Returning from the Outer Hebrides in August we had planned to spend a day exploring Tanera Mor, the main island of the Summer Isles. The Summer Isles is a group of about 20 skerries and islands which lie off the Coigach Peninsula in north west Scotland. Tanera Mor is the largest at 800 acres and the only one which is permanently inhabited.
As we sailed into the shelter of Badentarbat Bay in warm summer sunshine, the strains of "Highland Cathedral" came floating over the water. The musician, we later discovered, was Murray, a 10 year old piper who was spending the summer in one of the holiday homes on the island. It was an unexpected but much appreciated welcome.
The Vikings were also attracted by the islands sheltered harbour and it was they who named the island Tanera, the Gaelic addition of Mor (‘big’) to distinguish it from its neighbour Tanera Beag (‘small’ Tanera) coming later. In the 18th century, the island was the centre of a thriving herring fishing industry and by early 20th century the population was as high as 120, but many of the men joined the highland regiments in the First World War and never returned.
The naturalist, Frank Fraser Darling lived on the island from 1938 to 1944. His ambition was to demonstrate to society how it was possible to live a sustainable life in harmony with nature, rather than in competition with it. Since his departure in 1965 many of the island’s derelict cottages and buildings have been restored and let as holiday accommodation whilst facilities for boating, sailing and fishing have also been provided. Tourism has been a feature of island life ever since, sitting alongside commercial fish farming as the two main economic activities still alive today.
Motoring ashore in the rib, we watched a number of the island's Hebridean sheep trotting along the shoreline towards the café and post office which was just opening its doors. The Summer Isles became a fully fledged postal authority in 1970 and prints its own postage stamps, so a spot of postcard shopping seemed in order. Tanera Mor is also the only Scottish offshore island to operate a regular, year-round private postal service, with letters taken by the MV Patricia to the mainland post office in Achiltibuie for onward transmission.
With postcards sent and the chance to stretch our legs, we set out for the highest point of the island. From the top of Meall Mor, we marvelled at the panoramic views before us. Stretched out to the west upon a sparkling sea, Harris and Lewis; to the east, the four towering peaks of Quinag, Suilven, Canisp and Stac Pollaidh, rising up in all their sheer and jagged glory.
With images of such outstanding beauty fresh in our minds, it was a weary but contented party that returned to Moonshadow that afternoon. Murray tuned up his pipes again as we departed the anchorage, this time he gave us "Happy Birthday" in honour of one of our guests whose birthday we were celebrating that very day. As we settled down to dinner that evening, conversation turned to what we would each like to do with the island, which was up for sale at the very reasonable price of £2.5 million.
And before you ask, yes we did pay the piper!
By Pauline Taylor
Moonshadow Yacht Charter LTD