Site Meter

Monday, November 19, 2007

Island Fever

An enterprising soul has just completed his quest to visit (and sleep on) every one of Scotland’s 162 substantial offshore islands. You can read about his exploits here, but an All You Can Eat session on wikipedia, armed only with a list of the islands’ names, yielded some of the following information.

Natives of Scotland’s most famous abandoned island, St Kilda, disdained fishing, because of the heavy seas, preferring to live on a diet of gannet and fulmar.

Informed that Bonny Prince Charlie had fled to St Kilda after the battle of Culloden, crown forces travelled there to see for themselves, and found the natives ignorant not only of the prince’s existence but also of King George.

In four centuries of recorded St Kildan history, no islander is known to have fought in a war or committed a serious crime.

Mingulay, in the Bishop’s Isles, would seem a good candidate for a Paul Muldoon rhyme for ‘Mengele’, should he ever find himself in need of such a thing.

The population of North Rona, an even more remote outpost than St Kilda, was wiped out by black rats in 1685. The rats themselves were subsequently wiped out by their inability to hunt along the island’s shores, so large were its tidal swells. Extremely inconveniently for an island community, you might think, North Rona possesses no natural beach whatever.

Soay, another constituent island of St Kilda, is formed of a ‘breccia of gabbro and dolerites’.

St Brenhilda, sister of St Ronan, retreated to the uninhabited island of Sula Sgeir, and was found dead in a bothy there with a shag’s nest in her ribcage.

Stanley Kubrick used the notoriously Sabbatarian island of Harris for scenes of the surface of Jupiter in 2001 A Space Odyssey. There is no connection between sabbatarianism and Kubrick's choice of Harris as a Jupiter lookalike.

Gruinard island was selected by the MoD in 1942 for an experiment into the effects of anthrax on sheep, with a view to the possible step-up from sheep to Germans, should that prove necessary. The island remained off-limits to visitors until 1990. Among the experiment's findings was that anthrax does indeed kill sheep.

A special dispensation under the Wild Birds Protection Act allows fishermen from the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis to pursue the ancient ‘guga’ hunt every year, in which up to 2000 juvenile gannets are speared and decapitated in the name of the time-honoured, disgusting diet of native North Ronans.

The three inhabitants of Gairsay, in the Orkneys, get to issue their own stamps.

The present-day remotest inhabited island in the United Kingdom, Foula, was also the last place on which the extinct North Germanic language of Norn was spoken.

The island of Shillay is enjoyed in splendid human-free isolation by a population of wild cats.

No comments: