Island on the Edge

By Helen

One book which has had a great impact on me is Island on the Edge: A Life on Soay by Anne Cholawo. In 2018, while touring the Outer Hebrides looking for a house to buy, I started questioning my decision to make such a bold move. I kept asking myself: Am I crazy? Am I doing the right thing? Is this all going to go horribly wrong?

It just so happened that at that time I came across a copy of Island on the Edge and was immediately comforted and reassured by the story. Anne Cholawo had made the courageous decision in the late 1980s to give up her life and career in London and move to the small island of Soay, just off the coast of Skye. This map shows the location of Soay in relation to the Outer Hebrides and our B&B.

When Anne moved to Soay, there were 17 people living on the island. There was no regular ferry service, so the only way to reach her new home was to ask a friendly fisherman, or neighbour with a boat, to take her there. Soon after she arrived she bought her own boat to give her more freedom of movement and to help with winkle-picking, her new source of income.

The book gives a fascinating journey of Anne’s life on Soay and her relationship with nature and with the other island residents. There are stories to make you laugh and cry and marvel at the lifestyles led by the people who lived there. Beautiful colour photos taken by Anne and her friends over the years help to bring the stories to life. Today, only Anne and her husband, plus one part-time resident, call Soay their home.

In 2021 I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne for our podcast. It was extremely humbling for me to be able to speak to the woman who had inspired me while I was questioning my own decisions, and I loved the openness with which Anne spoke about her experiences. You can listen to our conversation here:

If you’d like to find out more about Anne’s story, do grab a copy of her book.

Thank you so much, Anne, for writing your story and for being such an inspiration to me!

2 thoughts on “Island on the Edge”

  1. It’s a part of the world I have only seen from the bridge of a submarine! Must explore further.
    We have a local friend in Shropshire who breeds Soay sheep.

    1. That’s interesting about your sheep breeder friend, Duncan. Soay sheep are apparently quite rare, very hardy and don’t need shearing since they cast their wool naturally. They don’t actually originate from the island described in this post, but from the island of Soay in the St Kilda archipelago which I wrote about in this post (we saw a lot of Soay sheep on our visit there):
      The name Soay is Norse in origin and means ‘Sheep Island’. I’m told there are a few Soays around the British Isles!

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