Monday, 14 November 2011

Crofting on the Isle of Eigg

Our final WWOOF hosts (for now - never say never!) were Neil, Sue and Struan on their croft on the Scottish Isle of Eigg (I really recommend clicking the link and reading all about it).

Eigg is one of the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides with regular ferry crossings from both the mainland at Mallaig and the isle of Skye. During the summer it is a very popular tourist destination, in the winter months although people still visit there is more of an intimate feeling of seeing the island 'off duty'.

Our trip to Eigg was initially thrilling as the usual ferry was not running and a replacement much smaller boat service whisked us across the water in a very speedy fashion. This was fantastic for the first half of the journey as Dragon, Star and I sat outside and got soaked with sea spray and buffeted about by the wind. Eventually though the cold and wet soaked through and we all started to turn blue and shivery so moved back inside, where the choppiness started to get to us (along with pretty much everyone else - the whole boat went deathly silent and people started to look quite green). I think another ten minutes would have resulted in sickness all round but just at that point where lying flat on the floor was starting to look like an attractive idea we arrived.

Our first impressions of the island were helped by the friendly woman chatting to us on the boat and the people milling around the tea room / shop at the pier all of whom smiled or said hello. The smaller boat had been quicker so we were in much earlier than expected and Neil didn't arrive for about ten minutes, which was good as it meant we'd all regained our normal colour and taken lots of deep breaths before we had to get into the car. We got a very brief introduction to the island as Neil drove us across it to the far side where their croft is and showed us into our WWOOFing accommodation - a cosy byre complete with wood burner, bunk beds and a futon, table and chairs, sink, cooker and supply of books and magazines. It was lovely :)

Our work included all manner of things giving us a real taste of life as crofters - we did animal feeding and mucking out, pruning, harvesting and weeding of fruit and vegetables, breadmaking, fencing, wood processing. hole digging and loads more. We worked in all areas of the croft and with the various livestock they have there; chickens, ducks, pigs, cattle, cat and dog.

In our downtime we spent hours walking the beaches, including the famous Singing Sands, watching amazing sunsets and stunning scenery. We did lots of walking and visited the museum and the island swap shop (a sort of freecycle arrangement where islanders leave unwanted stuff for other islanders to take). We had a fabulous evening at the Bonfire and fireworks on Guy Fawkes night which was just magical with the whole community out together watching the fireworks and the kids playing with sparklers before retiring to the tea room for a jamming session on spoons and bagpipes with plenty of drinking, chatting and laughing. We also visited the Neighbourhood Pub - a little converted byre complete with circular pool table, darts board and juke box in the shape of a big screen TV with internet access.

Dragon and Star loved meeting all the island kids and fell in with the pack learning all about island life from a childs' point of view. They particularly loved spending time with Struan and are hoping to stay in touch having enjoyed many happy hours getting to know him and playing games together.

Neil, Sue and Struan were excellent WWOOF hosts, sharing their lives with us literally - meals, evenings and social occassions during our stay aswell as in conversation in telling us all about crofting, island life and the inevitable swapping of life stories that happens when you meet new hosts. They were the perfect end to a fantastic run of people we have met this year and their croft and Eigg was the perfect location to close this chapter of the adventure too.

We left early (we went to visit nearby Isle of Rum, more on that later, and the only way of visiting was to return to the mainland and go back across to Rum as ferries were on winter timetables) and missed a birthday party we'd been invited to and were looking forward to attending.
Good: The accommodation, the people (our hosts and the other islanders).
Learnt: About crofting and life on a small island.

: That Struan had to go to school! We really enjoyed playing with him and it would have been great if he'd been around all the time.
Good: I loved the beaches, especially the Singing Sands, Bonfire Night and the socialising with the other islanders.
Learnt: Lots about whales.

Due to the time of year we didn't have enough daylight hours to explore the island as fully as I'd have liked. Had we been there during summer we would have had several hours each evening to go off walking and see more of Eigg.
Good: Living on the island in a community,  Bonfire night was really enjoyable.
Learnt: About crofting.

Bad: I spent a lot of time pacing the beaches trying to get straight in my head what our next move should be. The trouble with constantly travelling to beautiful places meeting interesting people with desireable lives is we keep on finding something even more attractive to us for a next move than the lifestyle before!
Good:A fitting end to what has been an amazing year so far. This host experience had everything - livestock and crops, beautiful location, green, self sufficient way of life, spirit of community, learning opportunities, interesting work, lovely accommodation.
Learnt: That there remains still so much more to learn! About crofting and island life.

off to Eigg we go

on the boat, it had a lot in common with a theme park ride!

tending to the pigs

on the croft - Rum in the background

Cleadale, Laig beach in background, Rum in the distance

beautiful sunsets

the whole community out for Bonfire night


Rum and the singing sands

the singing sands


  1. oooh, so envious!

    i'm also so impressed that you managed to keep up to date with blogging everything. i've had such a block with writing - i realise that part of me simply doesn't want to do it! i've been writing a phd full time for the last however long, and i want a break! still, i also want to record our wwoofing adventures, so i will - eventually...

  2. Beautiful photos - really want to go now!

    Sounds like you've had a fantastic time.

    Look forward to hearing about your plans...

    Have a good time with your friends & family.

    Kay :)

  3. Nix, you must. I totally know what you mean, sometimes it was a real effort to document it and at times it feels almost wrong to try and quantify our experiences with words, as though I'll never do this adventure justice. But I love to write and having this all here is so precious to read back through. This account, along with all our photographs will help to jog our memories and keep this amazing year alive for us.

    Kay, thanks :) the islands are just gorgeous, definitely worth a visit. Maybe you can come and visit us....(she says dropping clues as to what happens next plans!)

  4. I am so pleased you had a positive 'end' to your trip - now here's to the next bit!