Research Trip to the Isle of Ulva

 

Isle of Ulva landscape

I have just returned from a week-long trip to the West Coast of Scotland and the Islands of the Inner Hebrides. It took me a while to get there – staying the night in Glasgow, then a spectacular drive through the Trossachs, along the banks of Loch Lomond, and across to Oban to take the boat to Mull. From there I boarded a small ferry, more used to transporting sheep perhaps, to the beautiful Isle of Ulva.

Old boat on Ulva

Ulva is a small place. The privately owned island is 8 miles square and has only a handful of residents. They work in either tourism, or the traditional farming of sheep, cattle, fish and oysters. Ulva comprises moorland, woodland and farmland and boasts a wealth of wildlife. Red Deer,  Mountain Hares, Seals and Otters live here. Porpoises, Dolphins and Whales swim in the waters. Puffins nest on the coast and birds of prey soar in the skies. Rare butterflies and moths make their home with over 500 species of plant including rare Orchids. Undisturbed, Ulva is teeming with life.

Hamish on Isle of Ulva

Furthermore, it also has a rich history. Archeologists date Ulva’s earliest inhabitants to 5,650 BC. Around 1,500 BC, Ulva’s megalithic people positioned the standing stones that remain on the island to this day. By the time the Vikings arrived in 800 AD, Ulva was uninhabited again. They took possession, calling it ‘Ullfur’ – ‘Wolf Island’ – and building Glackindaline Castle on Dun Ban, off the northwest shore.

Ruined bothy on Ulva

The explorer David Livingstone’s family came from Ulva. His grandparents were crofters on the southern coast, where his father was born. But it is the Scottish Clan MacQuarrie that is best known for its long association with Ulva. It traces its ownership of the Isle back to the Middle Ages.

Isle of Ulva seascape

General Lachlan MacQuarrie was born on Ulva in 1762. After a distinguished military career that took him away from the Isles to India and Australia, he became the fifth Governor of New South Wales. The last resting place of the ‘Father of Australia’ is on the coast of Mull in sight of his homeland of Ulva. A cairn at Ormaig bears a plaque to his memory.  It also mentions the vikings with their serpent-prowed longships.

MacQuarrie plaque at Ormaig

Staying in a simple bothy and walking the snow-topped hills of this hauntingly beautiful place, one can see how tough life is for the inhabitants of Ulva. There is no mobile phone signal or wi-fi. The landscape has not been tamed. However, areas of hidden ground nestle between peaks – places where people levelled out plateaus for farming.

Seascape Isle of Ulva

There are a few sheep and some Aberdeen Angus. To the west, on the tiny connected island of Gometra, was a herd of feral goats. I took several pictures of these nimble goats. With their long hair and splayed horns, I think they would be a great subject for a new sculpture. The result is my Highland Goats 2017.

Feral goats on Ulva

The bleak terrain suits the goats and also the thriving population of Red Deer. I joined the team hind stalking on the hills, selecting the weakest animals. As a result, the herd does not become overpopulated, remains healthy and a manageable size for the area. The organic venison is just part of the excellent local produce available. It includes scallops and oysters, prawns, crab, lobsters and all manner of fish.

Red deer stag on Ulva

It was also a great opportunity to try out my new Lumix Panasonic TZ100. This compact camera is just what I need for these kind of active trips. Firstly, it has a big memory. Secondly, it isn’t at all heavy. Best of all, it sits comfortably under my arm in its nifty carry case. I am really pleased with its performance. I think it took some great shots!

dramatic landscape on Ulva

Ulva is wet, windy, stormy, rugged and wild. However, when the sun comes out, it is also absolutely stunning. My week on this magical Isle was a breath of fresh air. It was so good to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. I took a step back to simpler times too. It was also great to immerse myself in the landscape, to get to know the habitat of the wildlife there. Furthermore, I gained a greater understanding of these animals and where they live. I can’t wait to go back…

Isle of Ulva with rainbow