It wasn’t the eccentricity of the place, or the light uncertainly playing on the water, the soft, jagged shorelines hiding distance and size, and the promise of wider lands beyond, but the emptiness so close but far away, and the eccentricity. Ulva. An island clasped close to the shore of Mull.
Mull is a huge island beside other in the Hebrides, its mountainous fingers reaching westwards into the sea, and Ulva, like a finger of Mull broken off, sheltered by the larger island and so close that I had to keep reminding myself that the ferry not just over a river but across the sea to a new island.
The ferry, between Mull and Ulva, is a wee boat with room just for a few travellers and the boatman’s dog. It is summoned by efficient technology: a wooden board at either staithe where you slide a panel to reveal a red rectangle, which is the sign for the ferryman to come over to you. It works, and it is sustainable tech.
We stepped ashore on the island and at once were lost in the emptiness of it. The undramatic crossing suggests a little place of little consequence, but Ulva is nearly 5,000 acres: land hidden behind the rise from the shore, and plenty of island to get lost in. It reaches out into the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond it appear many more islands begging to be explored.
Once the island was the home of the MacQuarrie clan, all not gone from their home, which explains why the name is found more in the colonies than in Britain – it I a famous name in Australia.
Last week all this was called to mind when I read that the island is for sale. I read that the inhabitants of this great island are hoping to buy it – all six of them. I hope they have deep pockets, from farming the gorse and the scrub. It’s beyond my touch by a few million pounds, but I still have memories.