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The Summer Isles

The Summer Isles (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Samhraidh) are an archipelago lying in the mouth of Loch Broom. An archipelago, sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster, or collection of islands, or sometimes a sea containing a small number of scattered islands.

The islands are part of the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.

Frank Fraser Darling, an important figure in the development of Scottish conservation, lived on Tanera Mòr for two years in the 1930s. His book, Island Years (published 1940), records his time in the Summer Isles, painting Priest Island as a place of great beauty as well as great wildlife.

Since 1970 the Summer Isles Philatelic Bureau has been issuing stamps of the islands for tourists who place them on mail to be carried to the nearest GPO Post Box on the mainland.

The Summer Isles

Tanera Mòr

Tanera Mòr is the largest of the Summer Isles and was the last inhabited island in that group.

Tanera Mòr has issued its own postage stamps and was the location of Frank Fraser Darling’s book Island Years. Surviving treacherous boat journeys, a broken leg, and hell-bent storms, Fraser Darling made temporary homes with his family on some of the remotest Hebridean islands so he could study the habits of grey seals and seabirds. The family finally settled on an abandoned croft in the Summer Isles, on Tanera Mòr, and started farming the barren land.

Tanera Mòr is around 310 hectares (766 acres) and reaches a height of 124 metres (407 feet).

The highest hill is Meall Mòr (a common Scottish mountain name, meaning a “big rounded hill”). The rock is Torridonian sandstone covered with peat and pasture.

The island was a port for herring fishing, and suffered the decline of that industry. The two settlements were known as Ardnagoine and Garadheancal.
In 1881, there were no fewer than 118 people living on Tanera Mòr, all of whom had left by 1931 (one year after St Kilda was abandoned). Permanent habitation has been intermittent since then.

The island was bought in the early 1960s by Ken Frampton. In September 2012, it was revealed that the island’s owners Lizzie and Richard Williams were considering a community buyout with residents on the mainland nearby.

In June 2017, Ian Wace purchased the island for £1.7 million, far less than the £2.5 million asking price when it was put on the market in 2013. It was reported that he would oversee a four-year development of Tanera Mòr, which could become an “idyllic retreat capable of hosting up to 60 paying guests”.

Tanera Mòr is home to a salmon fish farm, several holiday cottages, a small sailing school, a café and a post office, which has operated its own local post and printed its own stamps since 1970.

The island previously had no roads and the only recognisable path went around An Acarsaid (“The Anchorage”), the sheltered bay on the east side of the island. Since 2017, the redevelopment of the island has involved the creation of several roads. Tanera Mòr, like the other Summer Isles, can be seen from the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry. The island can be reached by boat from either Achiltibuie in Wester Ross, or Ullapool.

The island’s floral diversity is strong due to the lack of grazing over the last 25 years, with northern marsh orchids and greater butterfly-orchids particularly strong.

Eurasian otters are active, whilst common and grey seals frequently visit from the other nearby Summer Isles, and basking sharks and porpoises pass by in summer. Bird species include common eider, grey heron, red grouse, and common buzzards.

The Summer Isles

Priest Island

Priest Island is a small, uninhabited island in the Summer Isles.

According to the Gazetteer for Scotland the island was an “early Christian retreat” and that it has several stone circles.

Scottish ornithologist and naturalist John Alexander Harvie- Brown visited the island on July 4, 1884, and “saw the remains of old crofts, and a curious and perfect circle of stones, lying flat on their sides with the smaller ends towards a common centre, and sunk flush with the surface of the short green sward”. Harvie-Brown noted the “highly polished surface of these nine stones when I first saw them in situ …. as if done by human hands (or feet)”.

On his second visit he found the stones gone, and on his fourth visit, in 1903, he searched for the stones in the surrounding area, collected nine he was fairly sure were the originals, and placed them in a new location but in the original plan. His drawing of the time shows a feature of circa 4m in diameter. He also noted that there were “at least two, if not more, similar stone circles … which were not far removed in distance from this principal circle, but these were of smaller dimensions and not formed with so perfectly flat stones”.

Jim Miller and John Bellord, two men on the run from the law, aided and abetted by Geoff Green, hid on Priest Island for nearly a year, from September 1975 until the summer of 1976. Their story made front-page headlines and was the subject of two television documentaries: BBC Everyman: Miller and Bellord, in 1980 and another made by Cineflix, a Canadian film company in 2008.

Eilean a’ Chleirich is owned and managed as a nature reserve by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is a SSSI and a Special Protection Area. Non-avian fauna includes pygmy shrews, otters and grey seals.
Priest Island supports heath communities and a small amount of woodland. Enrichment from salt spray and bird guano enables more species-rich maritime heath and cliff communities to exist around the coast.

The island has one of the largest Storm Petrel colonies in the UK, together with other breeding seabirds.

In the summer of 1960, a group from an English school studied some of the bird life of the island. Pupils and teachers from Whitgift School in South Croydon spent two weeks on the island with official permission to study and ring some of the birds, such as Storm Petrels at night time (netting and ringing) and Shags on the cliffs in daytime. They took a month’s supplies with them, including food, tents and equipment totalling quarter of a ton on a trek cart pulled over from Garve Station.

Storm Petrel

Storm Petrel