The Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna by Ray Perman

Category: Extracts (page 1 of 2)

Join the Sea League

An old rowing boat high and dry on the beach at Barra

Change can be painfully slow.  A new conservation campaign, the Our Seas Coalition, is calling for trawlers to be banned from fishing within three miles of Scotland’s shoreline.  Almost 90 years ago John Lorne Campbell was campaigning for sustainable fishery in Scottish waters. 

Decades ahead of his time, John – the man who gave his island to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981 – saw trawling as a threat to sustainability. Now, almost 25 years after his death, the NTS is part of a campaign to reinstate a three-nautical-mile ban which was lifted in 1984.

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Canna whisky tasting

When I was researching John’s story I came across unopened bottles of long-forgotten brands of whisky in his desk, relics of the SS Politician which foundered on Eriskay in 1941. Now, revising The Man Who Gave Away his Island for a new paperback edition, I am intrigued to find how often whisky works its way into the book. Perhaps that’s not surprising. As Addicted to Pleasure, Brian Cox’s diligently researched documentary records, Scottish history is saturated with uisge beatha, which no doubt accounts for the potent blend of fact and fantasy in so many stories.   Read more

Midsummer wedding and burial on Canna

misty view across Canna

In the bleak midsummer

On another bleak midsummer John’s remains returned to Canna. By poetic coincidence his coffin made the journey on the Loch Nevis in the company of a wedding party. And now long friends of Canna, Gordon and Julie Galloway return to the island every June to celebrate their anniversary.

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A short story for Valentine’s Day

There was an inevitability about the meeting of John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw; their paths and their interests had been intertwining for years. Several times they had been in the same place at the same time, but had not met until a wet night in 1934, when he took the Lochearn to South Uist to address a meeting of the Sea League.  Read more

Who can tell the place of his dying?

In the morning, John had been netting moths in the garden. The day was warm enough to have lunch outside, but at the start of the meal he interrupted Margaret to point out a butterfly. As he did so he slumped to the table, dying instantly from a heart attack. He was five months short of his ninetieth birthday.

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Solving the conundrum of Canna House

“The happy accumulation” of Canna House moved Kathleen Raine to poetry.  In many ways the room her poem describes is still the same – ashtrays are empty and friendly bottles gone but books, pictures and owl lamp are still there, symbols of full lives and personal quirks.   But this is not the kind of ‘visitor experience’ members of the National Trust for Scotland are used to. And indeed it poses a problem for the Trust.

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