Easdale is one of the most unique places in Scotland. No cars, no roads and no street lamps. Imagine somewhere with no sound except the sea crashing on the dark and unforgiving shores of the island, the ever-present wind rustling the grass, and the singing of the birds. And neighbours in the rows of small white cottages chatting as they meet. Where else is the wheelbarrow the official mode of transport: with individually identified examples lying on the grass by the slipway for the small ferry, awaiting their owners' return, or parked up outside cottages?
Mid 2005 saw plans announced to replace the small ferry linking Easdale Island to Ellenabeich on neighbouring Seil with a causeway, thereby improving accessibility. The plan was overwhelmingly opposed by residents of Easdale Island, most of whom moved there because it is an island and because they like the unique character that brings. Such proposals have a habit of recurring, so Easdale must be regarded as an "endangered treasure" of Scotland: or, to put it another way, make sure you get to see it before it is changed forever.
On the face of it, a description of Easdale doesn't sound all that promising. It's a very roughly triangular island measuring maybe 600m east to west and 400m north to south. It gave its name to the Easdale Slate that began to be quarried here in the mid 1500s, and which by the 1800s had become an industry of worldwide importance. The last commercial quarrying of slate on Easdale Island was in 1911, and since then nature has been left to try to regain the landscape.
But it hasn't got very far. There seems scarcely a land surface that has not in some way been altered by the quarrying operations, leaving evidence in the form of many deep quarries, now filled in by remarkably clear water, linked together by slate spoil. Even the island's hill, which reaches a height of 122ft and provides a magnificent viewpoint, looks to have been sculpted by quarrying into a shape that nature never intended.
Who would want to live on an island that is effectively a post-industrial wasteland, a landscape of water-filled quarries, of slate, and of dark grey rock? Well, actually, quite a few people. The population in 1931, 20 years after commercial slate quarrying ended, had fallen to 78. By 1961 it had fallen much further, to 16, and showed every sign of dwindling to nothing at all quite quickly. However, by 2001 the population had risen to 58, with people moving here to enjoy its differentness and its sense of community.
If you visit on a sunny day it is easy to appreciate the joys of Easdale. The picture postcard rows of cottages surrounded by grass - with few or no paths - which cluster beside the harbour are enchanting, and there is a path leading right around the island that can be walked in 20 minutes or so, often winding its way between the old quarries and giving access from the rear of the hill to the viewpoint.
It must be a rather different matter on a day when a westerly gale is bringing rain in sideways and the grey slate becomes almost black under dark clouds. It is often said that Scotland's moods swing more with the weather than any other country in the world. It may be true: and it is especially true of the Slate Islands and of Easdale Island in particular. But even on a dark and wet day this is an island with a really nice pub, the Puffer Bar, that does excellent food and drink; a community centre; and a folk museum.
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