Canna stories

The name John Lorne Campbell provokes reminiscences in all sorts of people. Visiting Canna is an unforgettable experience and anyone who was lucky enough to meet John and Margaret while they were there has a story to tell.  This section of the blog is for you to share memories and anecdotes.  Let’s begin.

Michael Gibson, chair of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, calls to tell me that he knew John because they were both breeders of pedigree Highland cattle and used to meet regularly at shows and sales. Michael knew Canna well and had visited John and Margaret in Canna House.

The herd was actually started by Margaret after the war, while John was away recovering from a nervous breakdown. At first he was scathing about it, claiming that the Highlanders had been bred for hair and horns rather than meat and she would never make any money. But in time he came round. The herd did make money and John used to delight in giving the calves Gaelic names.

Donald Macinnes, chief executive of Scotland Europa, mentioned the book at the members’ meeting in Glasgow and one of the participants approached me at lunchtime. He was active in the Islands Book Trust and knew of John not only through his own books, but the works of others he published or rescued. These included the work of Fr Allan Macdonald of Eriskay, the Coddy’s stories from Barra, the life story of farm worker Angus MacLellan, originally from South Uist, and the memoirs of an English schoolmaster, catapulted from the Midlands to the very different world of the Hebrides in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the books John first published at his own expense have been republished by Birlinn, my own publisher.

Donald himself gets an acknowledgement in the book as one of my guides in Gaelic. Being born on the island of Scarp, he speaks perfect Harris Gaelic. I don’t speak the language at all, but Donald says that would still put me ahead of most Lewismen.

Catherine Macleod, most recently Alistair Darling’s press secretary at the Treasury, is indirectly responsible for me writing the book – or at least she must take credit for me meeting John in the first place.

Catherine was the editor of North Seven (the magazine of the Highlands and Islands Development Board) who commissioned me to write the article on ferry policy which took me to Canna in 1977. But she had left North Seven by the time my piece was rejected. I met her at a dinner recently and she told me of another JLC connection. Her father had been the policeman in Mallaig and John used to send his sheep dip returns to him – written in Gaelic of course.

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