Surrounded by water with nothing to drink……or wash


Seen from the island showers falling elsewhere.

St. Johns Well, water suitable for cattle and modern day island inhbitants.

Our modern day water puritfication system, it just add water to work.

View down the well.

Water is a hot topic of discussion with the island residents because we have so little of it.
But we aren’t the first island inhabitants to be up against this problem. Water has always been in short supply even though there are 5 permanent wells on the island plus some springs and pools. Several hundreds of years back cattle were never raised in large numbers, just a few milk cows, on the island because of the amount of water they need. The lighthouse keepers had always had their water brought over to the island firstly from Crail and then in later years by the lighthouse supply ship. In 1868 Joseph Agnew, the principal lighthouse keeper wrote about the wells and none got much of a write up, for instance Lady’s Well “had cool and refreshing water with a peculiar taste”, Sheep’s Well (so called from having a sheep drown in it) “was so bad that keepers were banned from using it” (an after effect of the drowned sheep ?) and St. Johns Well ” a bit brackish and used for watering the cattle”. And this last well is where we get our water from today.
It lies just down near to Kirkhaven and receives water as it passes through the aquifer that is the whole rock island. As it is near to the sea it is affected by the tide and as a consequence it is a little brackish. For many years we drank this water have been UV treated for bugs and soon got used to salty tea and coffee (the coffee tasted better than the tea). But new water regulations mean that we have to have the water treated further but tin this reverse osmosis treatment up to 80% of the water is rejected to be used for toilet flushing. Knowing this we have been on a 1 shower a week ration and minimal clothes washing but even that has not been enough. A couple of weeks ago the well literally ran dry, probably as a result of the very dry winter that didn’t fill up the island aquifer enough. So this is where endurance and improvisation comes in. Some water comes over in containers on the May Princess and the rest is boiled rainwater. A number have been testing the washing in the sea options (cold, bracing and ultimately a bit sticky) while quick thinking Bethany took advantage of a heavy rain shower and washed round the back of one of the lighthouse keepers cottages (luckily no visitor boat was on !). The recent showers won’t make much difference to the well and we really need a wet winter to refill the island rock. Two teenagers stepped off the May Princess the other day and said “ooo, what a stink” and we weren’t sure if they were referring to the island as a whole or the small group of staff standing at the jetty so apologies to any visitors coming on over the next weeks and a suggestion that if they can they should stand down wind of any island residents that they meet.

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