1 EAGLETON NOTES: Island Isolation



Saturday 29 October 2011

Island Isolation

My Mum always used to say that she could never have lived on Lewis because she found island life very claustrophobic.  If you consider that this is one of the most open places in the UK with huge skies where you can see the horizon on all four points of the compass in many places that can sound odd to some people.  For a while it sounded odd to me.

Recently the ferry has been disrupted a lot because of the severe weather with people either being stranded in Ullapool overnight or stranded on the Island.

Therein lies the answer to the conundrum.

When my Mum used to come to the Island there was no way to get off the Island on a Sunday: no planes and no ferries.  No way to get off in extreme weather.  Now it is rare for there to be no way off the Island on any day.  The planes and ferries travel on Sundays.  When the wind is high and confines the ferry to port the planes usually fly and when the ice and fog ground the planes the ferry sails.

However the stretch of water - nearly 30 miles between the nearest points and 50 miles between ferry ports - which separates the Mainland and Lewis (The Minch) is the very barrier which makes the Island the place that it is: wonderfully free to live in because of its isolation and terribly claustrophobic to live in because of its isolation.

New Zealand is an Island group miles away from anywhere else including its neighbour Australia and the other Pacific Islands.  Many people in New Zealand feel cut off and claustrophobic.  Many, like me, feel liberated by its remoteness.

Australia is an Island. Perth is possibly the most remote city on earth being geographically closer to both Dili (2,785 kilometres (1,731 mi)) and Jakarta (3,002 kilometres (1,865 mi)) than Sydney (3,291 kilometres (2,045 mi)), Brisbane (3,604 kilometres (2,239 mi)) or Canberra (3,106 kilometres (1,930 mi)).  I found Perth one of the most wonderful cities I've ever stayed in.

So I have come to the conclusion after that rather odd rambling post that there are two sorts of people.  Those who like living on Islands (or isolated situations such as Perth) and those who don't.  

I don't think I'll get any plaudits for coming to that conclusion.  Sorry if I bored you!


  1. I don't find NZ claustrophobic - it was a shock to think of it as a remote island miles from anywhere but of course it is. It seems plenty large enough to live and drive around to me. When we lived in Queenstown, many people often said they had to go away regularly to feel open spaces and escape from the oppressive feeling of the mountains, and that place felt like paradise to me.

    However, I do think it must be nice to have a hop skip and a jump across the channel to Europe - when we want to travel off shore it really has to be a plane and getting out of the Pacific Islands takes time and money. I think greater wealth would let me feel I could justify popping up for three days in Paris and London, but reality is even three weeks feels short to justify the fares... so we hop the ditch here for time in Aus or Fiji instead.

    When I think of life on your remote part of the world, it is not the trapped feeling I would worry about (although medically that is not ideal) - it is the thought of the small town mentality where everyone knows what everyone is up to and gossips. And of course the other side of the coin is potentially the close friendships and support - but I know I would want to get away to be free and feel the "open spaces" regularly too. Escape the human mountains.

    I see you leave in 3 days 21 hours I min and 18 secs...
    Happy packing!

  2. Not boring at all... but I think I must agree with your Mum. The size of the island probably comes into it as well though. After all - Britain is an island too ;)

  3. Stornoway always reminded me of a picturesque Shotts to be honest... at times claustrophobic due to the small town mentality, inward and parochial views - but simultaneously the most comforting place in the world to be... I know what you mean. But I fear that we can be isolated or emotionally and spiritually disconnected anywhere...

  4. I do realise, in response to some of the points that you've made, that I dealt with this in a very superficial manner and the issues are, in fact, much more complex. I love Island life. I love going into The Woodlands Centre for coffee or lunch and knowing so many people there. I love the smallness. I also recognise that I can say that in the knowledge that I am not constrained by that smallness. Living on Lewis I can 'escape' to the Mainland, then from the Island that is Britain I can escape to mainland Europe. And that in 3 sleeps I can escape to the other side of the world.

    So it is easy for me not to feel claustrophobic.

    However, and here Yvonne has a point, we can run but we can never hide from ourselves so we can be isolated or emotionally and spiritually disconnected anywhere.

    For me the most lonely I have ever been was when I was reading for the Bar and had to spend weekends in London 'eating dinners' at Grays Inn. I came out of a theatre on Picadilly at midnight amongst hundreds or thousands of other people in the bright bustle of a London night and felt the full weight of desolation amid all that humanity.

  5. I read this last night and again this morning.
    I feel that claustrophobia is the wrong word or feeling here.
    Isolation would be what I would experience and I generally appreciate being isolated.
    Agoraphobia could also accurately describe symptoms associated with open spaces. (Not to be confused with Angoraphobia......which is fear of rabbits).
    Have a good trip and all the best from an old pedant.

  6. Come, come Adrian. The Edwards family have all got degrees in pedantry and Mum definitely was no exception. When Mum used the term 'claustrophobia' she used it advisedly. She felt closed in. People on Islands often do feel hemmed in - by the isolation and the physical barrier of water. There can be situations of no escape. I suspect, however, that you could live on an Island such as Lewis and be a claustrophobic agoraphobic (or angoraphobic for that matter).

  7. Interesting (NOT boring), and I know exactly what you mean. But I'm the opposite, like light and dark. When I'm feeling lonely or depressed I like to go into the centre of London and see all those people I don't know rushing around, each with their own agenda. I know that nearly all of them are part of a network of friends and family and colleagues, they have hobbies and interest and preoccupations. It makes me feel connected to the human race to be in the middle of a crowd like this.

    Of course if I didn't know anyone in London it would be awful, but I know that friends and family are in the background.

    Conversely, I wouldn't like island life, although I have experienced it a couple of times and do appreciate the advantages, up to a point.

    What would depress me and make me feel trapped would be the endless rehashing of conversation with the neighbours, the obsessive interest in others' affairs, the feeling that one had no freedom to be different.

    In short, it's all in the mind! :)

  8. Perhaps my biggest problem with London at that time was that I didn't know anyone in London.

    Lewis with a population of over 20,000 is a little too big for people to have an obsessive interest in each others' affairs, Jenny. In fact one of the problems with the emerging generations is that they have little or no interest in each others' affairs in the sense of neighbourliness. I've lived in this township (of about 20 houses) for nearly 20 years and I'm ashamed to say I know only a few of my neighbours.

    The only lack of freedom that I feel is my desire not to upset my immediate neighbours who are Sabbatarians (and a good friends despite me being atheist) and would be really upset if I put my washing out on a Sunday. I could, of course, if I so chose but I'd strain the friendship. My choice though.

  9. 'Angoraphobic' makes me laugh! :D Like Adrian I kept thinking about this, and actually I felt like adding just about what you added yourself in your comment while I slept. I think the claustrophobic or panicky feeling comes when one feels stuck and not able to get out of there (wherever it is) when one wants to. I don't think I would feel comfortable either on a small island or in a town the size of London for too long. Nor would I like to live too far north in my own country (where everything is much farther apart than down here in the south - not to mention the even longer winters).

  10. Is 3rd Nov when you leave Lewis or when you leave Britain - or both?

  11. I leave Lewis on 3rd and Britain on the 5th.

  12. So I guess you count with a margin then when going as far as the other side of the earth... To make sure you don't miss the main flight?

  13. Got it in 1 Monica. At this time of year you just never know. If all goes well, though, it also enables me to spend a couple of nights with a friend and fit in a visit to the theatre.

  14. I hope all goes according to plan! :)

  15. You didn't bore me, I'm an island person too.



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