Huisinish and Scarp

Huisinish is a remote place on the wild windswept Atlantic coast of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

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Huisinish beach and crofts and a hardy Hebridean sheep on the Machair

It takes the form of a headland with a beautiful and quiet golden beach on one side, a few old crofts and across a small neck of land there is a small and relatively unprotected jetty which is used by the inhabitants of the island of Scarp. The land between the beach and the jetty is ‘Machair’ – a rare and beautiful sandy grass land which is home to thousands of lovely wild flowers and the insects which live on them. They bloom in June, July and August so we were just to early to see them.
The name is from the old Norse ‘House Headland’.

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Houses on Scarp

Scarp is separated from the mainland by a relatively small channel of water and is widely believed to be uninhabited. This is only partially true. There are residences on the island (which is privately owned) but the small handful of people who live in these properties do so for only part of the year. In winter the island is deserted and quite rightly too. That channel of water might only be small, perhaps 1/2 a mile or less but it’s open to the full force of the westerly storms which batter this coast.

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Ruins and inhabited houses stand alongside each other

The inhabited houses stand alongside the ruins of properties which still belong to the people whose ancestors lived here full time. Some of these families still graze their sheep on the island but from talking to one of the residents it seems that they are pretty much left to fend for themselves. No one had been to tend to the sheep at all so far this year.

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Evidence of ‘society’. The Old post office and shop

We visited in May intending to sea kayak across to the island but had to wait a day for the gale force winds to subside. We talked to a couple of the residents who said they had been unable to leave the island for several days and were now making a dash to Stornaway to stock up on supplies as further high winds were forecast.

A German inventor once devised a rocket to blast the islanders post over to the mainland during stormy weather. Unfortunately his first attempt failed and scattered the post all over the place. The second attempt was more successful but the idea never caught on!

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Sea Kayaks on the beach at Scarp and over the channel on the mainland

There’s a feeling of sadness over the island. Not just the loneliness of the place but a sense of the life that once was here having left with nothing to take it’s place.

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Burial ground on Scarp

Where there was once a small community of families scratching a living from the land and sea there are now just a few old folk who come here to escape the world for a while in the summer months.

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The other residents of Scarp don’t get to leave in the winter

On a good weather day this whole area is beautiful beyond compare but living here full time and raising a family must have been an exercise in survival, both metal and physical.

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Looking across the sound to the Island of Scarp

Outer Hebrides, May 2013

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