Isle of Eigg, Day 1: Cleadale

Cleadale comprises the Northern portion of the Isle of Eigg, and it is the largest settlement on the island. To get to Mallaig, where I caught the Small Isles Ferry, I rode ScotRail’s famed train line – the West Highland Line. While riding the West Highland Line, I always say, “It gets better and better, and just when you think it can’t get any better – it does.”

The same can be said of Eigg. 

I didn’t think it could get any better than the view I’d seen of the mighty An Sgùrr, earlier that day, as the Small Isles Ferry approached the island, but as soon as I’d rounded the corner for Cleadale, I knew I’d been mistaken.

“Turn left when ye see the red post box in the wall. I’m the first house on the left, and ye’ll find the caravan just a wee ways doon the road from there.” These were the instructions that my host had messaged me that morning. A short pedal after winding my way down the steep hill that led to Cleadale, I found the post box. The left turn led me down a dirt road, where I dismounted when I saw a gate, leading into the first house on left, and my backpack sitting right beside it.

“Hiya, Mary!” I heard a woman call, and looked up to find my AirBnB host, Ailidh, had just stepped out of her house, followed by another woman, a troupe of youngsters, and a very excited dog. 

At first, as usual, I could not keep my eyes off of the dog. He had the stocky build of a labrador retriever and the coat of a border collie. He watched the children intently, as if he understood every single word they were saying, and was merely playing along, a part of their gang, and a part of their game.

“We just came out to see the pirate ship – look!” Ailidh said, half to me, half to the children.

This was the first moment I’d stopped to take in the view before me – the view I would have from Ailidh’s caravan for the next 4 nights and 5 days, or… so I thought. Behind us stood the most dramatic cliffs I’d ever seen up close in Scotland. Before us, Ailidh’s garden turned into marshland, which in turn, became the sandy beach of Laig Bay. Laig Bay opened out into the Bay of Laig, where, indeed, a very pirate-y looking ship had just docked. The ship looked all the more striking against a backdrop of the silhouette of Eigg’s neighbouring isle, Rùm.

Unfortunately, the pirate ship was not the only thing that had just begun to settle in the Bay of Laig. Behind it, from the West, storm clouds were encroaching.

The Crackervan Caravan

Can you spot the “Crackervan Caravan”? She is but wee!

The “Crackervan Caravan” is what Ailidh had affectionately named her caravan on her AirBnB listing. The trailer was parked a short stroll, through the garden, away from her front door. We shared the fridge and the bathroom in her house, but apart from that, I had everything I needed in the caravan. I had a stove, a big, cosy bed (that took up about half the floorspace), a table, a bench, and a few solar-powered light bulbs strewn festivally about the ceiling. I did not have running water, but I had two large water jugs that I could re-fill, as needed, from the sink in Ailidh’s house. I did not have electricity, but I had come prepared with a portable phone charger, and, if needed, I could access Wi-Fi from Ailidh’s garden.

Perhaps, had I stayed, I could have photographed that striking view of Rùm, but, after a brief introduction, and a tour of the premises, I waved goodbye to Ailidh and her possé, as they headed down to the shore. Then, I turned on my bicycle, back the way I’d came, and set off for the Eigg Makers’ Market, where I knew I could purchase a growler of Laig Bay Brewing Co.’s splendid session ale, for what looked like a long and stormy night ahead.

On my way back, I passed Ailidh and the gang on the main road. The group was missing one member, and a very important one at that – Ailidh’s dog, Fulan. As it turned out, the woman and the troupe of youngsters were not permanent fixtures in Ailidh’s home, but an old friend visiting for the day with her children. Ailidh was driving them to catch the ferry back when I passed them. It only took one look at the storm clouds ahead for part of me to wish I, too, could hop in Ailidh’s car and head back to the ferry, but I pedaled on, back to Cleadale.

By the time I made it back to Cleadale, a heavy mist had declared victory over Rùm, and was slowly making its way towards the shore. The pirate ship now looked rather ominous idling in the Bay. However, that did not deter me from taking a walk down to the shore.

Behind the hills in the image on the left (or above, if you’re viewing on your phone) you should be able to see the tip of An Sgùrr, however, just as the Isle of Rùm had in the distance, the once mighty peak succumbed to the mist. It occurred to me then, that if I could not see Rùm, and if I could not see An Sgùrr, from where I stood on Eigg, then surely, no one on the neighbouring isles, or the mainland, could see them either.

As the heavy mist crept further inland, I realised, soon, no one on the neighbouring isles, or the mainland, would be able to see the Isle of Eigg, at all.

I imagined all the tourists that would disembark the steam train (from the Harry Potter films) in Mallaig, and look out towards the sea. They would see nothing but mist, and some of them (perhaps most of them) would have no idea that there were islands hidden in it, or that I was hidden in it, too.

As I write this, we are ending our 9th week, and entering our 10th week under Stay at Home Orders in New York City. It’s odd, but even after 9 weeks of social distancing, 9 weeks of wearing a face mask, and 9 weeks of unemployment, I still don’t feel as isolated, and as alone, as I did my first night on the Isle of Eigg. 

I had come prepared for stormy weather. I had two books – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling (which I’d already started on the train) and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I’d also brought along a few pens and watercolours, so I had plenty to do to keep myself occupied while waiting out the storm. 

However, it was mid-July, and Netflix had recently released the 3rd series of its critically acclaimed show, Stranger Things. So, instead of a cosy night in with a book, I used the Netflix App on my phone, over Ailidh’s WiFi, to download the first three episodes of the 3rd series, as I washed up and got ready for bed in her bathroom.

I took the picture below from the window of the caravan at 9 P.M./21:00 on July 8th, 2019. I had just settled in, with a fully charged phone, a few lit candles, and a glass of session ale from the growler, to watch the first few episodes of the 3rd series of Stranger Things. Eventually, I fell asleep to sound the rain pattering on the roof, and woke to the sound of sheep, grazing in the fields around me.

Can you spot my bicycle?

Next week I’ll cover Day 2 on the Isle of Eigg! It will be a rainy one, so get ready for some moody shots of Scotland. Thanks, as always, for following along!

All names and conversations are remembered to the best of my abilities.

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