Letter from Europe

The Out Skerries

Issue no. 2013/27

Summary

For the Out Skerries in Scotland's Shetland archipelago, the 'Filla' has been a veritable lifeline. This year, she marks thirty years of sterling service to the Skerries community. Launched in 1983, the Filla helped transform life on the Out Skerries by providing a reliable link to the Shetland mainland.

Dear fellow travellers

At eight this morning, the Filla left the Out Skerries for the two-and-a-half hour sailing to Lerwick. For residents of the remote Skerries, it is a chance to make a day excursion to the Shetland capital of Lerwick. The Filla makes the trip on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the schedule on both days allowing islanders to have four hours in Lerwick.

For the Skerries, the Filla has been a veritable lifeline. This year, she marks thirty years of sterling service to the Skerries community. Launched in 1983, the Filla helped transform life on the Out Skerries by providing a reliable link to the Shetland mainland.

1983 was a good year for the islanders. The Filla was just part of the equation. In autumn 1983, the islands were connected to 'the Hydro' - local parlance for mains electricity. An undersea cable from the neighbouring island of Whalsay brought flick-of-a-switch power and light to the Skerries, in a moment rendering redundant the diesel generators which were so much a feature of island life. No-one gave greater thanks for mains power than Charlie Hughson. He had lost one arm in an accident with a generator many years earlier.

Reliable power and a new ferry brought a boost to the island economy. A dozen residents clubbed together and launched a salmon farming business. The Filla eased the process of getting the fish to distant markets.

In 1983, the Skerries community marked the tenth anniversary of another transport innovation, namely the creation in autumn 1973 of a grass airstrip on the islands. Yes, there is an air service to the Out Skerries. Four times each week, a little Britten-Norman Islander aircraft takes off from Tingwall (on the Shetland mainland) for the short flight to the Out Skerries. Residents of the islands pay about 30 euros for a fully flexible return flight from the Skerries to the Shetland mainland - surely one of Europe's great flight bargains.

We know these little islands quite well. On one flight out to the Skerries, a fellow passenger told us how the islanders were ever grateful to Charlie Hughson whose terrible misfortune with the generator had led to a campaign for an air ambulance service to these remote islands. Charlie had to endure a transfer by night on a boat to Lerwick. It was, by all accounts, an awful crossing and Charlie's suffering would surely have been much less if he could have been flown to hospital. But the Skerries airstrip now allows both the air ambulance and regular scheduled flights to serve these islands.

There is an other-worldly feel to the Out Skerries. Wind and fog can still play havoc with the ferry and plane schedules. This little fragment of offshore Scotland is a place where the sounds of the sea sway through the seasons, a place where the lights of the aurora play in the night skies. Truly a part of hidden Europe.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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