Wanted: Knitters for a Fair Isle

The National Trust of Scotland is seeking tenants for two properties on Fair Isle, the most remote inhabited island of Scotland. Anne Sinclair, a resident and historian of Fair Isle (pop: 65), says someone with knitting or construction skills would have no trouble making a living there. The knitting cooperative, for example, has more orders than it can fill.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

If the drumbeat of news about hurricanes and floods and insurgency gets overwhelming, you might find yourself drawn to a small classified ad in the housing section of the Scottish newspaper Shetland Today. `To let on Fair Isle,' it says, `two houses for rent by the National Trust for Scotland,' on Fair Isle, way up in the North Sea between the Orkney and Shetland islands. It's one of the most remote British islands, just three miles long and a mile across; population about 65. Once you get to Fair Isle, the National Trust cautions that it can't offer a job on the island. But, the ad says, there are skill shortages in several areas, particularly in the building trades and knitting. And if you're a knitter, you'll find a friend in Anne Sinclair, who's lived on Fair Isle for the last 50-odd years.

Hi, Miss Sinclair.

Ms. ANNE SINCLAIR: Hi.

BLOCK: And Fair Isle is known for knitting. We probably know about Fair Isle sweaters over here.

Ms. SINCLAIR: I suspect you do. The original Fair Isle was two colors in one row, lots of colors in the jumper and very, very popular for a very long time. In fact, it's still pretty fashionable.

BLOCK: And you're a knitter yourself.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Yes, I do a lot of knitting.

BLOCK: Now you would know, I assume--if there are only 65 people on Fair Isle, you would know these two houses that are for rent.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Yes.

BLOCK: Tell me about them.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, one has got--quite a small house, single story. The other one is the old Haa house, which would initially have been the laird's house and which was done up in the 1990s.

BLOCK: On the second house, you said it was the original...

Ms. SINCLAIR: Laird's house.

BLOCK: And what does that mean?

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, the laird was the man who owned the island and who'd really come here for maybe two weeks in the summer to see how his property was doing.

BLOCK: I was looking at the photographs of these places on the Web, and they look lovely. They look a little bit windswept, I would say.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, today they certainly were.

BLOCK: Bad weather today.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, very windy, yes.

BLOCK: And is that typical weather for Fair Isle?

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, this time of year we get that quite often, yeah.

BLOCK: Any idea what the rent on these houses is?

Ms. SINCLAIR: They're about 300 English pounds for a year, which is very reasonable, of course.

BLOCK: Yeah, that's not even $600.

Ms. SINCLAIR: No.

BLOCK: And what do you think? If I were to come there--I'm entertaining this in my mind here--how would I fill my days? If I don't knit, say, what would I do?

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, that would depend what you wanted to do. I--basically, I think what we need here at the moment is people with a practical bend, you know, people with a lot of gall in them. It's not an opportunity to get away from it all; that should be slashed. If you have the kind of passion who needs to go out to the pub at night and read a daily newspaper, then you might find it quite hard going. And I think what we look for is people with their feet on the ground. We do occasionally get people here who think, `Ah, wonderful. How romantic.' But in actual fact you really need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. You're not going away from anything, but if you're trying to run, there's nowhere to run in Fair Isle.

BLOCK: You know, I'm thinking it sounds idyllic, and it sounds like you're telling me it's not an easy life. Don't be fooled.

Ms. SINCLAIR: Well, I actually think it's a wonderful life. I mean, we are in the enviable position of never having to lock our doors, for a start, and people are always willing to help you if you're stuck with something. You just pick up the phone and somebody will be at your side in a minute to give you a hand. Somebody said yesterday that even if you don't like your neighbor, you really ought to love him.

BLOCK: That's not bad advice.

Ms. SINCLAIR: That's not bad advice at all. But in a small community like this, we have to get on with each other.

BLOCK: Your mother was born on Fair Isle? Is that right?

Ms. SINCLAIR: She was, yes. There are four generations of my family living in Fair Isle at the moment, and that's very important. But I just like the lifestyle; I like being able to leave my door open. I like the fact that my grandchildren can walk down the road and not worry, and none of the rest of us need to worry either.

BLOCK: And you get a lot of knitting done.

Ms. SINCLAIR: (Laughs) Not half as much as you might think.

BLOCK: Well, I hope your new neighbors are pleasing to you, Ms. Sinclair.

Ms. SINCLAIR: I'm sure they will be.

BLOCK: And thanks for talking with us.

Ms. SINCLAIR: OK. Bye-bye.

BLOCK: Anne Sinclair speaking with us from Fair Isle in the North Sea off Scotland, where she's lived since 1957. The National Trust for Scotland has extended its deadline for applying to rent its two homes there until next Tuesday.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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