The Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna by Ray Perman

Re-writing the last chapter

Two years ago the final chapter was full of hope.

Happy news for me – The Man Who Gave Away His Island has nearly sold out in hardback and large format paperback and will reprint next year as a standard paperback –  is tinged with sadness with the decision of Aart and Amanda to leave the island.


Aart talking to visitors outside Gille Brighde


The reprint gives me a chance to tidy up a few typos and mistakes and include the map which was missed from the first edition, but the publisher also wants a new postscript bringing the story of Canna up to date.

Two years ago I wrote a final chapter full of optimism and hope. The island has always had ups and downs, but in 2010, having come through tragedy and trauma, it looked as though it was set for a prolonged period of growth and calm. The farm was in good heart, the school had four pupils with two younger children promising continuity for the future, Tighard was doing good business as a guest house and the tea room was being reopened as a restaurant.

One of my final research trips for the book coincided with the visit of Aart and Amanda to look at the island and be interviewed by the community. It was November 5 and we met over the bonfire and barbeque. Later I travelled back to Mallaig with them on the ferry and they were anxious to know what the islanders thought of them. I told them what I knew: they were front runners so far, but there were still two couples to be seen.

I met them again the following Spring, when they had been selected and arrived on Canna. Aart and his father, over from Holland, were hard at work refitting the tearoom. Amanda was settling into the ‘new house’ on the shore and making plans. A year later, with the book published, I returned to the island to give a thank-you party for the whole population in the now named Gille Brighde restaurant. It was a great evening.

Despite setbacks – like their house burning down – Aart and Amanda appeared to be creating a long-term business and a new life for themselves. The restaurant has thrived, making great use of local produce and drawing a loyal clientele from visitors and yachtsmen and women. But under the surface tensions were building, to be finally triggered by the departure of the Uneys.

Amanda has confirmed what many of their friends had feared: their decision is made. The damage to the island and the National Trust for Scotland of continued upheaval and stories in newspapers is too great to overlook. Major donors are starting to ask whether their money is being used effectively.

I am not going to comment on the reasons for the departures, except to repeat that the loss of 12 adults and six children over the past two years needs thorough and impartial investigation – preferably by an outsider. The stewardship by the trust of the island and the legacy of John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw looks badly wanting.