The most westerly island in the Shetland group of the Northern Isles, the rocky island of Foula lies 27 miles west of Scalloway on the Shetland Mainland. Noted for its stunning cliff scenery, the island has five peaks rising to 418m (1371 feet) at The Sneug and 376m (1220 feet) at The Kame, which has the second highest sheer cliff face in Britain. The name derives from the Norse fugl ey, meaning 'fowl' or 'bird' island. With an area of 1265 ha (3126 acres), Foula is one of the remotest inhabited islands in the UK. But for improved communications and the rebuilding of its school, the island might have become uninhabited. Over a century ago, in 1881, it had a population of 267, mostly employed in fishing. This fell to 54 in 1961, 33 (1971), 39 (1981), 40 (1991) and only 31 in 2001, recovering slightly to 38 (2011). Today crofting as well as fishing are the main activities, with half the population living at Hametoun in the southeast and the remainder to be found at Ham near Ham Voe on the east coast. Distinctly individual, the islanders still use the old Julian calendar which the rest of Britain abandoned in 1753. Christmas Day is therefore celebrated on 6th January and New Year's day on 13th January. There is an airstrip to the east of Hametoun, the primary school at Ham, and, at Ham Voe, a passenger ferry service links with Walls on Mainland Shetland. RMS Oceanic, for a time the largest ocean liner in the world, was lost when it ran aground on the Shaalds of Foula in 1914.
Dealing with the issues of a depopulating island community, the notable Michael Powell drama-documentary The Edge of the World was made here in 1937. Powell and a number of the original cast revisited Foula in 1978.
An unreliable power system based on a diesel generator was replaced in 2004 by an integrated system which includes a small hydro scheme, a solar array and three wind turbines, together with battery storage and backup generators. The system is run on behalf of the community by the Foula Electricity Trust.