By Melissa Clark
A TINY lump of rock between Shetland and Orkney has beaten glamorous hot spots such as Tahiti and Capri in the world’ top 10 best islands.
Fair Isle, probably best known as a shipping forecast area, came a remarkable fifth in the list.
The three mile-long island is home to just 70 people and hundreds of thousands of birds – the main reason for visitors to take the trip.
It was voted number five by travel writer Leslie Thomas in the National Geographic’s book, The 10 Best of Everything.
He wrote: “Most of the visitors to this wild and wonderful place are birdwatchers. Sheep placidly graze on the steeply angled meadows.”
Alexander Bennett, National Trust for Scotland’s group manager for countryside and islands in the north, said: “This is an amazing accolade for Fair Isle.
“It is a place of outstanding beauty, supported by a thriving and committed community.
“We hope this exposure encourages more people to make the trip north to sample Fair Isle’s unique charms, wonderful wildlife and warm welcome.”
Fair Isle, which is officially part of Shetland, boasts a busy crofting community with a thriving traditional crafts industry.
The people of the island are experts in boat-building, spinning, weaving and knitting. Probably its most celebrated export is the world-famous Fair Isle knitwear.
There are 350 species of the birds on the island and the observatory and lodge are the main attraction for the army of twitchers who arrive each year.
Visitors also come to discover archaeological remains, unique plant life, military relics and the breath-taking cliff scenery.
But there are no pubs or restaurants on the island – and only one primary school.
When children are old enough to attend secondary they have to leave the island, owned by the National Trust since 1954, for high school in Shetland’s main town, Lerwick.
Tommy Hyndman, who lives with his wife and son on the island, moved from New York state to the island in 2006 after seeing an advert posted by the National Trust for Scotland.
“I can’t think of a better place in the world,” he said.
“It is the most beautiful location, with spectacular scenery, brilliant wildlife and amazing heritage known throughout the world. There are many lovely islands in the world, but the heritage of Fair Isle, and its knitting, is known everywhere. When you put that with everything else on offer here, including the lovely community, it makes the island an ideal destination.
“I now live in the Auld Haa House built for the Laird in the early 1700s. I have an artist studio and gallery at the south lighthouse, and help Liz run our guesthouse. A few hours every month I train as a member of the Coastguard team.
“There are parts of America we miss, but we couldn’t wait to come back. It is such a beautiful place you can’t stop looking out of the window all the time.”
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “This is a truly international list. it is great to see Scotland represented in such an internationally renowned publication on a list of islands from every corner of the globe.
“For an island relatively small in terms of size, it certainly stands head and shoulders above many others with its scenery and wealth of nature, particularly birdwatching, where huge numbers of bids attract visitors year after year.”
The Isles of Scilly were the only other British territory to make the list, coming in at number two.
Nantucket, Massachusetts, bagged the coveted top spot.
Top 10 islands in the world according to National Geographic
1. 1. Nantucket, Massachusetts.
One of the richest places in America renowned for its whale oil industry.
2. 2. Isles of Scilly.
Off Land’s End, Cornwall, and described as “in a world of their own”.
3. 3. Saba, Netherlands, West Indies.
“The most unusual of the Caribbean islands”.
4. 4. Canary Islands, Spain.
Visitors come to see whales or sail over to Gomera, the final stop Columbus made before he discovered America.
5. 5. Fair Isle, Shetland in Scotland.
Home to 70 people, hundreds of thousands of birds and famous for its knitwear.
6. 6. Lord Howe Islands, Australia.
A 2-and-a-half hour plane journey from Sydney but “worth it however you get there”.
7. 7. Capri, Italy.
From the highest point on the island you can see Vesuvius the volcano or the vast Italian coast.
8. 8. Channel Islands, United States.
A huge chain of islands off the coast of California, rarely visited but famed for fabulous scenery and wildlife.
With a population of almost 4,000 people, the Channel Islands are part of eight islands found in the Pacific Ocean just off of Southern California.
9. 9. Tahiti, French Polynesia.
Artist Paul Gauguin travelled from France to paint the island with its vast greenery and breath-taking scenery. It is found in the southern Pacific with French as its official language.
10. Islands of the Andaman Sea, Thailand.
Famed for their diving and rugged limestone cliffs.