Faray is a small uninhabited island in the Orkney Isles, lying off the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland. It is part of the North Islands group and lies between the islands of Westray and Eday, being separated by the Lavey Sound from its companion, the even smaller island of the Holm of Faray which lies a quarter mile to the north. The area of Faray itself extends to some 445 acres or 180 hectares; at its maximum extent it measures one and a quarter miles in length and a half a mile in breadth whilst the highest point on the island rises to a height of 105 feet or 32 metres. Together with its near neighbour, the Holm of Faray, it was designated a Special Area of Conservation by Scottish Natural Heritage with effect from the 17th March 2005, thanks to the presence of a colony of Grey Seals otherwise known as Halichoerus Grypus.
Faray was at one time more commonly known as Pharay and was often referred to as North Pharay in order to distinguish it from the other Pharay or South Pharay (now called Fara) which is part of the South Islands group in Orkney. But whether known as Faray or Pharay (or indeed Fara) the name is derived from the Old Norse 'faerey', from 'faer' for sheep and 'ey' for island, an entirely appropriate name for the island since its current population largely consists of sheep, augmented by the presence of sea birds, as well as the aforementioned grey seals.
The island appears in the sixteenth century Descriptio Insularum Orchadiarum, the authorship of which is generally attributed to one Jo Ben, who describes Faray, "as if it were the beautiful island. This island is very suitable for animals, especially cows, which there graze on the bushes with great satisfaction, and the boys sing to the dull beasts. The whole island is plentiful of corn and fishes." The island was indeed inhabited in Jo Ben's time, as it was for centuries thereafter. (Although the only notable relic of human habitation is a chambered cairn in the north of the island.) Its population was recorded as being eighty-two in 1861, although this had fallen to fifty-eight by 1891. Faray had its own chapel and was recognised as part of the Stronsay and Eday parish, although the chapel was in ruins by the mid nineteenth century.
Probably the only exciting thing that ever happened on Faray was in December 1908, when the Hope, a fishing vessel from Peterhead, ran aground on the Holm of Faray during a storm leaving its crew stranded on the rocks. The 'Five Men of Faray' as they were known, being William Burgar of Cott, John Hercus of Doggerboat, James Groat of Leaquoy, Robert Reid of Holland and John Drever of Windywall, braved the storm to row across the Lavey Sound and rescue the crew of the stricken Hope. Their reward was a trip to the Scottish mainland to meet Edward VII at Balmoral where they each got a medal each together with "a good pipe and some tobacco".
By the 1920s there were eight tenant crofters living on the island who supplemented their diet by fishing for cuithes and their income by catching lobster. They were still there at the time of World War II, but shortly after the end of the war the inhabitants were given the choice between a pier and a new road, and chose a shiny new tarmac road linking their farms together. However the absence of pier meant that there was no ferry service, which rapidly led to the closure of island's school in 1947, at which point the population was evacuated, the last family to leave being the Wallaces of Ness. But although the island now lacks any permanent human inhabitants, the land is still farmed by a Marcus Hewison of Westray, who pays regular, if occasional, visits to gather in his sheep. In 1981 he decided that the island might be suitable for red deer, and duly landed eight of them. However the deer in question seemed unimpressed by their new home and promptly jumped into the sea and swam all the way back to Eday.
Faray is formally recognised as a 'small island' by The Vehicle Excise Duty (Designation of Small Islands) Order 1995, which means should you wish to locate a heavy goods vehicle on the island you would only be liable for the lower rate of vehicle excise duty. Of course there is no demand for such a vehicle on an uninhabited island, but there is at least a decent road to drive it on.
- Faray at
- Julia Welstead, The heroic five men of Faray 18-Jul-05
- A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846), pp. 367-88.
See: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=43471. Date accessed: 23 November 2006.