NHS carer could have Britain’s toughest commute with rowing and even rock climbing

You can definitely say Vanessa Rochester is dedicated to her job (Picture:SWNS)

Since the pandemic stated, many of us have been able to avoid our usual commutes.

Buses and tubes have emptied out as office workers stayed at home rather than trekking into city centres.

But key workers haven’t had the luxury of staying in bed for longer in the morning, and have still had to turn out to get to their workplaces.

For one particular NHS worker, her daily travel is more arduous than just sitting in traffic or reading a book on the train.

Vanessa Rochester, 32, could well have Britain’s toughest commute. It involves a moonlit hike, a treacherous row and sometimes even a rock climb and bog walk.

She and her family are the only people to live on a remote Scottish island cut off from the mainland by a raging tidal channel.

Vanessa Rochester has to row across from the island where she lives (Picture: SWNS)

That doesn’t stop the mum-of-one doing what it takes to get to the elderly residents she cares for at the NHS home on the mainland – no matter the weather.

After kissing husband Jeff, 48, and their one-year-old Duke goodnight, her journey to work starts with a 30 minute 2.4km hike across the private island.

At the water’s edge she clambers into their 8ft plastic boat, and single-handedly rows across the very fast and often dangerous current, her path lit just by the moon and stars.

The 300m crossing can take five minutes on a calm day – and five times as long during a storm – before she reaches her car on the other side and starts a 90 minute drive.

Despite the commute, brave Vanessa said it’s worth it for a job she loves.

The dedicated care worker said: ‘I just really enjoy my job.

She also has a drive after the row (Picture: SWNS)

‘I love working with elderly people and it’s a really good team that I work with, plus it means I get to see other people, which otherwise doesn’t happen much.

‘When we first talked about moving here I wasn’t really sure, but after I visited I eased into life here really quickly.’

The 300 acre peninsula the family live on is 300m off of Eilean Shona, a large island owned by Vanessa Branson, Richard Branson’s sister.

They moved into the island’s 17th century caretakers’ waterfront cottage in July 2016.

Vanessa is a care worker at a home for the elderly in Lochaber, where she started working just a few months after they moved to the island.

She does a mix of day shifts – which see her get up at 5.45am – and night stints too.

The only way off the island is to row when the tide is in, and due to Vanessa’s working hours, it often means she must navigate their plastic row boat through dangerous conditions.

The social care worker said: ‘My work is very important to me especially in these time so if I bowed to the weather I would never get to work.’

Vanessa Rochester with her husband Jeff and one-year-old son Duke (Picture: SWNS)

The boat is fully exposed with no protection from the elements, so Vanessa frequently puts on four layers of clothing with wellies, a hat and gloves.

On January 13, Vanessa experienced her worst voyage to date.

‘Usually I can be guided by the moonlight but [that] night there wasn’t any, it was pitch black with a strong prevailing wind and very strong currents,’ she said.

‘I was roughly halfway across the channel when my oar slipped from the rowlock and in stopping to amend it I was taken by the current and spun round many times.

‘By the time I gathered myself I had drifted way off course and found it very difficult to recover.

‘Eventually I made it to land, tied the boat to a tree and I had not one clue where I was- all I could do was try to make my way along the rugged coastline back to my original landing point. ‘

Vanessa found herself trapped by the cliffs, so instead scrambled up the bank through heather and bog, but started to get worried.

She said: ‘Unbelievably, my phone picked up signal and I FaceTimed Jeff who was just putting our son Duke to bed.

‘I had no idea where I was!

‘Jeff slung Duke up on his back and headed to the North Channel where we agreed he would shine a torch across the water to enable me to find my bearing- this point is 30mins walk from our house!

She starts off her commute with a hike through the woods (Picture: SWNS)

‘Finally I spotted a beam of light across the channel, turns out I was still on the island, but had drifted way off course and then walked in the opposite direction.’

It took Vanessa half an hour to scramble towards Jeff and Duke’s torchlight, and whilst Jeff insisted they all go home, the determined carer would not relent.

She said: ‘I couldn’t let my team or residents down by not coming in for my shift.

‘I had no idea where the good boat was, having tied it to a tree, but we have a back up wooden boat called the ‘Lego boat’, that leaks but if you row quick enough you can get across!

‘From there I had another half mile walk to my car, followed by an hour’s drive and 12 and a half hour night shift. What a night!’

Vanessa has to battle dangerous conditions from October to March when going to work.

She walks a dirt track through a woodland to get to the crossing point on the south of the island.

It can get as cold as -7°C, and while snow is rare on the island, the ice has been known to catch people out.

The family venture to the mainland once a month for supplies.

They may be the sole human residents of the island, but they are joined by their six dogs, ducks, ferret and hawk Hilda.

The couple grow their own carrots and potatoes, and enjoy life of the grid, but Vanessa did admit ‘sometimes I really, really really want a takeaway!’

The islanders are very self-sufficient, eating their own duck eggs and freshly caught mackerel, sea trout and lobsters.

Jeff said: ‘If we had to be 100% sufficient we could do it, the shops are just a little bit too easy to get to!’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.