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Bear Grylls? Engineer reconnects remote islanders

28 May 2020

Engineer nicknamed Openreach’s Bear Grylls after camping out on a remote island to keep remote customers connected during lockdown.

Islanders cut off from the world

A lightning strike left a couple cut off on Coll, an Inner Hebridean island. With their phone and internet down they had no connection to the outside world. 

Extreme social distancing

I took my tent with me because I knew I’d have to be on the island for three days due to the ferry service timetable. Local accommodation wasn’t available because of the coronavirus and social distancing rules.

There’s only so far you can get in a vehicle, so I had to park my van up and hike several miles over the beach to reach the remote home that was cut off. The scenery is stunning, but it was tough going as it was a scorching day.

"There’s no road from the ferry to their home so it meant a long march over the beach – it was scorching and as much as Coll is stunning, it was tough going."

Emergency call out to island's surgery 

After doing the repairs and getting everything working again, I set up camp at Feall Beach. I was enjoying the spectacular sunset when I received another emergency call-out, this time from the island’s surgery. 

When I got to the surgery it was pitch dark. I checked the external network but couldn’t find anything wrong. I was just about to leave when a doctor appeared – she’d just flown back on the air ambulance after visiting a patient. She provided access and I identified a fault on a back-up phone line. Since then I’ve been back to the island twice to improve broadband connections for people who live there. 

Natural beauty

It’s no hardship being on the island as it is incredibly beautiful, and the people are fantastic. Once they knew what I was doing, they opened up the bunkhouse for me to sleep in. I live in Glasgow and the Isle of Coll is now top of my list of places to visit on holiday, once things get back to normal.

Connectivity has never been more important than it is now, and I was really happy to help.


Scott McPartlin