Fair Isle Bird Observatory & Guesthouse

Richard Richardson's Fair Isle tape

A few weeks ago, in early March 2020, James Appleton very kindly contacted me, asking if I would like to have a digital copy of a cassette that James late father, Claude, had been given by Richard Richardson. The tape was “Barry’s Guide To Fair Isle” which R.A.R. had recorded it for his friend, motorcycle superstar Barry Sheene.

RAR tape

James knew of my fondness for Richard’s artwork and knew too that I was something of a devotee of the way Richard used to birdwatch here at my home in Cley. As I’ve grown older, I’ve felt increasingly in tune with the way his friends have told me Richard went about his birding. Despite never meeting him, he has become my birding hero, his headstone is just a few dozen yards from my house, overlooking Cley churchyard.

I was thrilled when the recording appeared in my inbox. It was deeply moving to hear Richard’s often-imitated voice for the very first time. The tape was a wonderful listen, compiled meticulously, creating vivid soundscapes whilst painting a mind’s eye picture of the isle. I thought that friends on the isle would be interested, so I forwarded it to David Parnaby from the Observatory, to Deryk and Hollie at Burkle and Rachel at Barkland.

Now, thanks to David and Ian Andrews, the tape can be heard by everyone.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. It is with most grateful thanks to James that this recording has resurfaced, after almost 45 years, and below are some touching memories of R.A.R. from James.

Mark Golley
Cley, Norfolk April 2020

"I’ve loved birds ever since I was a small child. My father, Claude, had a great love for birds too, and his boundless enthusiasm for the wonders of nature quickly became instilled in me. There were times when I couldn’t go birdwatching with him and I’m told these occasions would sometimes lead to tears! But it wasn’t just the birds, the butterflies, the flowers. There were tales from before my time, wonderful tales of times spent at Cley Bird Observatory with the likes of Peter Clarke, Barry Spence and a man who came to mean a lot to me - Richard Richardson.

I was only 12 years old when Richard died and I count myself lucky to have memories of him - memories from Cley’s East Bank where Richard showed my brothers and I how best to fish for crabs at the sluice, memories of him deftly sketching an Osprey and a Long-eared Bat for us when he visited for Sunday tea, of his scruffy Norfolk Terriers snuffling through the grass, of hearing his beautiful Norton and watching as he rode it along the Coast Road. Richard wasn’t just a birding acquaintance of my Dad; he was a friend of our family.

There’s little doubt that it was Richard’s unmistakeable voice I first heard speak the name of Fair Isle. He must have recounted the wonders of the island, its people and its birds for it became a place of wonderment to me. To impress this further, he had given my Dad a copy of a cassette tape recording he made for his good friend Barry Sheene, a recording of the journey to Fair Isle and the sounds of the island and its life. I would lay and listen to the tape, dreaming of the day when I myself could visit. At primary school we had a map of the British Isles on a wall and I remember pointing out Fair Isle to my classmates, telling them that was where I wanted to go. Sadly, at the time I write this, I have yet to visit, and with the battle we face against climate change it’s unlikely I ever will, but with thanks to Richard, Fair Isle will always hold a place in my heart…"

James Appleton