FROM A COLL JOURNAL

4–14 X 1773 (population c. 1200)

19–22 VII 2013
(population c. 200)

FROM A COLL JOURNAL



When the sky is this blue
what is there to write about?

*

When I say, to a lady from Aberfoyle who’s visited the island every summer since she was a child, that in 1773 the population of Coll was twelve hundred, she asks, with Johnsonian skepticism, where on earth they all lived, as there are few ruined houses.

*

With bikes from the post office we cycle from Arinagour (Airigh nan Gobhar, Shieling of the Goats) past Càrnan Mora and Achamore to Arnabost (t-junction), then left towards Grishipol and Cliad Bay, where we swim, sunbathe and snooze.

*

Opening the OS map, the first three folds are sea, as blank blue as the sky yesterday.

*

Clover and daisies
enamel the central strip of
the B8071

*

The old village hall, a plain, functional building, is opposite the sheltie field, which also contains a neglected monument to a 19th century crofters’ leader.

*

In the hotel garden we fall into conversation with the family at the next table. The parents are just back from Cairo, where they’ve lived for 18 months; he has a job there in development, thanks to the revolution which brought Mursi to power. But by the sound of it, he’s glad to see the back of Mursi, ousted in a coup at the start of the month, blaming corruption, and channelling funds to Hamas in Gaza. They both claim most Egyptians have turned against the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing what they do, and that the army will sort things out, but it might take three or four years, and in the meantime some bad things are going to happen. They mitigate the deaths of Mursi supporters by saying the Brotherhood has called for martyrs, and that Egyptian democracy isn’t like here in the UK, with checks and balances; there the president has all the power. My sense is that the coup is a rejection of democracy, and not the way to establish checks and balances… we fall back into our own conversations.

*

Tim and Jane drove us round the island in a borrowed 4x4. On Ben Hogh we saw Clach na Ban-righ; at Breachacha the old and renovated castle, beside the new castle in disrepair; were invited into the White House at Grissipol by Sheena Maclean-Bristol, their new house in the shell of the old. She expressed some surprise that in the two years they’ve had the White House open as a B&B, no-one has stayed specifically because of Boswell and Johnson. Alec talked to her about turbines, including the old click-mills used here (and on Orkney) before electricity came (in 1981), and now forgotten. I swam at Sorisdale Bay at the NE tip of the island, over to a smaller beach, where clegs set about me, and followed me when I swam again; I tried to splash them away, but one even got into my mouth. We passed the site of the old tulip farm, where the flowers still come up each year, though the flags are starting to take over.

*

as if someone is approaching —
the wind in the flags

*

Boswell gives ‘Grissipol’ as ‘the Rough Pool’; MacDougall gives at as ‘Griseabull’, from ‘bull’, i.e. ‘baile’, township, and ‘griss’, boar, or ‘gres’, grassy, or possibly a man’s name.

*

Below the church, by the road, a strip of alder, sallow and rowan.

*

Angie – who has a brace on her leg, but walked across the island while I took my dodgy legs on a bike – quotes Yeats to me, “When you are old and grey”.

*

We sat a while at the café watching the street; at the next table a man was reading The Guardian, which seemed to come from very far away. An older man passed, who’d been at the reading on Saturday. He showed us his hand, swollen from a cleg bite. When Alec asked him about treatment, he said, “it’ll go down again”. The ferry was late, delayed by the (quantity of? state of?) the Tiree festivalers – the Barra ferry had also called in to take revellers back to the mainland.

*

fine weather, which is the life and soul of seeing places

Garrick, to Boswell


Bibliography

Beveridge, Erskine; Coll and Tiree: Their Prehistoric Forts and Ecclesiastical Antiquities (1903)
MacDougall, Betty; Guide to Coll (1972)
Osman, Tarek; Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to the Muslim Brotherhood (2013)