Sunday, 25 June 2006

Living in the Outer Hebrides (1) a bit of hush

The most frequent question I get, on visiting the mainland, is what is it like to live in the Outer Hebrides.

Sometimes, it's usually followed up by a question/statement a la "I bet it rains there all the time"; usually from someone who's never been here and is keen to share their entire (and usually wrong) knowledge about the place.

The first aspect of this place is how quiet it is here. Not just slightly quiet, but very quiet. Part of that may be because we moved into a detached house. Our previous house in the central belt of Scotland was semi-detached, in a pleasant rural town, but inhabited on the other side by a half-feral family and the worlds stupidest dog. Can't have it all!

So now, we don't hear any neighbours, or yampy labradors, through the wall in our house; bliss. In fact, of the four sides around us:

  • one is the sea

  • two contain uninhabited houses that are being done-up

  • one is a second house, let out as self-catering accommodation

 There's also a road nearby, which eventually goes to a dead-end. Most of the noise here is from:

  • fishing boats going in and out of the nearby harbour (very pleasant to hear and see)

  • residents further along the road cutting their grass (one couple are manic and very frequent grass cutters)

  • people saying "hello" to each other as they pass on the road

  • the seals making a wide range of noises on the rocks in Bays Loch

  • my cat meow-ing because she's about to jump on my head and wake me up

  • birds (there's a lot of them) tweeting away

When I go back to mainland, it's hell. I need a few days to adjust to the constant noise levels (both background and in your face), even in rural places. Foam earplugs from Boots have turned out to be a lifesaver (or sleep facilitator). In large parts of England, central Scotland and southern Wales, there always seems to be the distant (or nearer) hum of traffic. Plus people, machines, shouting, and so forth.

The quiet isn't for everyone. Regularly I meet visitors who cannot (or will not) adjust and who dislike it, or are afraid of it. A few people even shorten their holidays to return to their noisier home environment; I feel quite sorry for them, needing the reassurance of noise in order to function. [Insert your own cod-psychology theory here].

Don't get me wrong; I'm not "noise intolerant". There's just good noise (e.g. fishing boats, pleasant fiddle and bagpipe music, good singing, wildlife, the swish of someone paddling past the bottom of your garden) and bad noise (e.g. constant traffic, drunks who won't shut up, accordion "music", roadworks, labradors who are so stupid they bark at their own shadow). It's a quality issue.


  1. sounds to me like a wonderful place to live. I will insert my amatuer hypothesis here: perhaps those who flee the quiet of your island are already partially deaf and because they are in denial of same, flee to noisy environs in order to confirm to themselve that they are not deaf. No, I don't like that one...adrenaline junkies? No...Aliens?...No...Tom Jones?

  2. Sounds lovely! I'm so glad I can visit vicariously through your site...until I get there myself. I'm looking forward to reading and seeing more.: )

  3. Excellent post. When one has experienced the peace of the Hebrides, the mainland feels like another world. On saying that, a low-flying jet woke me up last night and next door's dog continues to bark at fresh air. But as I write, it's quieter than an empty church outside and I love it.I'm off to the Edinburgh Tattoo next week - the experience should give me enough noise to last the rest of my yearly allowance. ;)

  4. What do people do for a living there? And about how many people live there? I had read in Smithsonian Magazine a few years ago that people had moved off the Outer Hebrides, so it's good to know there are people there.