Saratoga County

Extending their island stay (with photo gallery)

Despite the occasional gale coming off the Atlantic Ocean, former Saratoga Springs resident Tommy Hy

Despite the occasional gale coming off the Atlantic Ocean, former Saratoga Springs resident Tommy Hyndman and his family are enjoying life on Fair Isle.

“We’ve gotten our visas renewed for another three years,” Hyndman said. “Right now we want to stay.”

Hyndman, an artist and hat maker, his wife Liz Musser, a former television producer and editor, and their son Henry, now 8, moved to Fair Isle in 2007. The island is well north of the Scottish coast near a point where the Atlantic meets the North Sea.

“Living with nature and the weather is really incredible,” Hyndman said during a telephone conversation. “We all loved Saratoga but are happy to be experiencing something else.”

They have been on Fair Isle almost two years and aren’t planning on returning to their home in Saratoga Springs, which they rent out, anytime soon.

The Hyndmans were the winners of a competition conducted by National Public Radio in which more than 100 people applied to spend two years on Fair Isle.

The island, which is described as the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom, is 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Only 65 permanent residents and thousands of sheep live on the island, which is part of the Shetland National Scenic Area.

The Hyndmans were selected by the National Trust for Scotland to inhabit a 700-year-old, four-bedroom stone house on the island, called the “Old Haa” (the lord’s house), which they operate as a small, two-bedroom bed and breakfast.

Temperatures seldom get below freezing on the island and there is little snow.

“It’s like permanent spring and fall,” Hyndman said. “But we get some fierce windstorms.”

He said sometimes in the winter gales blow in off the Atlantic, with winds gusting as high as 90 miles per hour.

Hyndman keeps in contact with his brother, Robert Hyndman of Greenfield, and other family members and friends through the Internet and Facebook.

Henry attends a small elementary school on the island.

“He’s getting a great education,” Hyndman said. There are only eight other pupils in the class and two more in the nursery school. Hyndman said his son is picking up a British accent from his teacher.

Liz Musser works at the school part time as a teaching assistant and helps some of the elderly residents on the island with daily tasks. She is also working on a documentary project with a zoo in Switzerland featuring puffins, ocean birds that visit the island each year to mate, lay their eggs and have their young.

“She misses all the coffee shops in Saratoga,” Hyndman joked, adding that he misses eating out at restaurants in Saratoga Springs such as Hattie’s on Phila Street.

Hyndman, who designs and makes unusual hats and does a variety of other artwork, continues to sell his creations on the Internet ( and in a limited quantity at Symmetry at 348 Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

He said he expects the bed and breakfast will be busy this spring and summer with bird-watchers. The Fair Isle Bird Observatory is closed for a construction project this year, meaning 30 fewer beds on the island for visitors.

“It’s quite a bit of work, actually,” Hyndman said about the bed and breakfast. “I’m always cooking, three meals a day.”

The island is noted for the various kinds of birds that pass through during migration. The puffins, which resemble small penguins but can fly, came off the ocean last week for their annual stay.

Last summer, a rare citril finch, a yellow, black and gray non-migratory bird, was observed and identified on the island. This bird is found in the southern Alps and Pyrenees and its presence on the island was a sensation for avid bird-watchers.

Hyndman’s parents and some of his friends have visited the island in the past year or so. The island’s food, mail and supplies come by boat. There are five to seven flights a week from the mainland to nearby Shetland Island. The mail boat Good Shepherd IV brings the bird-watchers and other visitors to the island.

Categories: Schenectady County

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