Taransay sunset

Summer sunset over Taransay, from Luskentyre

SO, Ben Fogle is keen to buy the ‘castaway’ Hebridean island of Taransay. I hope he’s successful.  He is one person likely to ensure it remains what it is, a small jewel of isolation in our increasingly crowded world.

I have been fortunate to visit it on several occasions as a result of family ties, and have fished its little lochs each time. For the trout angler it certainly offered fishing of the wildest possible kind. On the last occasion, just a few summers ago, I and a companion both caught a glimpse of a huge golden flank turning on the surface of Loch an Duin, the 30-acre water about 45 minutes walk uphill across the massive metamorphic slabs of gneiss and quartzite that straddle the landscape.

Loch an Duin, Taransay

Taransay's Loch an Duin: '. . . a glimpse of a huge golden flank, turning on the surface . . .'

The fish was too far out for us to reach casting and we guessed might have been a large ferox, briefly up for some of the much smaller fry which, as you should expect, abound in a natural fishery. It never reappeared that day, but it did quicken the pulses and added to the excitement of simply being fortunate again to sample an extraordinary island with its own unique charisma and magnetism.

My first visit was in 1996 just after Harris-based historians Bill and Chris Lawson published their study of the island. It was an unforgettable solo trip to a true Hebridean field of dreams which had still to achieve celebrity status as television’s ‘Castaway’ island. Uninhabited at that time for most of the year, its isolation hid a beguiling aura which it cast over visitors – like being wrapped in a Gaelic kaleidoscope of colours, sights and sounds, intermingled with spirits from bygone ages.

Around 1830 it supported a population of more than 200 in three separate villages. There were grain mills. Sheep and cattle grazed on the fertile machair. But the ruling Campbell landlords ensured that no-one owned a yard of soil or a single head of livestock. History took its inexorable toll and the last inhabitant struggled on into the 1970s.

Theirs was a futile cottar’s existence trying to coax fertility out of the acid soil;  the remains of corrugated feannagan heaped with seaweed and humus and dung are still quite evident.

In the peat bogs and wetlands today, the natural harvests are bog cotton, thrift, moss campion, purple saxifrage, and spahgnum mosses. The sinister sundew proliferates too, fed by the rich insect life which they devour.

But between the huge prehistoric stone pavements lie acres of machair stretching down to pure white shell-sand beaches.  In summer the turf is awash with buttercups, daisies, primroses, clover and eyebright. Bumble bees and butterflies vie with lark and lapwing for rights to the airways. Among the dunes, deep-rooted marram grass lays a foundation for sea rocket, curled dock and bird’s-foot trefoil.  Nature knows no silence, but you can hear the peace.

That summer’s day 15 years ago, which included a skinny dip from the beach in water so cold it took my breath – and all of my manly vanity – away, was disappointing in angling terms.  I was keen to find Loch Starabraigh which my Ordnance Survey map suggested had a river connection to the sea.  Sadly any sign of a river had long since disappeared and the loch was empty and stagnant.

A small complaint perhaps. Taransay has much more to offer than just a little fishing. Nature has not bestowed an untapped harvest of record-breaking trout on the island’s lochs. But it has delivered a special wilderness bearing its own unique bounty.

Its 3500 acres contains some of the oldest rock formations in the country. They attracted the attention of atomic energy scientists nearly 40 years ago as a potential site for storing nuclear waste. Permission for test bores was sought – and refused.

Let’s hope its new owners are just as vigilant, protective and far-sighted.  For all our futures.

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