Community / Four weeks with no ferry in Fair Isle – while mobile signal is down too

The recent windy weather also saw most flights last week cancelled, and a fire engine fault means passengers have to fly to Sumburgh

Fair Isle from the sky.

LOCATED half way between Sumburgh and Orkney and with a population of less than 50, life in Fair Isle may feel isolated from Shetland and beyond at the best of times.

But with both transport and telecoms connectivity curtailed recently, some islanders have been feeling especially cut off.

The island community has been left without a ferry for around a month following a refit, flights were cancelled pretty much the whole of last week due to the wind and mobile signal – including important 4G internet – has been down too.

Despite the Good Shepherd ferry being ready for service since 9 November, the windy weather has meant the crew has not been able to retrieve the boat.

On top of that the problems with 4G, which many islanders use for their internet, is affecting connectivity.

With the weather calming, flights have resumed – but passengers are currently being taken to and from Sumburgh after a fault with Tingwall Airport’s fire engine.


This fault closed Tingwall Airport on Monday, but an exemption is in place to allow flights to carry freight while the fire engine remains out of service.

A week’s worth of mail, for example, was taken into Fair Isle on Tuesday morning.

But the Good Shepherd ferry remains in the Shetland mainland having left the isle for a refit at the end of October.

A spokesperson for Shetland Islands Council said the Good Shepherd will resume sailings to Fair Isle when the next weather window allows.

With no boat islanders are left without a way of getting heavy duty items like gas bottles and fuel into the isle, and even simple things like refuse collection has been effectively paused for weeks – with skips now full up.

Islander Eileen Thomson said it is “no fault whatsoever of our crew who are absolutely amazing, but we need a better solution to cover while the boat’s on refit”.

Become a supporter of Shetland News


One person particularly affected is Marie Bruhat, a knitwear and textile designer who has struggled with the lack of connectivity.

With traditional broadband connections in Fair Isle slow, many have taken up 4G mobile internet.

For Bruhat it means her knitwear business has effectively been placed on hold since the signal dropped on 16 November. With passengers only now being able to get in on the plane, the 4G fault has remained unfixed for days.

Marie Bruhat. Photo: Sophie Guerrad

The lack of transport has meant no supplies in and out; she posted a garment from her business on Monday 14 November, and it had not left the isle a week later.

Bruhat, who is originally from France but moved to Fair Isle in 2017, said frontline staff involved in the island’s transport links are going a “great job”.


“The crew at Tingwall, the crew here, the people that have been involved directly – they are all doing their best,” she said.

The knitwear designer also acknowledged disruption to transport is a fact of life on the island, which is at the mercy of the elements.

But the knitwear designer – and member of the Fair Isle fire crew – admitted a sense of frustration over how weather windows for transport panned out.

The Fair Isle community though, are a resilient lot. 

“Everyone is planning, everyone has milk in their freezer and things like that – but there’s so much you can plan for,” Bruhat said.

She added that with the fault on the island’s mast some people are left without mobile phone signal, as well as internet.

Fair Isle ferry the Good Shepherd.

But Bruhat said the recent storm, which also saw four days of ferry cancellations on the Aberdeen-Shetland route, was a chance to “make the most of the beautiful sea, and the cosy time inside with the fire on”.

“But when it starts getting better and things are not moving as swiftly as they could, then you get frustrated.”

With passengers now able to get into Fair Isle on the plane for the first time in many days, there is hope that the 4G issue will be resolved soon.

It is understood that the mast there did not return to service after a power cut on the island, and that an engineer will visit this week to investigate.

A Virgin Media O2 spokesperson said: “We’re aware that some customers in Fair Isle are experiencing connectivity issues.

“We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused residents and we are working to restore normal service as soon as possible.”


Bruhat has been able to access a sliver of mobile internet signal – believed to be from Sumburgh – by driving to the north of Fair Isle, near the grand lighthouse.

“I do want to be positive, though,” she said. “I’ve been so productive on the knitting.”

Update: O2 confirmed on Friday afternoon that mobile services had been restored to the island, while the Good Shepherd arrived back in the island on Monday (28 November).

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.