Government cuts won’t hurt Canna museum or library but real life makes itself felt in other ways. Island life is not for softies.
We got back to Edinburgh in the early hours this morning, now it’s evening before the day has properly begun. I always have difficulty adjusting to the clocks going forward but today my mind is still running on Canna time.
The island is hard to leave behind. We’ve had almost a week there and it was a magical break for city slickers: resting screen-weary eyes on distant misty Skye; stretching legs on long walks round the bay and up Compass Hill; putting the world to rights round the table at night after watching sunset on Rum – or mists swirl where it should be.
The visitors’ book in Gerry’s cottage is full of enthusiastic comments. And rightly so. It’s a restored crofter’s home on Sanday, warm and comfortable with a kitchen looking out to Rum while living room windows watch tides roll in and out.
As always I wonder what it would be like to stay for real life after the holiday is over. The outside world seems far away when you pick up odd snatches of news on the internet (we found wifi in the cottage) but ripples of the wider economy reach the shore – oil prices hit island tractors and diesel generators.
And real life makes itself felt in other ways. Government cuts won’t hurt Canna museum (lovingly curated by school children) or Canna House library (bequeathed by John and Margaret Campbell) now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. But while the NTS might preserve island infrastructure, the primary school can’t survive without school age children.
How to sustain island community? When Ray and I fantasised about living on Canna we always stumbled at the bit where children leave the island for secondary school. That’s looming reality for parents on Canna – though Eilidh, the school teacher, also tells us that the transition is now very well managed: from Primary 4 children are preparing for a move to lodgings in Mallaig.
So island life may not be for softies but it makes for fascinating conversations well into the wee small hours.
This year for the first time Canna House opens to the public allowing visitors a glimpse of the past and not just in the house (I particularly like the garden history exhibition in the old laundry). But the present is just as interesting and this time (fresh from my experience of the World Kitchen brunch) I have come home marvelling at the multicultural wealth of Canna.
On a small island with a current population of 21, the community is now a mix of English, Welsh, Irish, Spanish and Dutch as well as Gaelic and Scots. Canna primary school’s four children, who between them speak Gaelic, Welsh and English, are also learning French taught by Magda from Spain, whose first language is Basque.
The future is always uncertain for small island communities but I hope they find a way to make this great and wonderfully quirky wealth form the basis of a new sustainability for the next generation.