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Off the Grid and at Peace in Scoraig, Scotland

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Bleak and windswept are adjectives frequently used to describe the west coast of Scotland; they certainly apply to Scoraig, and the word “remote” can also be added to the list. Today, Scoraig is home to people seeking an alternative way of life.

Scoraig of Old

In 1871, there were 380 people living on Scoraig; they all spoke Gaelic. Those settlers arrived when their land was taken away from them during the Highland Clearances. This was a process described by the BBC as an “attempt by the British establishment to destroy, once and for all, the archaic, militaristic Clan System, which had facilitated the Jacobite risings of the early part of the 18th century.” No matter how much spin is put on the event, it is an example of “ethnic cleansing,” and it is rightly still a sore spot among Scots.

The highlanders eked out a living from small-scale farming—known as crofting in Scotland—and fishing. But it was a very harsh way of life. There was no road connecting Scoraig to the rest of the country; the only way out by land was a five-mile walk. The other option was a one-mile boat ride across Little Loch Broom.

The population dwindled until 1963 when the last resident, Billy MacRae, left.

The footpath to Scoraig is more of a hike than a walk.

The footpath to Scoraig is more of a hike than a walk.

Scoraig’s Self-Sufficient Newcomers

As MacRae loaded his boat with his possessions, other people began to view the peninsula as a good place to live. Newspapers started to call the community a “hippy commune.” One of the early arrivals was Alan Bush, whose family owned a croft. He was typical of the kind of person that can make a success of life in a remote location.

If you don’t know the difference between a nail and a screw, a place like Scoraig is not for you. Multiple skills are needed for living a life of self-sufficiency, and Bush had many—he was a welder, mechanic, and fisherman. He looked after the peninsula’s lighthouse and ran a water taxi service. He was featured in the 2013 documentary Fishcakes and Cocaine not long before he died.

John and Debbie Davy built their own home from a derelict shed. They built a windmill and piped water into their house from a spring in two more examples of self-sufficiency.

And then there’s Hugh Piggott, who arrived in 1975. There was no electricity, but there was plenty of wind, so he set about building wind turbines. Largely self-taught, Hugh Piggott has become something of an international small-scale wind power guru.

Leaving the Rat Race

Henry David Thoreau showed the way. In 1845, he began a sojourn alone beside Walden Pond, Massachusetts, in a simple dwelling he built himself. He stayed there for two years, two months, and two days and wrote about the experience.

Part of his advice is that “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen . . .”

Many of the people who have come to live in Scoraig have taken Thoreau’s counsel of simplification to heart. In 2018, the BBC profiled several of the residents of Scoraig and a common thread comes through; they mostly want a quiet life.

  • Dale, 47, says, “I was fed up with working in an office all day looking at a screen and having to pay to go to a gym to keep fit. I was fed up with all the people―it would take me 40 minutes to drive seven miles to get into work.”
  • Chisa, 28, says, “If you speak to anybody here, they will all say that they are getting away from the value system that tells you you ought to be this way or that way . . .”
  • Here’s Natalie, 37: “It’s hard for people to understand that I don’t want a job or to pay the price for what comes with it. Generally, if you have a job you are part of the monetary system.”

There is also a strong desire to live in a way that makes a minimal impact on the environment. Some residents raise cattle, and others sheep, all organically. People grow vegetables, but given the harsh climate, they need some special nurturing.

The last word goes to Hugh Piggott, who writes about the 100 or people who live on the peninsula:

Read More From Toughnickel

“There are very few places in the U.K. where people live that are not on the road network or the electricity mains network. Most people here on Scoraig have chosen to come here because it is different in that way, so we have deliberately made our lives harder. But some have come for the beautiful views and some have come for the low cost of property (historically) and some have come for the people/community aspect.”

Scoraig's scenery is undeniably beautiful.

Scoraig's scenery is undeniably beautiful.

Bonus Factoids

  • The Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri has been what it calls a “thriving sustainability demonstration project” for 20 years. Its residents invite visitors for a two-week stay to “experience everything from organic permaculture garden and design to natural buildings, alternative energy, inner sustainability and self governance . . .”
  • Freedom Cove, British Columbia is the home of Wayne Adams and Catherine King. The residence is made up of 12 floating platforms in Cypress Bay near Tofino on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The couple uses solar power, grows their own vegetables, and eats fresh fish.
  • In 2019, Kirsty Tizard told the BBC that she and her husband “both ran our own businesses for quite a few years, we had five children and a very hectic life. I had what you might call a midlife crisis―I had a feeling of ‘is this all there is to living?’ It just seemed a rat race of trying to earn enough to pay the rent.” So the family joined a woodland commune at Tinkers Bubble in Somerset, southwest England. The community uses horses to till the land and in its small-scale forestry operations and earns a small income by selling its organic produce.

Sources

  • “The Cultural Impact of the Highland Clearances.” Ross Noble, BBC, February 17, 2011.
  • “Tribute to the Last Residents of a Tough and Isolated Highland Community.” Alison Campsie, The Scotsman, October 2, 2020.
  • “The Remote UK Community Living Off-Grid.” Ed Gold, BBC, November 19, 2018.
  • “Scoraig.” Wetheuncivilised.com, undated.
  • “Family of Five Give up Comfortable Home to Live at Hidden Off-Grid Somerset Community - Tinkers Bubble.” Tomas Malloy, SomersetLive, September 29, 2019.
  • Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on May 07, 2021:

Thanks Ann. You're not far from Tinkers Bubble - just saying.

I used to be quite handy by several age-related infirmities keep me from dealing with the fix-it demands of home ownership. So, if you and your partner would like to come and stay with us in Canada we could certainly keep him busy for a couple of weeks.

Ann Carr from SW England on May 07, 2021:

I've always had a yen for such a life but I'm not sure that it's not a bit late now, at just 70. However, my partner is practical, knowledgeable and can build, plumb and do electrics and mechanics. He's nearly 80 and has even more of a yen for this kind of life. Maybe.....!

Great info here, Rupert, as always. There are now a lot of enterprises which run on the same principal and are thriving ( see Ruby Wax's 'And now for the good news..').

I enjoyed reading this but then you're a good writer snd I know each piece is going to be worth the read.

Ann

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on May 06, 2021:

Part Scottish only I'm afraid. My paternal grandfather was the real deal. My other grandparents were Welsh and Irish, so I'm mostly Celt, but born and raised in England. And thank you for the compliment Kathleen.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 06, 2021:

I'm a Cochran who can trace her people back to the Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland. Your article caught my attention.

What a good writer you are. Scottish, by any chance? It's one of our traits! I'm working on perfecting myself.

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