The Island of Gometra - a peopled wildness

          Roc Sandford

©

 

Stop press : please see our vacancies page.  We are short-handed, so if you think you would like to live here, please also see the living here page.

 

Stop press : listen to this - it would be hilarious if it wasn't tragic!

 

And watch this if you can - chilling & brilliant, it parallels what is being done to Scotland.

 

Gometra is the second largest and second most populous island in the Staffa Archipelago.  It lies in Loch Staffa within the Loch Na Keal National Scenic Area near Staffa (2 miles), the Treshnish Isles (3 miles) and Iona (9 miles).

 

Gometra's assets are its islanders and its internationally significant islandscape and biodiversity.  From Gometra you can see Little Colonsay, Erisgeir, Jura, Colonsay, Islay, Iona, Staffa, Dubh Artach, Maesgeir, Tiree, Bec Bec, Dutchman's Cap, Dioghlum, Skerryvore, Lunga, Fladda, the Carnaburgs, Gunna, Coll, South Uist, Ulva & Mull.  The Small Isles and Skye are visible from a few hundred yards offshore.  Red deer, feral goats and otters can be watched here and grey and common seals pup and haul out on the island, its islets and skerries, singing in the evenings.  Golden and sea eagles scavenge our hills, diminishing quantities of salmon and sea trout pass along both coasts and basking sharks and cetaceans including individually identifiable bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise are seen from our shores, while minke and killer whales are sighted further off.  Gometra, once a territory of the lords of the Isles, lost and regained several times over the centuries, is among various Hebridean islands held today by their myriad spawn, as well as being one of various islands held by the returning progeny of emigrants from the 18th and 19th century Celtic diaspora.

 

Gometra usually has three to four households and with the key support of Mr Iain & Mrs Rhoda Munro is farmed by Mr Roc Sandford whose family connections with the island go back many years and who lives here part time.  The local authority closed the school on the island some years ago.  Mr Sandford has been ordered by the High Court to educate his children on the mainland on pain of up to a two year custodial sentence.  When he came twenty years back Gometra was deserted, having been on the market for 18 months without attracting a private or community buyer, and was two and a half hours return by Land Rover from the nearest human neighbour at the far end of Ulva.  At that time there was one habitable house.  There are now five, of which two are let, one is available to let, one is used as a free bothy, a holiday let, and for decanting, and one is occupied by Mr Sandford's family.  We are fortunate enough to have had several dozen people including over a dozen children living here for varying periods.  We are working with Argyll and Bute to bring more houses into legal use, something they have agreed to in principal, but have not yet formalised.  We breed Scottish blackface sheep, Highland cattle and on occasion Border collies, and keep horses, cats and pigs.  Mr Munro is postman for the weekly postal run.  The Gometra Gallery at Baileclaidh is a centre of excellence showing the work of the island’s jeweller, Mrs Rhoda Munro, and artists including Miss Polly Huggett, Mr Liam Ryan and Miss Sophie Baker.  Mr Paul Wilkinson and Mr Conna Wilkinson have been staying at Baileclaidh, which is also the location for the construction of a planned model village.

 

Two of our four harbours, the best for visiting Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, are filled with yachts in the summer months and shelter our own boats in the winter.  Kayakers, extreme swimmers, wild campers, climbers and access takers are welcomed at own risk.  The Gometra Bothy at Baileclaidh is free on a shared basis for up to a week unless it is booked for a fee for exclusive use.  Please contact us for availability information. Please bring what you need including sleeping mat, stove and sleeping bag.   Water is from untreated springs but bottled water, if required, and fuel can usually be bought from Mr Munro who can also give advice about getting here.  Health and safety information and disclaimers should be studied here; Gometra's hazards are augmented by our lack of medical services and isolation so please take this advice and information for tenants and visitors seriously, together with the risks note.

 

We have no reasonable access to a doctor or teacher, no reliable internet, mobile or land line, no cars or public transport, and we are off-grid.  There is no working washing machine on the island : be warned.  We usually have cold running water (though there are spells when the springs dry and water must be collected from the burns and boiled) and we often have hot water.  We have a weekly incoming Royal Mail postal service, weather permitting, and outgoing and urgent mail is carried by the Gometra Post Office, a private local post.  We are a genuinely fragile community, amongst the remotest and most service-poor in the Scottish Isles, and the tide of well-meant but inapplicable regulation, hard to satisfy in our extreme situation, may yet sweep us away.  From landfall and access to doctors, schools & shops on Mull (a magnificent island off Gometra's North shore) and the mainland, our safest harbour is fifteen miles return across the turbulent, often treacherous Atlantic waters of Loch Tuath, white with surf and spindrift as I write.  A rough hill track, which takes about five hours return to walk, three hours return to travel by quad bike and trailer or two hours return by quad alone, a journey in winter reminiscent of riding in a washing machine set on cold, and in summer set on warm, leads across a causeway and tidal ford to a community little larger than our own at the East end of Ulva (a magnificent island off Gometra's East shore).  We have mixed feelings about the current aluminium bridge, which around 15 years ago replaced a telegraph-pole bridge which was coming to the end of its safe lifespan.  The design brief was that it should allow the passage of the islanders and the quad bikes we use, whilst being a one-person job to reinstate when it blows away or has been lifted for the passage of boats through Am Bru.  Some feel these advantages are counterbalanced by the fact that people wishing to bring Land Rovers or similar heavy vehicles onto Gometra must wait for the tide.  We are open to constructive proposals for future improvements to the bridge, assuming funding can be sourced and serviced.  In practice for transport of larger quantities of materials, feeding, livestock and people, the viable prospect is the sea.

 

Having been left to our own devices for many years, we are now notorious for mounting the Save Staffa Archipelago campaign and petition to avert a 2 kilotonne factory salmon farm operated by the Scottish Salmon Company which, if sited according to the consents obtained, threatens both our own safety, in forcing us out of the lee of the island into the often foul seas of Loch Tuath to access A&E, schools and other services offshore, and the breath-taking biodiversity and wildness which are all we have to offer residents and visitors.  Objectors to the Gometra salmon farm have faced dirty tricks, smears, harassment, abuse and intimidation for drawing attention to the scientific evidence for the adverse impacts of salmon farms on biodiversity or of farmed salmon on human health.  We have been denied a polling station; our representatives are unaccountable and none has any real experience of the island.  No one on Gometra wants the salmon farm, and that should be enough.

 

If it is forced on us, we will fight until it is taken away.

 

Please do not approach cattle, which can be aggressive especially if you have a dog.  If they chase the dog, please let it go!  If you find an animal in difficulty, distress or dead please ring 01688500221/07765 951502 or tell someone immediately - time is crucial.  Please let us know if you have any suggestions or complaints.  Thank you!  Gometra.

 

 

All text and Images © Roc Sandford, Gometra, 2014 unless otherwise stated.  Please let us know of any corrections or suggestions.  To contact us click here.