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ARTICLE - TAMWORTH HERALD - 15/07/2004

'No man is an island - except for Dave Hill'

Elford man fulfilled a lifetimes ambition by buying his own island

All his life, Dave Hill had promised himself that he would retire by the age of fifty and persue his dreams.

In the event he overshot the mark by two years, but more than made up for it by carrying out the second part of his promise to the letter.

Two days after he finished work as a chartered civil engineer, Dave, who lives in the sleepy village of Elford , near Tamworth , fulfilled his life's ambition and bought himself - an island.

"I saw an advert in the Guardian on Sunday, advertising an island for sale in the Outer Hebrides ," he recalls matter-of-factly. "The ad said 'for people who have more money than sense'.

"I retired from work on the Tuesday night at 7.15pm and by 5.30am the next morning I was on my way up to the Hebrides to look at the island."

It was not until February 2002 that Dave's island nirvana arrived, in the pages of the Guardian.

He flew up to the Western Isles to see the island, but it turned out to be spoken for. However another island called Sgarabhaigh (pronounced scaravay) was available.

Dave recalls the moment he first stepped onto Sgarabhaigh. "I was pretty choked; owning an island has been a dream of mine since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

"It's one of the most beautiful and unspoilt environments in the world - very unrestricted, no fences, nothing - it's wonderful."

He decided to buy Sgarabhaigh and clinched the deal with the then owner John MacKenzie, the eldest of three brothers of the local clan.

"My wife and I went up in early January and there were clear skies, hardly a breath of wind, and the stars...." Dave pauses. ".Zillions of them. We watched a shooting star that you would have given your life savings to see."

From the air, Sgarabhaigh, which means Cormorant Island , looks like an S-shaped piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Covered in grass and heather, but treeless, it has a wild, rugged beauty that is the major part of the attractiveness for Dave.

"The weather can be very extreme and can change very quickly. And the locals say you can experience all four seasons in a day on the islands with the constant light variations.

"Summer is the best time to visit if you want calm weather. When it is tranquil and the sun is shining, it is absolutely wonderful. But I love it when the sea is running wild."

Yet, despite its ruggedness, Sgarabhaigh is not remote, being only twenty minutes by boat from the island of Harris , with its hotels. And, although uninhabited, it's a wonderful place to see wildlife. In the clear waters around it dolphins play, and there is a colony of seals and a sea otter in residence. During the summer, sheep graze on the hills, and the rocks and cliffs are home to thousands of birds including terns, puffins, oyster catchers and naturally a colony of cormorants.

Boat trips from nearby islands also go out to watch for marine life, including whales. "A local boatman recently saw over fifty whales in six days in the waters to the east of the island, including minke and a rare humpback," says Dave.

The wildlife is a constant joy to him and he delights recounting a story. "My wife Jane, enjoys singing and one day she was singing on the rocks. In no time at all, 17 seals from the resident colony arrived. They looked for all the world as though they were sitting in theatre stalls, listening to her performance."

Then there are the fabulous views in all directions: "You can watch the sun rise over the Cullin Hills on Skye to the east, there is a sandy shore to the south, Taransay, where they filmed Castaway 2000, is to the west, and the Harris mountains are to the north.

Now Dave has his dream island - but he is not finished. He has taken things a step further.

"I got into sustainability at work. It made me aware of the pressures on marginal environments like the islands. The Outer Hebrides have lost twenty percent of their population in the last twenty years.

"The paramount thing has always been that we are not going to develop Sgarabhaigh - we are keeping it as a nature reserve. So, I decided to look at ways to share some interest in it."

He had an idea that would both help him recoup the initial outlay and would also give others the opportunity to share the island. His latest project allows members of the public to become 'Friends of Sgarabhaigh', and to visit his island, to enjoy the solitude and the wildlife.

"The sharing element has also provided the added benefit of potential economic support for the local economy through the generation of additional tourism," he says.

He has other plans too. He's working on a book - based in an island setting - and he's toying with the idea of whether he might buy an even larger Scottish island...

Looking back with hindsight on his island dream over the past two years, he tells me: "It is something special. When Jane sang to the seals, we could not believe it was real. After so many years of dreaming about owning an island, it was on the map, it was a real place - and we were there."

'Realising your dreams'

Dave Hill has set up a company called Friends of Sgarabahaigh Limited, which owns the freehold to the island. Members of the public can contract with the company to become an 'Associate Owner', giving them a lifetime's rights to visit the private island with friends and family, subject to an island code of behaviour. Each associate owner receives a handmade oak presentation box which contains their island 'documents'. These include a certificate, an owners handbook, glass phials of peat and sand from the island, a DVD film of the island, Ordnance Survey maps, brass seals and sealing wax and a Sgarabhaigh Passport which can be endorsed to record visits.

Forty hand processes are involved in the box and Dave has done all of them from box finishing to glass assembly, polishing, seal stamping and passport endorsement. "I wanted it to be special - an island in a box," he says. For more details call Dave on 01287 383645 or visit www.scaravay.com

Other Articles

•  'The Journal' - July 2004

•  'The Hebridean' - 29 th April 2005

•  'The Scottish Islands Network Newsletter - May 2005

•  'The Shropshire Star' - 8 th August 2005

•  'The Advertiser' - 12 th August 2005

•  'The Tamworth Times' - 1 st September 2005

 

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