Ben Fogle: why I want to buy Taransay (taken from the Daily Telegraph's website)
Ben Fogle hopes to buy the uninhabited Outer Hebridean island of Taransay, where he lived for year for the BBC reality show 'Castaway'. Here, he explains why he'd turn the remote outpost - on the market for £2 million - into a wildlife reserve
Eleven years ago, I fell head over heels in love. Not with a person, but with the wild, exciting, beautiful island of Taransay.
I was lucky enough to spend a year living on the uninhabited Outer Hebridean isle for the BBC’s television programme, Castaway. The premise was to create a fully self-sufficient community by the year’s end. A small community of 36 men, women and children, we built a thriving little community among the remains of a once-thriving, now-derelict village. The day I left was one of the saddest of my life and I vowed to return.
The island was bought in 1967 for £300 by the MacKay family. They had used it for grazing until 2000, when it briefly become my home. Yesterday, the MacKay family put it on the market for £2million.
Each day I spent on Taransay, I went exploring with my black Labrador, Inca. By the end of the year, we knew every rock, bog and loch on the island, which is about four miles wide and three miles long, navigating effortlessly across the Machair and along the beaches. We would clamber our way up to the islands highest peak Ben Raah, and look out over the Harris mainland. The view will stay with me until the day I die.
Bleak, treeless and windswept, the island should have been a godforsaken place, but it was without doubt the most beautiful place I have been. The constantly changing weather and light altered the island like an artist’s canvas. The talc-white sandy beaches and the turquoise waters were more striking than any Carribbean or Pacific island I have visited.
I have returned to Taransay several times since the end of the project – once, for the wedding of a fellow castaway, Tanya Cheadle and her fiancé Paul Overton, a producer of the series; and then for my own honeymoon, during which it poured with rain for a week. But even that didn’t dampen my love of this unique island.
The last time I was there was last year, for a tenth anniversary reunion. Almost 20 of the original Castaways returned to the island for a week last July. It was a moving event for us all. Like a pilgrimage, we returned with new children and spouses to a place we had loved so much. But it wasn’t the same place. The island seemed tinged with sadness.
It was in a sorry state. The wind turbine had long stopped turning, the deer fencing had collapsed, and the old polytunnels in which we had grown all of our fruit and veg were skeletal, stripped of their skin. The wild red deer desperately needed to be culled.
The island had also become largely untenable for farmer Angus Mackay, whose decision to sell up is understandable: he can’t find people willing to work there, and making a living has become impossible. Ferrying his sheep for sale on the mainland, in his small blue landing craft, costs more in food and fuel than the value of the livestock.
I have long dreamed of buying Taransay myself. The £2million-pound price tag may sound high, but this is an iconic island with incredible potential for those with vision and passion. With its remote location, the island is visited intermittently by hikers and sailors, who could form the basis of a small tourism industry. It was recently used as a backdrop for The Rocket Post, a quirky British drama about an attempt in the Thirties to deliver letters to the equally remote island of Scarp using a postbag attached to a small rocket. The crew said it was the best location they had ever used.
With Tansaray on the market, I have been in contact with a number of individuals to look into the possibility of a consortium buying the island. It could be transformed into a wildlife reserve, with sustainable lodges for guests. This could finally pay for its maintenance and upkeep, while also providing some much needed local employment.
I would point to a model offered by Alladale in the Scottish Highlands. The 23,000-acre estate is owned by Paul Lister who is keen to reintroduce species indigenous to the Glens, such as wolves and bears. Wild boar and moose have already been brought back to the British Isles in this way. Earlier this week, a European Elk was born north of the Great Glen for the first time in 1,100 years.
My second child, a daughter called Iona, named after the Scottish island, was born last week. Taransay needs an owner who will love and care for her like a child. I think I know just the person. I’ll be talking to my bank manager later.