Monday, May 25, 2009

Escape to Scorraig

by Alan G Bush

Some days ago I returned to the very picturesque small fishing town of Ullapool in western Ross-shire in the Scottish Highlands. As I did the last time, I stayed at the Arch Inn with view over Loch Broom in front of the impressive summit of An Teallach. The Inn is next to the harbour where the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry departs for the three hour sailing to Stornoway on the outer Hebrides every day of the week.

In between Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom is a long peninsula stretching far out. At the furthest point, far from where any roads go and facing a much animated Atlantic is the small crofting community of Scorraig. Crofters were people whom by force were removed from their homes in the fertile inland when the clansmen owning the land wanted ground for their sheep to graze. These people instead had to go living in the coastal, much less fertile, areas. This came to be known as the Highland clearings.

A man who a good deal later made his move to Scorraig is the witty storyteller Alan G Bush. Albeit somewhat crazy at bits he has the skills of keeping the reader caught in the antics and happenings of the gathering of folk and beasts out there. Since he moved there from England, via Wales, in 1963 the community has triumphantly grown. Against all odds must be added as, after all, a more remote place on mainland Britain is harder to imagine. The young lady working at the Inn told me that approximately a hundred people live there these days. But then they do not have to solely rely on the red telephone box courtesy of the British Empire for non-physical communications any more, as they have their own production of electricity and all IT one can hope for. Which, apparently, quite a few of the crofters out there make a living from.

Fact is that my younger brother Anders had his own period of crofting dreams. One time when we drove up from Isle of Skye to Ullapool we went on a detour via a place not far from the anthrax-infected Gruinard Island called Slaggan Bay. It is the most beautiful sandy beach on an isolated bay, and it comes with a few ruins of houses. If I remember correctly is was all left some one hundred years ago. Anders looked into the laws of property and crofting, but as his current project of success lies in Scanian Österlen, it seems likely the Scottish Highlands will have to wait.

The keeper of the Ullapool bookshop whom has supplied me with Alan's earlier writings, Escape to Scorraig, It All My Fault - some happenings before Escape to Scorraig and Escape from Scorraig told me on my recent visit that there was a new piece out. A spot of Scorraig History tells the stories and tales of what and whom was in the dwellings prior to the people currently living in them. As always with Alan, it lacks nostalgia. He gives a portrayal of people in the past, of toil and of hard life. And because of this, of optimism and hope for the future.

Here I had the idea of posting the most fantastic photograph of my good friend Per and Alan's son Ewan, who in the late 80s transported a tractor over the bay. Ewan had purchased it, much needed for the growing crofting-activities out on Scorraig, in Dingwall or some way equally far away anyway. Upon reaching home ground they decided that the best way to get it out to Scorraig, where no such things as roads needed to drive a tractor safely through hills and cliffs go, would be to get it over the bay by boat. However, as the only boats they had accessible were very small, they tied two together and placed planks on top, and then boarded the tractor. The snapshot is that one of the big machine on those tiny two boats on Little Loch Broom, which in no way is that little a loch by the way. The photograph is for the current moment lost though, stuck somewhere in a deep drawer in one of Per's many antique escritoires.

Update 260509. The photo below is a Massey Ferguson MF65 being ferried some when in the 80s. I received it from Alan G Bush today and it is published here with his permission. It remains unclear if it is from the episode I mention above, but it is highly probable. As Alan was in Tasmania back then he does not know. Per just recalled that it was not Ewan, but another guy living out there whom he transported the tractor together with.