Isle of Auskerry – 10 Questions with Teresa Probert –
The Isle of Auskerry is a tiny, low-lying island about three miles south of Stronsay in the Orkney Islands. It is separated from Stronsay by Auskerry Sound, which is an often turbulent reef-rimmed stretch of sea. In bad weather, the island can be cut off for days and sometimes weeks.
However, on the good days, when the sea is calm and the air is still, Auskerry can seem like paradise. As I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to live in paradise, I contacted Teresa Probert, who lives on the island with her family. They are the only people on the island. Teresa kindly agreed to answer 10 questions about her life on Auskerry.
1) Why did you decide to move to a Scottish Island? Had you been to any Scottish Islands before?
I came to Orkney in my gap year at 19. I wanted to see what it was like to live on a small island, and met Simon whilst in Stronsay. He was already on Auskerry . We had both been to several other Scottish Islands and loved them when on holiday with our parents.
2) What were the main difficulties that you faced, when you first moved to Auskerry? How did you overcome these?
The main difficulty for Simon when he first arrived was that the sheep were completely wild. Once I joined him and settled there, I found the lack of communications very difficult. We had no telephone until mobiles arrived. We did get a CB radio and could speak to local folk on that, but it was very public! Taming the sheep took a long time too, but they just got used to humans in the end.
3) What are the best things about living on a remote island?
On a sunny day, being able to choose the best beach for wind shelter and spread out with a picnic, knowing that no-one else will sit next to you! Mostly, not having to live by anyone else’s rules – work when you like, make a noise when you want, even stick to British summertime when everyone else has changed!
4) How have you made yourselves self-sufficient?
We are not self-sufficient. We rely on boats to bring food every month as well as other provisions and mail. We do grow veg and have our own meat and fish, but only for some months of the year.
5) What is unique about the products that you sell?
We farm the local rare breed of seaweed-eating sheep, the North Ronaldsay. From these sheep, we produce sheepskins which are symmetrically patterned in colours ranging from white through to all shades of grey, to black and cream, through gold and brown, the latter being the most rare. As well as sheepskin rugs in 2 sizes, we also make woven blankets, felted rugs and table mats, Also available is knitting yarn in three natural shades and knitting kits with our own pattern designs. In addition we produce horn buttons from the sheep. These products are unique not only because they come from one of only three flocks of any size in the UK but because the variation in colour and markings is unmatched in any other breed of sheep.
6) What wildlife do you encounter around the island?
Apart from the sheep(!) we have common and grey seals in large numbers and are an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) by virtue of the colonies of seabirds nesting in Auskerry, most notably Puffins, Common Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Razorbills, Storm Petrels, and Arctic Terns, as well as many other more common ones.
7) Have you visited any other islands around Orkney or Scotland? If so, which was your favourite and why?
We have visited many other islands in Orkney – I loved Copinsay.
8) Is it possible to visit Auskerry? What is there to see on the Island?
It is possible to visit Auskerry by hiring a local boatman to take you from Kirkwall. Depending on the boat, the weather and the amount you are prepared to pay, (the faster it is the more expensive) the trip can take from 20 mins to 2 hours as it is 15 miles to Auskerry from Kirkwall.. On a good day, the trip is idyllic with Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises being seen and nearly every Orkney Island visible on the horizon. However, the huge tides that run through the Stronsay Firth, that must be crossed to reach Auskerry, make it impossible to reach Auskerry for weeks at a time in the winter. Once you do reach the island however, there is a lot to see. We have the second tallest Lighthouse in Orkney, which was visited by HRH Princess Royal last year and a wealth of archaeological sites including many Bronze Age dwellings, an Iron Age village and several Standing Stones. In addition, we have some lovely caves to explore.
9) How do you see the next 5-10 years for yourselves on the island?
We have brought up our 3 boys on the island and home educated them until they were 14, but they are now all away at school, University or working, so most of the time we are down to 2 inhabitants. Inevitably as we get older, we will probably be less able to do as much. Time will tell…
10) Where can I find more information about the Isle of Auskerry?
We have our own website which has pages about the North Ronaldsay sheep as well as about our family and life on the island. www.isleofauskerry.com We also have a Facebook Page.
All Photo’s courtesy of Simon Brogan – Isle of Auskerry