22 Apr The Small Isles
Their names have been conjured up by someone with an impish sense of humour or else a dreary pedant unable to see the possibilities to sport with them. I’m writing this from Muck, the baby of the quad of islands. The others are, in size order, Rum, Eigg and Canna. The collective name, The Small Isles, is apt if uninventive. A very literal descriptor, especially when you arrive on Muck: 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, both dimensions measured at the extremities; highest point is the 137m peak of Beinn Airein; population of 38 – plus me for the next couple of days representing a 2.6% increase that must surely be statistically significant! Just to give some context, Muck has a land area of 5.59 sq km compared to Richmond Park at 9.55. Admittedly big for a park. Small for an island; small is certainly the word.
From the north end of the island where I’m staying all alone in the very lovely, exceedingly spacious Gallanach Lodge, you can see the other three islands in the group. At least you could yesterday when I arrived in the tentative sunshine that settled to a liquid grey at dusk. Looking out of the huge glass windows that face the shore, there was Rum, straight ahead of me all softly pointed peaks; to the right, Eigg with its southern coast like a long wedge of rock leaking out from An Sgurr, a square-topped chunk of basalt that dominates the island; and Canna off to the left, flat on top of its skirt of cliffs, like a pancake sitting on the bristles of an upturned brush. Between Rum and Eigg, out there in the watery distance, was Skye, the tell-tale ridge of the Cuillins fully revealed below high, pale grey cloud. I couldn’t quite work out the angles and the relationships between this peak and that. I know the outline of Skye so well but I’ve never seen it from here. Disconcerting.
This morning they’re all gone, stolen away in the night by some thieving clouds. They’ve drenched the contours of everything except the close shore; dissolved the distances. If you arrived here today you’d not believe there was anything out there. The rain patters steadily outside and I consider the options: a wet walk or a good book beside the wood-burning stove, watching for a break in the cloud or a lightening in the sky that might trouble the instinct for idleness.