… in which we go to Eigg…
It was all very Enid Blyton, in some respects. We weren’t escaping an evil uncle and aunt or anything, but we were taking all the essentials and making off in a small boat to an island with caves on it.
Okay, so the small boat was not totally small; it was about the size of Quint’s “we need a bigger boat” boat – the Orca – from Jaws, and it soon filled up with tourists, ready for a day’s trip to Eigg.
The weather was really low down. There was a large grey cloud and we were in it. Smirr and drizzle at very close quarters. We set off into the calm, grey damp, for an hour’s sail; we soon arrived at the pier on Eigg.
We had planned to go to the café anyway, but we were doubly happy to go there as it was not only still very wet, but also very cold. We got in and got a seat in the busy café and ordered in a round of tea, hot chocolate, flapjacks and gingerbread. There was a long, wet queue building, as everyone outside on the pier figured it was a good time to get inside.
The café is part of a lovely new development with well-thought-through elements: lovely clean toilets; lovely grocery store; lovely gift shop. Lovely.
The café had a spectacular picture window looking out at what I imagine would have been a stunning view if you could have seen it. Clean white walls, wooden furniture and art for sale displayed. A background muzak of fast ceilidhish sounds, that probably would drive you back out into the rain if you had to listen to it for a prolonged time. Very inspirational for the planning of Sandra’s Café (just a fantasy project – not taking bookings…).
Objective number 1 was to scale the Sgurr of Eigg – the highest point of the ridge of (what I assume is) a volcanic stump that goes from one end of the island to the other. We hiked damply and at random, following our noses and various colours of waymarking arrows. The map I had taken a photo of was no use at all, and neither were our own instincts. We stoated about, wondering about routes and timings and found ourselves in a good spot for a picture of the Sgurr… but decided to save the actual ascent for a return visit. It was all very atmospheric and moody.
We had our picnic lunch in the grounds of a grand old house that is now some kind of eco centre, then we reoriented ourselves at the pier after passing a shindig in progress at the community hall. A busy wee day on the Island.
Objective number 2 was to reach “Massacre Cave”. We studied the map a bit harder this time and made our way to the relevant trail. The map notes stated: “In 1510 the Mcleods smothered the entire population of 395 people in the cave of Uamh Fhraing; now known as Massacre Cave.” Grim.
The rain stopped, the clouds lifted and the sun came out as we hiked at pace to the cave, keeping one eye on the clock so that we didn’t have a ferry fail at the last minute. Once we got to the edge of the island there was a grand-canyonesque descent to sea level, then a clamber round until we arrived at the cave. I am not into dark tourism – but I suppose this was it.
Glad to have found, been into and got out of the cave, we headed back to the pier for the ferry back to the mainland.
So, reflections. What did I learn? What did it make me think?
It turns out that my daughter’s hiking boots are sadly inadequate. She was minutes away from her feet disintegrating. We need to go to Tiso.
A map would have been useful.
Eigg is having its 25th anniversary of community ownership and I think the evidence of community cooperation at the development at the pier is a “good thing”.
Having a car on that island would not be handy, in my opinion. But there were some cars. So I am probably wrong.
It was another example of all seasons in one day in Scotland. I had thought that I was going to be irritated by my decision to bring my warm down jacket and be carrying it around all day on a hot July day. It turns out, for most of the day I was freezing and glad of it. And yet, my sister was glad of her vest top as it was gloriously sunny for the last hour. So, as ever, one learns that you need to take everything with you in Scotland, and that if you take it with you, you will need it.
The whole Eigg thing brought back a lot of memories of HC1 1988 when I went on a Scripture Union Hebridean Cruise and we went to Rum and Muck. So, going to Eigg felt like I was completing the set.
It makes me think about what island life would be like and how much anxiety I would have about not being near the mainland. The towns and villages on the mainland near Eigg are also pretty remote. The Proclaimers’ “Lochaber no more” lyric rings in my head and I wonder about the long term sustainability issues of these places – in terms of population, services and employment etc – and then, from that, thinking about bigger towns and cities and thinking about what needs to be in place for society to function and for economies to exist to support communities. At least there were some Calmac ferries in evidence, keeping tourists and locals moving. Makes a change.
Would I go back? Yes – but hopefully on a drier day, with a pre-studied map and a full range of layers for a variety of temperatures and a full set of waterproofs, just in case.