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We left our busy lives in London to raise sheep on a remote island in Scotland. It's changed us for the better.

Emma Magnus   

We left our busy lives in London to raise sheep on a remote island in Scotland. It's changed us for the better.
  • Jason and Yvonne Lancaster, 50 and 55, moved to an island in the Inner Hebrides after one visit.
  • The couple ran a consulting agency in London but were looking for a slower pace of life.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jason Lancaster, a 55-year-old who moved from London to Tiree, Scotland. It's been edited for length and clarity.

We hadn't intended to move to a remote Scottish island. But when my wife, Yvonne, and I rocked up to Tiree, a 12-mile-long island on the west coast of Scotland, it felt like home.

We had gone to Scotland in April 2018 to visit our solicitors. At the time, we lived in a flat on the Thames in London and ran our branding consultancy "Dutch Engels."

In London, we were focused on work. Our clients were global, so it was relentless. On busy morning commutes, the questions "Why are we doing this?" and "Is there something else?" were always in our minds.

We knew within 15 minutes we wanted to move to the island

While in Scotland, one of the partners suggested we also visit the west coast for a break. After a quick Google, we got the ferry to Tiree, a remote island in the Inner Hebrides with turquoise water and white sand.

It was a gorgeous day with no wind. While looking out at Tiree's beautiful harbor, a man walked over and started talking to us. That wouldn't ever happen in London. It took about 15 minutes for us to decide we wanted to move there. Yvonne and I felt like this island was the next stage of our life together.

You get a short time on the planet, and as you get older, it gets shorter. This feeling was being driven home by Yvonne's father, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Tiree. Our friends thought we were nuts.

Moving to a remote location is tiresome

I returned to London and started moving while Yvonne went to the Netherlands to care for her father.

We owned one property in London and lived in another rented apartment. We put our flat on the market, and it sold quickly. Over the following months, while Yvonne was in the Netherlands with her father, I hired the largest van I could, packed everything up, and drove it to Tiree.

You can only get to the island by ferry or plane. It's an 11-hour drive, plus a four-hour ferry, so about 15 hours each way. It took 10 journeys. I shudder every time someone talks about moving.

We moved to Tiree in October 2018. We rented a traditional croft house for £800 a month — our rent in London was over £3,000. We planned to continue our consultancy business remotely. Some clients wanted to continue working with us; anyone who didn't, we directed to people who could take over our contracts.

Our life on Tiree couldn't be more different from busy London

Our life on Tiree is totally different from in London. Around 400 to 500 people live permanently on the island. Tiree doesn't have restaurants, but everything is on your doorstep. Our post comes in on a tiny plane from Glasgow, and bigger packages are delivered by ferry. We never lock your doors or your car. And on the beach, you can walk for miles without seeing another person.

In London, you never talk to anybody on your journey from home to work. On Tiree, I've probably spoken to another crofter, a small-scale farmer, before I've even left the house. You know everyone. I imagine it's how life was 70 years ago.

For an island with far fewer people than London, disconnected from the mainland, you still get amazing experiences. This tiny place has musicians coming out of its ears. We have a yearly Tiree Music Festival, where 5,000 people arrive on the island. A week later, it's empty again.

There are pluses and minuses to living here

There are nuances to living on an island. You have to be fairly thick-skinned. People come and go, so you're met with skepticism: "Are you going to be useful to the island or a hindrance?" You'll have people you get on well with and people who don't like you even though they've never met you. This experience is universal but more immediate in Tiree.

People expect the island to be cold, but it doesn't drop below 8 degrees Celsius. Rain and wind are a big part of your life. The rain doesn't fall downwards; it blows horizontally. One of the things you learn quickly is to park your car facing the wind so they don't get ripped off when you open your doors.

In the summer, the sun barely goes down. The sunrises and sunsets blow your mind — the colors are amazing. Living in this kind of environment is breathtaking. I don't think you would ever get bored of the scenery.

We wanted to live a slower life, then we got sheep

When we moved to Tiree, we wanted to slow down our consultancy work and life. That plan lasted about six weeks. Over a cup of tea, the crofter renting us our house, asked: "Would you like to look after an orphan lamb?"

I agreed without thinking about it, though we knew nothing about sheep. Our crofter friend showed us how to look after them. It was certainly a learning process. The initial shock was around six months but got easier over time.

We've got 16 sheep now. They all have individual personalities. Most people send their lambs to slaughter after six months. Ours became part of the family, so that will never happen, but raising our flock has cost us a small fortune.

We started a handmade hat business alongside our agency work in 2019 to offset the costs. We collect fleeces from our sheep, hand spin the wool, and knit the hats. Everything is done by hand. The only reason we make these hats is so that the sheep can benefit. That's what drives us.

The sheep have been a gateway drug into how we use our land, grow things, and live. It has changed who we are. We appreciate the landscape and nature more. We try to live slower, more connected lives.

Tiree felt like home within 20 minutes

We felt immediately at home here; it's why we moved and took in our first lamb and who we are now. It's about listening to that inner feeling.

I think we've lost the ability to believe in our guts in modern society. Saying yes was a gut reaction: we didn't think, we just went for it. It's changed our lives for the better.



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