Hebridean Candles – Scenting Success
Hebridean Candles is a new business operating from the small Outer Hebridean island of Grimsay. They sell high quality, hand-crafted Candles and include scents such as Machair Wildflower, Sea Breeze and Heather as well as other more traditional scents I managed to catch up with Robin Spratt from Hebridean Candles and asked him 10 questions about his new life on Grimsay and the challenges he faces to establish his business on a remote island.
1 – Why have you decided to base your business on Grimsay?
Our relocation to Grimsay was firstly a personal one. We are making Grimsay our home, simply because we fell in love with the place. It just got hold of us in a way that we couldn’t ignore.
We had grown up in Glasgow and Chester respectively and brought our own children up in rural Northumberland and moving to Grimsay has probably been as big a surprise to us as anyone!
Having made the decision to move here, we saw a gap in the market for this business and with backgrounds that mixed both practical and design skills we were confident that we were the right people to take it on.
We believe that Hebridean Candles satisfies a market both here in the Islands, for local people and visitors and also further afield.
It is something that we enjoy and in a very small way reflects the beauty of this place.
2 – Had you visited Grimsay before and if so, what were your impressions of the island?
We visited Grimsay as we toured the Western Isles by motorcycle several years ago.
We have made many bike trips around the world, covering all of Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltic countries and most of Europe including the Spain and Portugal. We had talked many times about a desire to tour the Outer Hebrides we didn’t come until 2010.
First impressions were that it was a wild place, impressive mountains on the east side and fertile Machair behind the amazing beaches on the west.
Despite the wildness of the place it did though have a real warmth about it.
As well as the beauty of the place we also made friendships on that first visit that were the seed of things to come!
We had a fabulous holiday and when we finally departed from Stornoway I remember that be both said that we had left a bit of ourselves behind and we knew that we would have to come back. Not that we had any idea what that would mean!
3 – What is your favourite place on Grimsay and why?
It’s difficult to think of one place. The circular road around Grimsay is about 6 miles and we love to walk or cycle it all. There are many highlights along the way. The remains of the Iron Age Wheel House, the Harbour at Kallin with its fishing boats, Uist Boat Trips and the new Boat Shed keeping the boats in good shape, the old School Canteen with its Summer Teas, the old Boat Shed at Ceannairidh where the traditional Grimsay boats were built and Uist Wool Mill to name a few.
However Baymore (Big bay) has to be our favourite place, as this is where our home “Otters Lodge” is. We are so fortunate to look out onto an enclosed bay that was the original natural Harbour of Grimsay. There are not so many boats here now, but there is still lots of evidence of the days when it was a busy base for the local fishermen.
Beyond the bay we look over to the small Island of Ronaigh (Ronay), only inhabited by one holiday house but many Deer, that we both see and hear. Beyond that is the distinctive profile of “Eaval”, the highest point on North Uist. It a view that we never tire of and with the tide, skies and wildlife it’s always changing.
4 – What are the best things about living on a remote island?
The obvious things would be the peacefulness, the natural beauty, amazing wildlife and the more relaxed pace of life but better than all those things is the community. This is a place where you are made welcome, where people have time for each other and they care.
5 – Are there any downsides to living on a remote island?
It still early days for us here but we are under no illusions that anywhere is completely perfect, although Grimsay comes close!
There are three things that come to mind that maybe aren’t so good.
- Given that we are not originally Islanders our family is on the mainland and this means we won’t see them as often as we would like and journeys are long.
- Running a successful business these days relies on technology. Internet and mobile phone access here is not straight forward. There are always ways around the problems, but they come at a price!
- Lastly, there is the wind! But then at least that keeps the midges away.
6 – Have you visited any other islands around the Outer Hebrides or Scotland? If so, which have been your favourites and why?
We have previously visited many Scottish Islands and now we live in this part of the world we will visit more.
It is hard to pick a favourite, each island has its own beauty and character.
Skye will always be special to us as we honeymooned there many years ago. It was there that we got our first taste of the magic of the Hebrides.
Barra is also a favourite in the way that it condenses so much into a one small island.
But Grimsay, and the Uists have to be top of our list. This was the place that got hold of us, made us tear up any other plans we may have had and make the move!
7 – How have you integrated within the local community?
As I said earlier it is the sense of community here that was so much of the attraction to the place.
From our first visit we were made welcome. There has never been any feeling that we are “incomers”. I don’t know whether it is the history of people who have had, and to a great extent still have, tough life’s here, or whether it is just a natural warmth in their character. People are so willing to give help when you need it and always have time to chat.
Ceilidhs and music events are common and the Church has an important place in the community, but it can be the small fund raising coffee mornings and baking sales where you meet new people and simply the sense that the doors of people’s homes are open to you.
There is also a community of crafts people here. They organise events and have been very welcoming to us.
Even the roads are a friendly place, with everyone waving as they pass each other. People think you’re daft when you go back to the mainland and you forget and wave out of habit!
8 – What is unique about Hebridean Candles?
Hebridean Candles is being built around a pride not just in the product but also the place that it takes it’s name from.
We use natural soy wax that is not only sustainable but also healthy in the way it burns.
Our handmade products are attractive and aim to bring pleasure. We also aim to offer a very personal and responsive service. This, hopefully in some small way, reflects this place and all that is good about it.
9 – How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves and your business on the island?
We would hope that the next few years will be a real time of continuing integration and growth for us and the business in this place. If we get it right that will be a smooth and natural progression.
At Hebridean Candles, we are not seeking to build an empire, but we do want to continue to spread our brand into a market that has many imported and often poorly made products.
We want to grow a following of loyal customers who appreciate a quality, ethically made product and give them a quality service. We will also continue to listen to what they want because in this market the customer really is always right!
10 – Where can I find out more information about Hebridean Candles?
The first and most obvious place to learn more about us is on the Hebridean Candles website
As well as information about us and our products you will also be able to view and purchase products in our online shop.
Secondly, you can find “Hebridean Candles” on Facebook.
Social media is a great way not just of letting people know about us and our products but also, and just as importantly, it gives us direct contact with our customers. It’s their feedback that will help us improve our products and what we do. We actively encourage people to tell us what they think, warts and all!
“Like”, “Follow” and “Share” Hebridean Candles with your Facebook friends. Tell us what you think, we’d love to hear from you.
If you’re not on Facebook then email us on – [email protected]
Lastly we would love to have you visit Grimsay and find us there.
Knock on our door, it will always be open!