I’m better connected after embracing an “isolated” island life

A New Home got Eve McLachlan thinking about the stereotypes that exist about island life – and how they might be holding us back.

Many people I know were surprised when I left the Scottish mainland for the Outer Hebrides in my early twenties.

Wasn’t I, as a youngster, supposed to jump to join the hustle and bustle of city life? what would i do To do the? Wouldn’t I feel hopelessly isolated?

The image of the Hebrides as impressive wilderness, sheltered from the horrors of modern civilization is well anchored. Airbnbs (there are many of them) necessarily promise a place to “get away from it all”, to enjoy a few days of isolated calm, before returning to the “real world”.

But that’s just a story – a story made up to be sold to wealthy holidaymakers in Scotland’s biggest cities. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my life on a Scottish island is no more isolated or disconnected than it was on the mainland.

What many people imagine just isn’t the reality here

To be fair, maybe it’s because I live in the bigger town of Uist. But that’s a point in itself. When people think “Hebrides” they might imagine tiny black houses dotting the landscape, but that’s not the reality for most people who live here.

Ironically, there might be more people living in traditional buildings – if they weren’t purchased for quaint vacation homes. But that’s a whole other column.

A sea view at Balivanich.
The sea view five minutes walk from my house to the supermarket. Image: Eve McLachlan

So, Uist living: let’s start with the most important metric. I have never, even when I was in a busy college town, lived closer to a takeout than now. (This has pros and cons.)

As far as proximity to shops, the co-op outside my Dundee apartment beat the two nearest supermarkets on the island by about a three minute walk, although we might be able to award extra points for the sea view along the way.

And, how many places can you live in Scotland where there’s a five-minute walk from your front door to an airport? It’s a 50 minute flight from Glasgow which means in terms of travel time I’ve never lived so close to my favorite Scottish city.

Admittedly, tickets are expensive. But a few weekends in the big city a year is really all I need.

A view from the plane window as it takes off from Benbecula
The view from the plane taking off from Benbecula airport. The flight to Glasgow takes less than an hour. Image: Eve McLachlan

After my parents visited my house in Balivanich for the first time, they told me they didn’t want to leave. And it wasn’t because I felt like I was “getting away from it all”.

They live in the Scottish Borders, solidly on the mainland. But, while they may be closer to Edinburgh, their home is arguably more ‘secluded’ than mine; they have to drive to get anywhere, and the nearest bus stop is a 15 minute walk and a steep hill.

I’m more determined than ever to stay connected

It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. In my case, physical distancing has made me more determined to stay in touch with my loved ones.

When I lived away from my parents on the mainland, for example, it was easy to be complacent. Now, when I see a visit opportunity, I’m more likely to take it. I know that with the ferry problems and the price of plane tickets, it’s not as simple as deciding to leave on another day.

Some people seemed almost disappointed when I said how little my life has really changed since I moved.

Living in the Hebrides has also given me the chance to keep in touch with friends.

After college, everyone goes on their own journey. It is tempting, again, to simply hope that our paths will cross again one day. But, for me, a visit to the mainland now means a rare chance to catch up – that’s what I do.

Two women and a dog stand on a windy hill.
A passing friend and I on Rueval, the highest peak (not very high) of Benbecula. Image: Eve McLachlan

Of course, this is all just my own story. For each person moving to or from the Hebrides it is different. Some will find it isolating, others will not. And that’s exactly what I mean: there isn’t a single story of life here.

But it is this solitary idea of ​​a place to ‘get away’ from the mainland that persists.

Some people seemed almost disappointed when I said how little my life has really changed since I moved. To me, thinking like that does a disservice to the Western Isles themselves.

The Western Isles don’t need a fake narrative to make them inviting

The stunning scenery and natural wonders of the Outer Hebrides speak for themselves, without having to be attached to a false narrative of being outside of ‘civilization’.

Our turquoise seas are no less beautiful because you can go to a café or a community center after your swim. Our stunning white sand beaches are kept that way thanks to the hard work of local waste collection groups.

The unique aspects of island life don’t make it any less “real” than on the mainland. And I don’t feel like I’m straying from anything here – I feel like I’ve come home.

Eve McLachlan is a community reporter for The Press & Journal, based in the Western Isles

Already subscribed? Login

[I’m better connected after adopting ‘isolated’ island living]


Comments are closed.