|Foula - from the Shetland mainland
Travel to many of the wee islands around Scotland's coast is weather dependent, and Foula, about 20 miles off the west coast of Shetland, certainly is - even a short trip in summer runs the risk of starting or ending late.
I'd set myself the target of adding St Kilda and Foula to my remote island list this summer, and having visited St Kilda already, my next target was finding Foula.
The two islands always feel linked in some way, possibly as a result of Michael Powell's film The Edge of the World. When Powell wanted to retell the story of St Kilda's evacuation he asked permission to film there. When this was refused he adopted Foula as his St Kilda. There are parallels, both are way out west - St Kilda west of the Hebrides, Foula west of Shetland - so they get a similar battering from the North Atlantic. They have similar shapes - both have seriously big west facing cliffs and a rather more gentle eastern coastline. However there are differences. On St Kilda all the houses are clustered together on a still-picturesque little street. On Foula the houses are dotted across the island on each croft, seemingly as far apart as they can be. The other big difference is that Foula still has a 'real' population and a service boat going there rather than tourist boats.
The boat takes a couple of hours to chug slowly from Walls to Ham, the settlement on the island around the only, slightly sheltered, bay on the island. The New Advance is a wee boat. It needs to be. After each crossing it gets lifted clear of the water so that it's less exposed to the storms that can sweep across the island. The tradition of hauling boats out of the water is well established around Shetland, lots of islands have traces of the noosts that were used to store boats overnight above the high water mark but not many are as sophisticated as the Foula dock.
|New Advance out of the water, Ham Harbour, Foula
While on Foula I was staying in Burns Cottage (just beside Da Crookit Burn - the crooked burn) in the middle of the island, roughly a mile from the northern edge, and two miles from the southern coast. Magnus told me that he'd grown up in the cottage before moving to his current house overlooking the little harbour at Ham.
|Burns Cottage, Foula
|The North Bank, Foula
In addition to the high cliffs there are lots of interesting geological features around the island. Along the north coast is the lovely Gaada Stack, which is a triangular double arch. At the south end, Da Noup, and the Sneck o da Smaalie, a 60 m deep cleft in the rocks.
Even if you don’t opt to climb up any of the big peaks on Foula, you should risk life and limb and walk up Da Daal to see the cliff edge and the remarkable Sneck o da Smaalie. And why “risk life and limb”? Da Daal is prime breeding territory for both the Arctic and Great Skuas (the bonxies), both of which will defend their nest sites enthusiastically from each other and from anything else daft enough to get too close.
|Da Sneck o da Smaalie
|Bonxie Sticks at Foula Airport
If you want a get-away-from-it-all break and are happy with a little bit of uncertainty in your travel plans, Foula is just the thing.