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  • Writer's pictureSpiced Cranachan

Hebridean Summer

"…when sky and sea are as blue as topaz, and the bogs are red and emerald green with verdant mosses spiked with the delicately green-veined white waxy flowers of Grass of Parnassus, and the curlew calls over the sandy beaches, it is also heaven on earth."

Polly Pullar wrote these words describing the Isle of Muck almost a decade ago in her book, “A Drop in the Ocean.” She tells the tale of the smallest island in the Inner Hebrides and that of its then Laird, Lawrence MacEwen, and I can honestly say that her impression of the island remains true to this day.

I have now visited Muck in every season, and while winter has its harsh, rugged beauty, and autumn sets the land alight with warm tones, and spring ushers in a new generation of lambs and calves – it is summer that truly brings out the best in the island.

The surroundings waters are calm and sometimes almost completely still, and the sky is so clear you can even spot Skye in the distance. The peaks of Rum loom, little clouds nestling in its valleys while its cliffs grin at you from across Gallanach Bay.

The island takes its name from the porpoises who play in the waters of the Inner Hebrides and the Minches, shortened from the Gaelic ‘muc-mhara,’ meaning ‘sea pig’. But it is also host to other creatures who vastly outnumber the people of Muck.

There are, of course, the sheep who wander the island, grazing and basking in the sun, waiting to be gathered; the cows, dutifully coming in when called and staring silently as you pass by; and the two white horses, like ghosts trekking the flowering meadows.

But in truth, the best creatures of Muck are the ones that often go unseen.

The fields and even the bogs of the island come alive beneath the summer sun. The grasses are thick with all manner of insects that hum, chirp and buzz, and dance around you when startled with your step.

The sudden flight of a pheasant might break the calm in a flurry of heavy wing-beats. In the distance, the bids of the sea call out to each other, lost in the summer haze.

After a few days of walking the bogs, fields and farmland, I began to look out towards the sea. One persuasive conversation later, and I convinced my other half to take me fishing, out by Horse Island where the mackerel lurk.

The winds were calm and I was ready for a little excitement. Our vessel was a little dinghy, perhaps on the smaller side but there were only two of us rowing out.

I spent most of the paddle drinking in the sea view as the yachts wandered by, against the intimidating backdrop of Rum. I am more accustomed to fly fishing on the mainland, on steady ground – a rocking boat, ever drifting further to sea, floating atop water so deep it was almost completely black… this took some getting used to.

Our catch became dinner that night. I had never before coated my fish in oats, but this was apparently a frequent recipe on the island, and a hearty one at that.

Dinner was as filling and robust as every other meal on Muck, and accompanied with fresh salad, meat and vegetables, as well as the long-life pantry food. Muck is visited only a few times throughout the week (and less in winter) by the ferry which carries food and other items from the mainland to the Small Isles.

I later asked where the ingredients for dinner came from and was taken to a large garden. The trampoline and tire swing, and dropped toys scattered around, made clear this was the garden of a young family – but beyond, I saw all manner of vegetables being grown. Lettuce, cucumber, carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, all outlined with sheep wool to keep the snails at bay.

Everything we ate had been grown on the island. I’m no stranger to a vegetable garden, but this was something else. To live a life almost completely untouched by a supermarket is almost unheard of these days, and here I was in the very middle of it.

Muck is an interesting island, to say the least. The people here have adapted to life on a small island and are a tough and hard as the land itself. There is a way of life here that has been forgotten by much of the mainland and while Muck is an isolated place, there is a distinct sense of community here.

Perhaps I will write about Muck again, maybe during one of the colder months. For now, I’ll look back on my summer in the Inner Hebrides and look forward to the warmer months returning.


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