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Eigg parties five years on
Seit 5 Jahren gehört die Insel den 70 Einwohnern

Artikel von © Peter Irvine, 
aus The Sunday Times
vom 07.07.02

One of my favourite Edinburgh DJs was giving it not so much large but certainly far and wide a couple of weeks ago. Not in a strobe-lit urban nightclub full of weekend ravers but in a marquee overlooking the sea on the edge of Europe. This was the party to celebrate the anniversary of the free ownership of the Isle of Eigg by its inhabitants. That night the population of 70 who live on the island doubled. They came from Knoydart, Arisaig, Mallaig and Rum to join the revels. A marquee, tables groaning with food, the ubiquitous ceilidh bands, a fair few drams and dancing into the wee small hours with DJ Dolphin Boy on the decks.

The islanders really do have some accesses of which they are rightfully proud. Not least liberating the island from the ownership of the eccentric millionaire Keith Schellenberg and his equally weird successor the German artist Maruma.

More important though is the precedent they have set in confronting some of the anachronistic feudal land laws in Scotland. Since the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust made history by buying the island for themselves, other communities such as Knoydart and Gigha have begun to look for the same level of autonomy.

This is all about to change. With almost £800,000, the inhabitants of Eigg, in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Highland Council, have been able to begin to live a vision which may eventually take the island back to its heyday when it supported a population of more than 400.

And they continue to welcome visitors to the island. It's a great day out and an easy boat ride on the Shearwater from Arisaig or on a bigger Cal-Mac ferry from Mallaig, which has a smaller "flit" boat to take you ashore at Kildonnan.

An £8m causeway and ferry terminal is being built at Kildonnan. This will bring in vital prosperity for the island and allow bigger construction works to take place with heavy transport. But that's a few years away and at the moment when you arrive you find yourself at the tearoom, shop and community centre - a vital focus for the island - where you can get your bearings, find somewhere to stay or stock up on provisions before heading out to discover the raw charms of Eigg.

Despite its size - about three miles across and five miles long - Eigg has a diverse landscape and you can easily lose yourself here for a day or more. It is a fecund environment which supports lots of wildlife. Hundreds of bird and plant species, including the Manx shearwater, come to nest on the cliffs here every year, and rare wild orchids thrive on the boggy moorland.

Basking sharks, minke whales and porpoises are frequently seen sporting in the waters around the Small Isles, and the Shearwater will usually linger for passengers to see such a sight on the way over.

The best walk and vantage point on the island is An Sgurr, the distinctive ridge visible for miles and the largest exposed piece of pitchstone in Britain, for those who care about that sort of thing. It is not a demanding walk but takes about two hours from the pier at Kildonnan. From the top you can see north to the Cuillins of Rum, and Skye in the distance, and to the south the Ardnamurchan peninsula and Mull.

If you don't feel up to that, there are beach walks, and at Laig beach the Singing Sands are a strange phenomenon although they wouldn't sing for me.

The difficulties and goings-on of recent years are nothing new to the people of Eigg. The 7th century St Donnan, a Pictish saint, established a Christian monastery here. According to tradition the queen of Moidart sent her warriors - all women - to slaughter the population. By the 16th century, the island was in the hands of Ranald Macdonald, the descendant of Someried, the king of the Isles.

The Macdonalds were constantly battling with the Macleods and, in a move more bloody than Glencoe, more than 300 Macdonalds were herded into a cave on the shores of the island and massacred.

Since then, the island's history has been one of struggle and survival. In the 19th century, the Highland clearances left Eigg pitifully uninhabited and it is from this legacy that the current population is re-emerging.

One thing you should check out before you leave Eigg is the Lodge and its gardens. Then it's easier to understand the bitterness of the islanders after years of their island being no more than an idle summer retreat for an absentee landlord.

Built in the 1920s, the house with its pillared facade looks like a hill-station in Kashmir. The property itself is closed and fairly derelict, awaiting the outcome of a Historic Buildings report on its future, but the gardens are amazing.

The Gulf Stream which takes the chill off these parts allows palms, Himalayan azaleas, acacia trees and rhododendrons to flourish. It seems like another world. This could become a latter day Utopia, but to turn it into paradise is going to take a lot of hard work.

But they are a friendly bunch on Eigg and it's one place you can be sure that every penny, euro or dollar you spend in the tearoom goes back into the island.

It is Scotland buying back its future — theirs and ours.

© Peter Irvine

(zur Vergrösserung aufs Bild klicken)

Cleadale and Skye

Cleadale bay mit Blick auf Skye



Cleadale and An Sgurr
Cleadale bay mit Blick auf An Sgurr

Moorland and Rum
Herbstfarben mit Isle of Rum im Hintergrund

Muck from Eigg
Blick von An Sgurr auf die Isle of Muck

Croft at Cleadale
ruhige Wohnlage am Nordende von Cleadale

Cows views Sgurr
schöne Aussicht für jeden

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(Fotos: © Uli Sauer)