carpet of wild flowers.
9 – Has there been an increase in tourism as a result of recent TV programmes about Shetland and books such as Between Weathers?
NO! The recent TV screenings of ‘Taggart goes to the Seaside’ totally misrepresented Shetland – as, indeed, they did the books they were allegedly based on. The dour characters set against a background of constant grey drizzle have done local tourism no favours whatsoever. Certainly no-one has contacted me saying ‘Hey, I saw your lighthouse on the telly and…’
On the other hand, Ron Macmillan’s ‘Between Weathers’ is excellent but I suspect it is mainly read by those who already know the Northern Isles, rather than prospective first time visitors.
10 – Where can I find out more information about South Lighthouse?