Friday, June 10, 2011


Most famous as the location of the first ever TV reality show, the BBC's "Castaway 2000", the island of Taransay off the west coast of Harris in the Outer Hebrides is for sale at the astonishing price of £2 million.

The sale brochure by estate agents CKD Galbraith of Inverness (which you can download via this link) features beautiful photography of the island showing the Outer Hebrides at their stunning best in glorious weather but what are you actually getting for your £2m?

Well, it's basically a sheep-farm of 3,475 acres (1,400 hectares). That's pretty standard for a Scottish sheep farm but the Taransay sheep, all 680 of them, are not included in the price. You have to buy them and the all important right to collect the EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies separately. That's also standard practice in Scottish farm sales but what's not standard about Taransay is having 2 miles of angry Atlantic Ocean to cross from Harris to get to your farm. There's no ferry (because nobody lives on Taransay) nor is there even a pier on the Harris shore opposite to embark from. 

Once you've managed, in reasonable weather (i.e. impossible October to March), to land on Taransay (no pier on the island either), what's there? Well there's a farmhouse in reasonable condition for a house in such an exposed location which hasn't been lived in permanently since the early 1970s:-


There's also the old school which has been converted to self catering holiday accommodation:-

Old schools are a common feature of deserted Hebridean islands. They date back to the late 19th/early 20th centuries when they still had sizeable populations. The population of Taransay was 76 in 1911. The houses of the native population (it's not always accurate to call them "crofters") were of the "black house" type with low drystone walls which, now roofless, have receded back into the landscape (although are still discoverable if you look carefully and clearly visible on Google Earth). But "public buildings" such as schools - churches are another example - were of stone and lime and slated and have survived more prominently in the environment. The island of Mingulay south of Barra is another example of a deserted island (abandoned in 1911) where the school and the church remain prominent while the houses have retreated into the environment.

It's often a similar story with the house of the commercial sheep farmer who intruded himself onto the scene in the second half of the 19th century - many's the Hebridean island with the gaunt remains of an empty farmhouse.  I don't know the history of the coexistence of the farmer with the native population on Taransay - it was probably tense and would be an interesting historical study.

Back in 2011, the farm buildings also remain on Taransay. The sale brochure describes them as "the Bothy" and providing "fairly basic" accommodation for groups of up to 10 people. For estate agents to describe something in such lukewarm terms must mean it's pretty crap and I'd guess it's not been maintained since the Castaways lived there in 1999. Certainly, the Bothy is not advertised as self catering holiday accommodation as the farmhouse and old school are on the island's website.

If they were situated on Harris (where there would be mains electricity and a public road to the front door so you can reach them 365 days a year!), the farmhouse would probably be worth about £150,000, the old schoolhouse about £100,000 and "the Bothy" about £50,000. So, given that the profits from a sheep farm on the mainland, never mind an offshore island are sweeties, what are you paying the other £1.7 million for on Taransay?

Well, a whole lot of this:-

and a big chunk of that:-

The thing is, you don't need to buy the right to enjoy "that". There's no such thing as a private island in Scottish Law a la Mustique or Necker Island in the Caribbean. Any yachtsman or kayaker is at liberty to land on Taransay and, provided he behaves "responsibly" and doesn't do it on the doorstep of the farmhouse or the other buildings while anyone's staying there, have a barbecue, camp for the night or walk all over the island. He wouldn't be allowed to fish the lochs or shoot the deer but I'm not sure that dubious privilege is worth paying seven figures for.

  In reality, the estate agents are hoping there's someone out there gullible enough to cough up nearly two big ones solely for the privilege of being able to say they're the owner of Taransay - it's really just an upmarket version of these rackets where you buy a square foot to call yourself the "laird" of Glen Teuchter.

Enter Ben Fogle, daytime TV presenter and most famous of the Castaways. He's been quoted in the Stornoway Gazette saying he wants to get a consortium together to buy Taransay for a wildlife reserve. Well, it's kind of already a wildlife reserve, Ben - it doesn't need you and your chums' money to make it one!