Rum belongs to a very rich & fast young man, by name George Bullough who is hardly ever there but he is building a large and very pretentious fine red sandstone house with dozens of rooms, and a long carriage drive.

The holiday diary of Viola May on the new Canna Local History website gives fascinating glimpses of island life more than 100 years ago.  In most ways this is a very different world. At times you have to remind yourself these are the private thoughts of a young woman who is 20 years old.

Viola May often seems much younger (or is that because the name itself sounds as fresh and innocent as a spring day?) Her 1899 visit to Canna has echoes of Little Women. She spends an idyllic afternoon on Sanday beach fishing for prawns in her petticoat and a happy evening talking with her friend Mabel about their ‘favourite chapters of Isaiah’. She enjoys the sound of bagpipes played by her host Allan Thom on a distant hill, “They are even more delightful from a distance”.

The young woman running barefoot across the white sands of Sanday is the daughter of an artist, George Joy, and her island views are full of colour: black rocks and golden seaweed, pink Rum sunset and silver sea .

But there are also perceptive and revealing comments on island life and social structure. The rich and fast, ‘hardly ever there’ young Bullough is the kind of playboy John despised – the destructive legacy of absentee landlords was the reason he bought Canna in the first place and the reason he decided to leave the island to the safer keeping of the National Trust for Scotland.

Sir George Bullough also rears his head in John’s biography, at six feet eight inches tall he’s almost literally as well as metaphorically larger than life.  The young George inherited the island from his father John in 1891 and he  made a name for himself in fantasy and folly on a grand scale (as documented by Rum’s definitive historian John Love in A Landscape Without Figures) including some bold inventions. Kinloch Castle was lit by one of Britain’s first hydro-electric schemes decades before estate workers had electric light in their homes. And the sumptuously furnished building  boasted the last word in entertainment – an ‘orchestrion’, an electrically driven barrel organ, could play a selection of popular hits of the day as well as classical pieces such as the Ride of the Valkyries.

But Viola May adds a  vivid first hand  account of life in the castle with colourful detail about Bullough’s vineries and banana trees and the 14 turtles ‘who have a hot sea bath pumped up for them every day’. [The rest of Viola May’s diary is well worth reading on the Canna Local History website]

These days Rum concentrates on native wildlife. After the island was gifted to the Nature Conservancy Council (now Scottish Natural Heritage) in 1950, John co-ordinated his conservation programme for Canna with theirs for Rum. Now there is lots of co-operation in the wildlife protection programme and the year-long bird survey necessary before the Canna community can get permission for a wind generator, is being carried out by one of the scientists from Rum.

Future innovations as well as historical ones on the islands!