A Rum do: the butterfly that never was

Previously extinct, the Large Blue butterfly has enjoyed its best summer for many years. A report in  The Guardian stirs a memory of a much earlier sighting of the rare Maculinea arion in the unlikely setting of the Hebrides, which John Lorne Campbell diligently exposed as a fraud.

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John Lorne Campbell’s last journey home

Another stormy summer solstice stirs memories. Nine years ago John Lorne Campbell’s body was returned to the Island of Canna for burial in the woodland he had planted near Canna House. That much was planned well in advance but like many island stories it had taken unexpected twists and turns on a long journey home from Italy. Continue reading

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Muck: an island community enterprise

I have been passing Muck on the ferry for more than 30 years, but never managed to set foot on it until recently. It is such a lovely island and such a vibrant community, I wish I had landed years ago.

Muck is half the size of Canna, but has managed to maintain its population at around 40 for fifty years – whereas Canna’s has halved in that time. The flexible attitude of the MacEwan family who own it, is a large part of the reason. If someone wants to do something – build a house, keep stock, start a business – the answer is generally ‘yes,’ with no demand for extra rent. Continue reading

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A matter of trust: the enduring history of Canna

How delighted John Lorne Campbell would have been to find – nearly 20 years after his death and more than 30 after first publication – that his book Canna, The Story of a Hebridean Island, is still in print. Continue reading

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Margaret Fay Shaw: a life and life’s work worth celebrating

This year brings the tenth anniversary of the death of Margaret Fay Shaw, surely one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century, and a life – and a life’s work – worth celebrating. Continue reading

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A country built aslant: exploring Scotland’s fault line

I was born in Islington – a very different place in 1947 than it is now – but I had never been particularly proud of the fact until I heard Alistair Moffat at the Lennoxlove Book Festival, talking about his new book Britain’s Last Frontier, A Journey Along the Highland Line. The London borough, he told us, played a big part in the success of the whisky industry.  Continue reading

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Little Bird comes home

It was very fitting that A Little Bird Blown Off Course, the musical tribute to Margaret Fay Shaw devised and performed by Fiona Mackenzie, should have premiered on South Uist, the island where she started her work and her lifelong love of the Hebrides, and finished its first run on Canna, the island which was her home for 70 years. Continue reading

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A Little Bird Blown off Course


Great news that A Little Bird Blown off Course, a new piece of music–theatre by Gaelic singer Fiona Mackenzie celebrating the life and Gaelic song collection of Margaret Fay Shaw, is to be performed in the islands and Highlands as part of the Blas Festival next month.

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Canna is magic

Thanks for highlighting Canna. Some of my best moments in the Trust.

Canna House garden weaves a spell over everyone who visits it but it is not always obvious how much devoted work goes on behind the scenes. I am delighted to publish this tribute to the Thistle Camps, the dedicated volunteers of the National Trust for Scotland who have played such an important part in restoring the garden.  Now over to Jan Haenraets, landscape architect and former NTS Head of Gardens. Continue reading

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Tall tales: history in a vertical plane

As a historian in an age when history was still dominated by studies of ‘Great Men’ and battles, John was ahead of his time in paying attention to the lives of ordinary people recounted in their own words. Continue reading

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