I’m naturally drawn towards isolated and remote corners of our planet – and on British shores, it doesn’t get any more far-flung than Foula in the Shetland Islands.
Silence doesn’t exist. Even in the quietest corners of our planet, there are always sounds. At the summits of the calmest mountains, you’ll invariably still hear a faint whistle of wind. In the centres of the grandest, most motionless forests, there will always be a distant crack of a branch. In Britain – home to 67 million noisy people – silence has become one of our most precious commodities.
You’d suspect it would be near impossible to find on these busy shores, but within just minutes of touching down on Foula – one of our most remote inhabited islands, some 20 miles west of mainland Shetland – I could hear just a few, barely audible waves, grumbling over a soundscape of nothingness. Silence, to a British extreme, that I’d seldom found before.
“Compared to Foula, cities are very stressful places,” said Robert – one of the island’s 30 or so human inhabitants living on this 4.88 square mile outcrop, as our feet squelched over spongy sphagnum moss. “In the city you’re living life by the clock,” he told me, as we neared a family of five Shetland ponies, their matted manes flapping in the brisk North Atlantic breeze, like badly fitted toupees. “Here you can be your own master and do as you please. People wonder if I get cabin fever on Foula, but in reality, it’s the outside world that gives me that.”
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July 26, 2019