My family has been visiting this Inner Hebrides isle for more than a century, but for now I can enjoy its peace and ease only in my mind
Lambing has started on Tiree, a friend there told me this morning. After another brutal, gale-pummelled winter, the little island is waking up. The machair, the great grass carpet that covers almost everything, has cowslips, primroses and wild hyacinths pushing up at the spring sun. But I can’t go. Caledonian MacBrayne won’t let outsiders on the ferry. My friend, self-isolating in her family’s croft, suggests a Facebook site that has video of an afternoon at a favourite beach: “Lie in your garden, close your eyes, listen to the sea and pretend.”
As you approach it, the island hardly seems to be there at all. “The land beneath the waves” is just one of the old names for Tiree, a 10-mile scrap of dune, rock and grass to the west of Mull on the far edge of the Inner Hebrides. It does seem not much more than a wisp, a dream of an island, a piece of flotsam in the vastness of the Atlantic. There is nothing west of it until Newfoundland, 2,000 miles away. But when the ferry shoulders alongside Gott Bay pier, the place is real enough, though constructed mainly of fly-away things – fine sand, grass, wildflowers. Its most solid features are the sheep and the 600-odd hardy, friendly souls who live there, and the wind.