Scarp, Scotland

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Gaelic name An Sgarp
Meaning of name "Barren", from Norse
Scarp is located in Outer Hebrides
Scarp shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid reference NA970151
Coordinates 58°02′N 7°07′W / 58.03°N 7.12°W / 58.03; -7.12
Physical geography
Island group Harris and Lewis
Area 1,045 hectares (4.0 sq mi)
Area rank 48 [1]
Highest elevation Sròn Romul 308 metres (1,010 ft)
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Western Isles
Population 0
References [2][3][4][5]

Scarp is an uninhabited island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, west of Hushinish on Harris. Once inhabited, the island was the scene of unsuccessful experiments with rocket mail, since commemorated in two films.


Scarp has an area of 1,045 hectares (4.0 sq mi), divided into 16 crofts. The majority of the land is rocky and uncultivated, and is dominated by two hills, of which the higher reaches 308 metres (1,010 ft). There is a small area of low-lying fertile land in the south-east corner of the island, and here, closest to Harris, is where the inhabitants of the island once lived. The population of Scarp peaked at 213 in 1881, and as recently as the 1940s it was reported to be over 100. The island was settled by eight farming families in 1810 and the population rose, following clearances on Harris, to over two hundred. This population could not be supported as there is little cultivatable land and no all-weather harbour resulting in many families drifting away. Even in the 1950s the economy was still basic, relying on potatoes, cabbages, oats, turnips, milk, fish, and some lobster fishing.[6] Scarp was one of several Scottish islands, including St Kilda and Handa, where all the men of the island would gather every morning in a so-called 'parliament', to agree the work to be done on that day.[7] Such meetings would sometimes last for many hours, and on these occasions no work would be done, except by the women of the island.

Looking across to Scarp from the Hushinish slipway

Crofting was the way of life on the island, mainly comprising sheep and dairy cattle rearing and fishing, in latter years principally lobster fishing, which provided an income for around 12 families.

Islanders were deeply religious and a Church of Scotland Mission House was the focal point for Sunday worship and weekly prayer meetings.

The 1950s and 1960s saw a further decline in the island's population. The closure of the primary school in 1967 and the post office in 1968 were final blows and by the time of the 1971 census the population had dwindled to 12. By the end of 1971, the last permanent inhabitants of Scarp had moved to Harris. However, a few houses on the island are still in occasional use as private holiday homes.


The island is reached by a short boat crossing across the Kyle of Scarp from Hushinish, but the sea here is very shallow and landing on Scarp can be difficult when there is a swell.[3]

Scarp was the site of an experiment by German inventor Gerhard Zucker to deliver the island's post by rocket mail.[8][9] In July 1934 Zucker made two unsuccessful attempts at firing rocket mail between Scarp and Harris.[10] Singed envelopes from the exploded rocket can still be seen at the island museum.[11]

Media and the arts[edit]

A fictionalised account of the rocket mail experiment was used as the basis of the film, The Rocket Post, filmed on Harris and Taransay and directed by Stephen Whittaker, which was finally released in 2006.[12] The film was originally intended to be filmed on location on Scarp but the owner later refused permission and location was moved to Taransay.[13]

The artist Norman Adams bought a croft house on the island in 1963 with his wife Anna and two sons, and painted many of his well-known works there in his distinctive style over the next ten summers.

There are many references to the grave of Donald John MacLennan, who is buried at Scarp Burial Ground, in the book Not Forgotten (2006) by author Neil Oliver. Donald died on 18 March 1917 when his ship PS Duchess of Montrose struck a mine and was lost near Dunkirk during the First World War.[14]

The mother of Hugh Dan MacLennan, Gaelic broadcaster and shinty enthusiast, hailed from Scarp.

The current, non-resident, owner of the island is an Anglo-American musicologist Mr Anderson Bakewell who is founder and chairman of the Isle of Harris Distillery[15]


Scarp was bought by a Panamanian company for £100 in 1978 as a speculation, sold in 1983 for £50,000 to Libco Ltd, then resold almost immediately to Orbitglen Ltd for £500,000. The last two deals were financed by the now failed BCCI bank. Nazmudin Virani, a Ugandan businessman who was a director of BCCI, brokered the deals. Virani was jailed for fraud[16] and when BCCI collapsed the property was resold in 1995 for £155,000 to Mr Anderson Duke Bakewell who the is current owner.[17]


  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b Haswell-Smith (2004) pp 285-87
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey. Get-a-map (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure. Retrieved 21 August 2013. [dead link]
  5. ^ Mac an Tailleir (2003) p. 104
  6. ^
  7. ^ Duncan A, A Hebridean Island: Memories of Scarp (Birlinn, 2005)
  8. ^ "The Real Life Story of Gerhard Zucher". Film Hebrides. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  9. ^ "Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934". British Postal Museum & Archive. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  10. ^ "Western Scotland - The Coast and Western Isles". BBC - Coast Series 1. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  11. ^ "Overview of Scarp". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  12. ^ "The Rocket Post". Imdb. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details, MacLennan D J". The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 18 September 2008. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^


Coordinates: 58°1′32″N 7°7′29″W / 58.02556°N 7.12472°W / 58.02556; -7.12472