They're an archipelago about 10 miles (16km) east of Shetland. Covering about 1.5 square miles (4 sq km), the two biggest islands are linked by a bridge and between them support a population of 76. Boasting the UK's smallest secondary school (roll in 2010 - 3), this community of fisherman (including fish farm workers) is accessed by a 2.5 hour ferry journey from Lerwick though Shetland Island Council also runs a 20 minute flight three days a week (return fare £43 (£22 for pensioners), request stop at Whalsay). Read about SIC's ferry and air services here.
|Photo credit q3inq8|
Well, inevitably perhaps, not all that good. Apart from the fact the sale doesn't include the third biggest island, Grunay, (on the left in the photo above) or Bound Skerry (foreground - "Aw! Don't we get the lighthouse?"), it also doesn't include any sort of a house: all the houses (39 in all) and the infrastructure such as the pier, church, school, community hall etc. belong to the islanders or third parties such as the Council. (Interestingly, KF's brochure doesn't list the airstrip as excluded although I suspect that's an oversight otherwise they'd be painting a glowing picture of investment opportunities arising from the valuable landing slot rights at OUK!)
The only buildings a purchaser would take ownership of, the brochure notes, are "two, now derelict, buildings formally [sic] used as a coastguard lookout and signal post." The absence of estate agent hyperbole talking up the potential for conversion into an insular dez rez speaks volumes.
But you're buying 600 acres (250ha) of choice of site for a new house, aren't you? Again, not quite and the reason for that is also mentioned in KF's brochure - the whole "estate" (except the offlying islets) is subject to crofting tenure. Crofting is something I've been meaning to write about for a while: I've never known quite where to start with it but Out Skerries provides a catalyst.
|Photo credit Donald Mackinnon|
Skerries is a crofting township. The KF brochure informs us there are 15 crofts with about (I'm guessing) 75 acres (30ha) of in-bye between them. The rest of the islands is all crofters' common grazing.
|The township and in-bye on Housay|
|The township and in-bye on Housay in the 1950s - one of a number of excellent pictures in the Shetland Museum archive|
Crofters also have the right to sell their tenancies and bequeath them on death so, for all these reasons, crofting tenancies tend to continue indefinitely. It's misleading to think of them in terms of "tenancy" and "lease" as these words generally connote a temporary relationship. "Tenure" is a more appropriate word reflected in the fact that, since 1976, crofters have had the right to buy the freehold of the in-bye of their crofts (not the common grazing) at a price equal to 15 times the annual rent. In practice, crofters relatively seldom (compared with, for e.g., council house tenants) buy their entire crofts but most have bought their houses. From what can be gathered from the KF brochure, this appears to be the pattern on Skerries - most if not all of the croft houses have been bought but none of the actual crofts.
|Out Skerries in 1877 - OS 6 inch map|
"In early summer the islands are covered in wild flowers; in particular Sea Pinks, but it [sic] is most well know [sic] for its bird life and as a breeding ground for Terus [sic], Kittiewakes [sic], Shags, Oyster Catchers, Eider Duck, Fulwars [sic] and Gulls."
|The harbour at Bruray by Ronnie Leask|
So what are you actually getting for your £400,000 on Skerries apart from that £167.18 a year of rent from the crofters?
Gold, silver, coal, oil and gas are all the property of the Crown but if there are any other valuable mineral deposits on or under the islands, these would belong to the landlord. Another perquisite of the crofting landlord is the shooting and game fishing rights: some common grazings are noted deer stalking forests and/or have salmon rivers running through them although there's scant potential for huntin', fishin' or shootin' on Skerries.
Perhaps the most significant right a crofting landlord has is to "resume" land. That means regaining unencumbered vacant possession from the crofters. However, resumption requires permission from the Scottish Land Court and it will only ever consent to release land for something planning permission has been obtained for and which doesn't threaten the continuation of crofting in the vicinity. And crucially, resumption is also subject to payment to the crofters of half of the market value of the land resumed. Yes, that's right! - you've already shelled out 400 big ones and you still have to pay more for the land to build your house, diving & birdwatching lodge, drug rehabilitation centre, crystal growing factory, etc. whatever.
|Skerries at OS 1:25,000 scale from Streetmap|
|Photo credit Markus Schroedr|