The start of week two found me sitting in a living room surrounded by cans of scrumpy beer and hung over twenty somethings. The volunteers working on the island had been up late but still welcomed me and made me coffee.
We wandered to the forestry plantation where I threw myself on the mercy of the local volunteer co-ordinator. I explained that I had come to Eigg to work and was reluctant to leave so soon. Did she think anyone else on the island might put me up and feed me in exchange for some help? She said she would see what she could do.
By the end of the day nothing definite had materialised so I retreated to the Glebe bunkhouse to do my washing and eat the first hot meal for two days. That evening a sea eagle sailed past my bedroom window and seals hunted in the bay below.
On Tuesday I met John (the bird) a man from my own McDonald Clan who was smoking a pipe and looking for great spotted woodpeckers. He drew me a map to the Massacre Cave where the entire Mcdonald Clan on the islands had hid from marauding Mcleods, who had set a fire in the narrow entrance to the cave and suffocated the lot of us.
I crawled into the blackness with a torch and gave my long lost relatives my sympathies. I crawled out and lay on a rock as ravens rose from the cliffs and sortied to decide on the likelihood of eating me.
On Wednesday a message came through. The local school’s retired head teacher was willing to take me in exchange for cleaning her windows and doing her gardening.
We met. She was a friendly women with many tales of her life teaching in the islands. I cleaned her windows all morning as the sea becalmed and sang with light. At lunch I returned to the hostel, packed my bags and hauled the wheelie suitcase up the hill to her home. My forth since leaving England less than two weeks ago.
Window’s Clean I turned my attention to weeding the garden. I weeded in dreich weather and fair. I weeded as the clegs came to bite. I weeded until I resembled a muddy creature from the bog and had to be hosed down. In the evenings we shared a meal and talked of life on the island.
On my day off I made it to the Loch of the Big Women, paddled my feet in the waters and left the Pictish Queens a red apple with one bite taken out of it as a gift. I got lost in mist climbing the Sgurr. I searched for otters which never revealed themselves.
When the ferry came to pick me up on Monday morning. I was sad. A friend from the Glebe Barn summed it up. “It is like we’ve been in another world.” she said. We had. A world of night skies that never quite darkened, of waking to the sound of sheep and curlews not traffic. A world where people greeted me at the dock. I knew there story and they knew mine.
Eigg is not idyllic, not lost in another century, not an easy place to live and work. It is not a toy town built for tourists but inhabited by real people and in many ways ahead of the rest of the world. It is beautiful to be sure but what I will miss most are the deep peace that comes when the cars are left behind on the mainland and how easy it is to feel part of a community when you are all on an island only 4 miles long.
It is a place which I already have plans to return to.