43km (27 miles) S of Lerwick, Shetland Islands
Called the "most isolated inhabited part of Britain," Fair Isle lies on the same latitude as Bergen, Norway. It measures only about 1.6 by 6km (1 by 3 3/4 miles) and sits about midway between the Orkneys and the Shetlands, administered by the latter. Relentless seas pound its 32km (20-mile) coast in winter, and powerful westerly winds fling Atlantic spray from one side of the island to the other. It's home to fewer than 100 rugged, self-reliant souls.
An important staging point for migrating birds, Fair Isle is even better known for its patterned pullovers, which greatly aid the island's economy. In stores around the world, you see these intricately patterned garments retailing at high prices. The homegrown product is sold on Fair Isle at half the price. Fair Isle knitting is even a part of the curriculum at all primary schools, and many jobless men have turned to knitting.
Originally, the fame of the sweaters was spread in the 1920s by the prince of Wales. The pattern is of mysterious origin. Some suggest that it was derived from Celtic sources, others that it came from the island's Viking heritage. A more daring theory maintains the themes were Moorish, learned from Spanish sailors shipwrecked off Fair Isle in 1588.
In 1954, the island was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland. The bird observatory installed here is the most remarkable in the country. Since work began in 1948, some 200 species have been ringed. Fair Isle is an important breeding ground for everything from the puffin and the Arctic skua to the razorbill and the storm petrel.