Day 3 of our sailing trip on the Saltwater Gypsy with David Leaver and by midday we’ve anchored off Cragaig on the southern side of Ulva. It’s not a big place, just 8 square miles.
The name ‘Ulva’ is probably from the Norse ‘Ulvoy’ meaning ‘wolf island’ though the Norse weren’t the first people to live on this beautiful place by any means. There’s evidence of Mesolithic and Neolithic settlement. And Celtic influence thrived with the Picts and Dalriadians. So it’s possible that people have lived here for over 12,000 years.
By early 19th century the island was home to about 800 people. In 1837, there were sixteen villages/townships, with shoe makers, wrights, boat builders, merchants, carpenters, tailors, weavers and blacksmiths. The 1841 Scottish Census records shows 849 islanders in total.
The traditional owners of the island were the Clan MacQuarrie. One of their more famous sons being Lachlan MacQuarrie born on the island in 1762. He left when he was 14 years old travelled to India and Australia and by 1809 he was Governor of New South Wales. But the MacQuarries were in debt and sold off the island. In 1836 it was bought for £29,500 by Francis William Clark, a Morayshire man. That’s about £2.5million in today’s money.
Then came a series of misfortunes. First of all the kelp industry, which helped support the islanders, failed. Clark was not an understanding land-owner. By 1848 the population had been mostly cleared off the land and shipped to Canada or Australia. Their roofs and houses were burnt behind them as Clark’s men drove them down to the waiting ships. Then Clark claimed their livestock as ‘payment’ for arranging their forced passage. It’s sobering seeing the remains of ruined houses. In the old mill at Ornaig there are two millstones still inside.
But aside from the sobering awareness of what happened here just 170 years ago, we also soaked up its beauty – deer on the hillsides, bluebells in the fields, buzzards in the air, and sun on the water, fabulous views of Mull and Treshnish Isles.
From Cragaig Bothy there’s a track running over to the ferry on the north side of the island. That’s where the Boathouse Cafe is too! But Sam and I stopped on the highest part of the track. Sat down on some warm rocks and enjoyed the view.