Saturday, May 18, 2024

Island Issues

UK: A Family’s Story of (Very) Rustic Living on Their Private Islands

The Scotland Isles are known for blustery weather, inhospitable landscapes and remoteness from civilization – what better place to own a set of private islands?

(Image of Home Island by Tony Kinghorn/

(Image of Home Island by Tony Kinghorn/

Paradise may come in all forms and places – but takes a truly hardy soul to consider the Shiants, a small group of three islands in the Outer Hebrides, a little slice of heaven. Icy waters, ferocious winds and scarce amenities make visiting the islands a true test of character. The Nicholson family, however, wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Shiant Isles image by Jac Volbeda)

(Shiant Isles image by Jac Volbeda)

A recent article published in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper paints an entertaining portrait of the family’s Shiant adventures throughout the generations – the author, noted writer Adam Nicholson, has had the benefit of countless amusing anecdotes from the private islands his family has owned since the 1930’s.

Their little archipelago lies in the chilly Sound of Shiant, between isles of Lewis and Harris. Composed  of Garb Eilean, Eilean an Taighe and Eilean Mhiure, Adam describes their 500-odd acres as a place with no good harbour, bereft of any trees, steep beaches without sand, and ultimately, no spot “where it is possible to feel comfy”, he writes.

The only form of comfort on the Shiants is hosted on a flattish piece of waterfront on Eilean an Taighe – also known as Home Island – and according to the author, its comforts are sorely lacking.

Rats are the one form of life that seems to flourish on the island – and the small 19th century house, restored by his grandfather when he purchased the islands, is each year punctured by more holes for their unfettered entry.

The roof of the two-room house also periodically blows off in the wind, it has lost its door to squalls, and once, Adam writes, he arrived to find the contents of a neighboring beach – dead crabs, seaweed, and cobbles – piled inside the house by a stormy high tide. Lacking even an indoor bathroom, spending any amount of time on the Shiants is challenge. Reading Adam’s account, it would be easy, at first, to get the impression that one would have to be crazy to venture out to those inhospitable isles.

(Cave on Garbh Eilean by Tony Kinghorn)

(Cave on Garbh Eilean by Tony Kinghorn)

However, a holiday of blissful ease and relaxation isn’t the point for many private islands owners. On the Shiants, nature most undeniably reigns supreme, and this has been a powerful lesson for generations of children in the Nicholson family. A spirit of adventure pervades every visit, and cultivating self-sufficiency is a necessity.

Surrounded by the epic beauty of wild gray seas, sheer rock cliffs and an incredible abundance of nature, the hardships of Home Island are more than worth the battle, according to Adam. He has now passed the islands on to his eldest son Tom – and the next generation of Nicholsons will experience the wild challenges and pleasures of the Shiants.

Read more about this story: Daily Mail

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