On the Isle of Eigg

25 April 2006 Off By nonsavant

Arrived on Eigg on Saturday 15th April, so have been here a bit over a week now. I’m volunteering for Bob and Norah, who are renovating the old hunting lodge here. They intend to create an environmental education centre that will demonstrate sustainable building techniques and host courses on related subjects. At present, the lodge is barely habitable. There is a lot of dry rot and general degradation. However, they have heating, a little electricity, and all of the plumbing works.

The lodge, which is surrounded by an impressive and interesting collection of trees

One of the things I’ve been helping with is the installation of three solar panels mounted on a tracker. The tracker orientates the panels towards the sun so as to maximise the electricity produced. With this improvement, there will be a lot more electricity available.

Gardener’s cottage, the volunteer accommodation

I’m staying in a nearby cottage which also used by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) to house volunteers. It’s in a lovely spot, very pretty, but there’s no escaping the fact that it is absolutely freezing! Even with the fire going all day, it’s still cold, and jumping into an icy sleeping bag is pretty unpleasant. No electricity either, so only gas lights and candles after dark. I’m getting used to it though, and there are some SWT volunteers here for a week too.

The garden area is being cultivated on permaculture principles, with keyhole beds and a lot of fruit trees (over seventy in fact!) have been planted. So I’ve also been helping out in the garden, and it has neatly turned out that I’m continuing the gardening work I was doing at Jacqui’s in Pitnacree. Particularly, at Jacqui’s we had planted and germinated various seeds, but hadn’t got to the stage where those seedlings are ready to be transplanted into beds in the garden. However, that’s what I’ve ended up doing quite a bit of here – have been planting out brussel sprouts, lettuce, cauliflower and celery, and there’s plenty more still to go out. Hopefully, come the autumn, I’ll end up somewhere where they’re harvesting all of these vegetables, and I can complete the cycle by eating them!

There is no shortage of jobs to be done both on the lodge or in the garden. I’ve been helping build a compost heap out of old pallets, clearing drainage trenches, washing and drying sheep’s fleeces (for use as very environmentally-friendly insulation) and various other things besides.

Enough about work, let’s talk about Eigg. What an island! I’ve barely started to explore, but it is already apparent that it’s a beautiful place. As you approach on the ferry, at the southern end of the island, the view is “dominated” (as all the guidebooks put it) by the Sgurr, a huge steep-sided ridge of volcanic rock.

The Sgurr

Last Sunday, which was a fantastic sunny day, I walked around the south part of the island, to a ruined village called Upper Grulin. Great views of the Sgurr and to the south: Ardnamurchan, Muck, Mull and Coll. The ruins are in a breathtaking spot – a green sloping field strewn with enormous boulders.

House-sized boulders at Grulin

I had to continue on, through the nearby Lower Grulin, until I could see Rum.

Lower Grulin

Rum from the southwest tip of Eigg

I’m just getting into birdwatching – it’s frustrating visiting these places and knowing that there is an abundance of interesting wildlife and birdlife around, and not being able to identify anything. So on this walk through Grulin I had a borrowed pair of binoculars, and every time I saw something interesting I hit the ground and got the binos out. Fortunately the SWT volunteers staying in the cottage with me were able to help work out what I’d spotted. So the list included wheatears, meadowpipits, hooded crows, greylag geese, a kestrel, and last but very much not least, an eagle. Having binoculars and being able to identify birds brings a new dimension to going out into the countryside – now I can’t leave the house with the binos! Some other sitings here include hen harriers, a goldcrest and ravens. Have also seen swallows around the lodge the past few days; lovely little birds.

Very active social life on Eigg – the night I arrived there was a ceilidh, which of course I had to go to. Great night, great band, and although I left just after midnight, it apparently went on until 5am the next morning! Have also had a wee music session with the guitar down at the bar, I’m just about to head out to another one at a nearby house, and there’s yet another session lined up tomorrow. The session tomorrow will be with some visiting students from the Centre for Human Ecology.

Busy life, and I’ve got to chop firewood every day too!