Our walk yesterday took us to the West side of the Isle of Mull, where a five minute boat journey landed us on the Isle of Ulva, another of our fabulous ‘get away from it all’ locations. Described as an open air museum of social and natural history, this little island really is unique and well worthy of it’s claim to be ‘A World Apart’. Ulva is a step back in time, where early hunter gatherer-fishers would have lived in local caves and Bronze Age people raised megaliths that continue to defy explanation. Purged by the infamous and inhuman Highland Clearances, a time when sheep were preferred to people, the ruins of 16 former settlements dot the island, where a once thriving community of 600 crofting folk lived during the heyday of the kelp industry in the early 1800’s. Today, 200 years on, the island retains a population of only 11 residents, who live without many of the public services most of us take for granted.
Early settlers, who lived on the island around 3,500 years ago, erected Standing Stone monuments that remain a mysterious legacy to a pre-Christian era. We visited both of the settings of these fascinating structures on Ulva and pondered their archaeoastronomical significance. As strange as it may seem to us today, the island’s Bronze Age inhabitants were committed sky watchers, who used the position of the sun, moon and stars to align these stones, which may have acted as a calendar for their lives.
The deserted villages of Ormaig and Cragaig are a haunting reminder of an unhappy period of Ulva’s past. Today, the ruined remains of these settlements provide a shameful lesson in Mull and the Isle of Ulva’s social history. When the bottom that fell out of the kelp boom was exacerbated by the failure of the potato harvest in 1846-47, the island was forcibly depopulated of people. The memory of those relocated to other parts of Scotland, North America and Australia lives on in the spine-tingling beauty of the location of these townships, looking West to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, and South to the holy Isle of Iona. It is hard to imagine such human cruelty and hardship of the past amid the sunshine and shimmering silver seas of the present.