The next day, another Scot charmed me, one of the owners of the Chalchain Inn, who does the breakfast as well. This morning he produced scones and, after serving me, peeked into my soft-boiled eggs making sure they were just right. I assured him they were perfect and the scones were light as a biscuit. He looked at me skeptically and said, “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.” Once I left the breakfast room, I realized our definition of biscuit differed. His biscuit is what I consider a cookie of sorts, mine is a fluffy non-rising bun.
As I made my way to the ferry to Eigg, one of “small isles,” as those islands south of the Isle of Sky are known, I saw him coming down the street. I explained our different notions of biscuits. He asked me if I was an American. I answered in the affirmative. He told me, “I thought you were from Australia. You seem like an Australian.” When I asked him if being an Australian was good or bad, he just smiled.
At the ticket office, I was told the ferry didn’t go to Eigg on Wednesday, so I changed my destination to Rum, the closest of the islands. Waiting in line to board the ferry, the feeling of well-being, of being on the right path returned in spades as it has over and over on this journey. Aloneness is not only embraced but treasured.
I found a seat on the deck where food is served and placed myself next to a window in a booth seating six. In front of me was a large group of all ages and one asked if some could sit with me. I was joined by a nice group of Scots who welcomed me into their flock. We got friendly enough so that I felt comfortable asking how they felt about the Scotland’s vote for independence. Just as my train companion from Glasgow to Scotland had mixed reactions to the question, these folks also were unsure about what to vote. However, they did seem to lean towards the idea of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Their concerns were economic, that is, whether Scotland’s economy would flounder without it’s ties to England. One fellow believed that mostly young people would be voting for independence. He said, “They’ve seen too much Braveheart. They aren’t thinking with their heads.”
After disembarking on Rum, we passengers were greeted by a Ranger offering a 2 hour guided tour for a fiver. I almost walked away but quickly changed my mind and joined the group, thinking I should be more social and that, most likely, I would learn more about the island than if I just wandered around by myself. I definitely did learn more about flora, fauna, and lore.
Rum had been owned by one family that had used it for hunting vacations given the abundance of red deer that inhabit this part of Scotland. They built a Victorian monstrosity made of local sandstone known as Kinloch Castle. When the last member of the family died, the island was purchased by the Scottish National Trust; as the island had never been developed, Rum remains as it was, wild and naturally beautiful.
Many of the birds sighted on the island were the same species I’ve found in New Jersey except with slight variation: instead of a great blue heron, I saw a great “grey” heron as well as oyster catchers, a female eiderdown with her chicks, and a family of willow warblers. The parents stayed in the tree while the fledglings searched for insects in the grass, the parents calling out to them so they would know where the adults were located. We were also introduced to local fauna: marsh orchids, yellow broom just finishing blooming, their dripping seed pods resembling snow peas.
I began fantasizing of living the life of the ranger, being on this island of 41 people all year round. She said she wasn’t too worried about the winter as she likes to read and write. Would work for me. After an hour into the walk, I longed to be alone, exploring as I had on Inish Mor. I was impatient to be moving at my own pace. There was too much nattering on about subjects unrelated to Rum. Perhaps, I’m becoming a cantankerous hermit of sorts. I bid good-bye and struck out on my own.
My first stop was the village. There are several whitewashed cottages with wood shingled roofs and even a schoolhouse for the two elementary school students living on Rum. Afterwards, they go to Mallaig for their education, staying the week and returning for the weekend, a bit of a hardship; however, the arrangement appeals to me. As a 10 year old, I desperately wanted to go to boarding school, all my clothes neatly marked with my name. One of the buildings in the village is a community center, a large room with a piano, pool table, internet hookup, a table offering local crafts, comfortable seating, and a café with tables inside and outside on a small porch. It resembles a camp building from the fifties with the craft table reminiscent of home made goods of hippie origin. Outside a small shack attached to the building functions as the local convenience store but this one sells venison from the herds of red deer.
Although the castle had been used for a time as hostel, it seems, except for the tours, abandoned, all its formal gardens allowed to return to a meadow of grasses and wildflowers. The sight excites and frightens me. After a peek in the windows of the castle, I take a walk through the meadows with grasses hip high, pleasure and peace fill me up as I walk towards the sea.
On Inish Mor and now here, the notion that humans are unsuited for living on earth returns. Keeping us alive requires so many resources and our arrogance and ignorance create places like the castle which once abandoned are sores on the landscape. We don’t seem to know how to be one with our environment. Yet, Rum is trying to do this, it’s residents attempting a sustainable existence where architect and nature fit well together, quite different from the folly at Kinlock Castle.