It’s not every day you get the opportunity to pack the bags and go for four days around the Western Isles telling a story like Land Reform; and to do it in the height of summer, with a stretch of settled weather and the prospect of those beautiful west coast sunsets and unusually calm waters, it was not an invitation to be passed up.
Starting in Mallaig on an evening in late June and looking out across at Eigg, it was obvious that this was going to be quite a special week, exploring these islands and piecing together this story of community ownership on both Eigg and Ulva from some of the people who have shaped it.
Filming in remote locations like these, though, is never without its challenges, especially when you’re packing a variety of gear and often having to leave the car behind to travel as foot passengers on the island ferries.
Our first stop was Eigg and this spectacular view of the cliffs arriving into the ferry port, creates its own sort of momentary parallax as you pass them by.
We were met off the ferry to Eigg by Maggie Fyffe and as we made the short trip up to the village hall in her golf buggy, it was hard not to think how many film crews had come before us and asked questions around this topic since the buyout in 1997. She was very comfortable sharing her experiences in front of the camera and had a real insight into the challenges of community ownership through their journey there on Eigg.
It was great then to be invited into the home of Sarah Boden and her music producer partner Johnny Lynch, a beautifully constructed new build looking out over the Eigg coastline across to the Isle of Muck. When you drop into people’s homes like this you get a real snapshot of their life and Sarah’s story of leaving the busyness of London and coming to a remote place like this was quite striking – the community of Eigg is now just over 100 people.
Once the interview was done, there was just about enough time to get a couple of aerial shots from her family farm at the top of the hill before she raced us back down the small tracks to the ferry, next stop Ulva.
Ulva really is just a very short hop over the water from the Oskamull at the west of Mull, and after seeing the ferry board in the context of the landscape here, suddenly it made a lot more sense how this little red and white signal board could summon the ferry back from the island.
Again we were met by crystal calm waters as we made the five-minute journey across to the boathouse café/restaurant. A brief instruction on the quad bikes and we were off chasing Rebecca Munro across to the other side of the island and an opportunity to get some locational shots of Ulva and some aerials of the ruins of the former homes there, known to locals as starvation point.
Rebecca’s interview was a very live encounter with Land Reform. Having taken ownership of the island so recently, it felt like an authentic insight into the experience of community ownership of an island like Ulva. Even from behind the camera I was taken by the human spirit that has prevailed in both of these island stories, and grateful for the residents’ openness to share their story with us so honestly.
You can’t visit Mull without jumping across to Iona, if only to see that turquoise sea and those white sandy beaches, bringing our tally of ferry trips to eight for the week.
The summer of 2018 will certainly be defined by this short trip to the Western Isles to meet the people behind the stories of community ownership on these two islands, some stunning sunsets and a lot of Calmac ferries.
I look forward to being back here one day for the next instalment!
You can see the finished Land Reform film here:
To document the community buy out in Eigg and Ulva, we are collecting a drum made and used by writer and activist Alastair McIntosh in the campaign for the Eigg buyout in 1997, the iconic ferry signal sign and a doorknocker from the home of Rebecca and Rhuri Munro. You can find out more about our contemporary collecting programme, Collecting the Present, at www.nms.ac.uk/collectingthepresent