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Bees, boats and gramophones

May 26, 2014

Lagandorain now has a bee-hive! I’m very excited about this and am regularly to be found standing in the willows peering at it, willing something to happen. Other than a few bees buzzing around it all seems rather quiet but then I suppose that’s how it’s supposed to be.


Friend Alan who knows about bee keeping has gone into partnership with me. He supplies the knowledge (and our first hive) and I supply the setting, the flower meadows and cups of coffee. (You could say he was the worker and I the drone…) It’s tucked up among the willows, brambles and iris’s beyond Cnoc Buie  -a lovely quiet spot and hopefully well out of the worst of the winds. It’s all very gratifying. Along with the trees that have been planting over the past twelve years have come lots of birds and beasties. The place is teeming with life. Coupled with the fabulous flower meadow in the mid parc this all now seems like a micro-heaven for bees.

It’s interesting how the introduction of one small feature can entirely change a landscape. Norman MacCaig hits this dead on in his poem ‘Intrusion of the Human’ (‘…till round the skulled headland a tiny sail loafs into view. And everything becomes its setting.’). Knowing that the little hive is there, full of life, has imperceptibly changed my perception of Cnoc Buie. It’s the bees home now and the landscape adjusts around their little presence.




Last week the Black Boat was launched (now almond white with a fetching light blue upper stake) on the day that Mulls new ‘St Ayles Skiff’ came to visit. Here is a photo of Dan and myself down at the pier. It is Dan who gets all the credit for painting her so beautifully.


If you don’t know of the St Ayles Project, google it. For years rowing has slowly been dying. I remember a few years ago being ‘rescued’ on the Forth by the RNLI because someone on the shore saw me rowing and simply presumed I was in distress. The SW of England has always had it’s gig racing (very long and very expensive rowing boats) but there has been no equivalent in Scotland. The St Ayles skiffs have filled this gap in a peculiarly Scottish way. The purpose of the project was to design a boat that could be cheaply built by any community group which could then be raced against other boats in the class. Costing about £4,000 to build they have taken off in a completely unexpected way. There are some 70 Skiffs now all round the coast with 25 or more currently being built. It’s an astonishing project and it’s the ‘small is beautiful’ and democratic nature of the thing that makes it, for me, so characteristically Scottish. It’s also something that everyone can take part in: young and old, women, men and children.




John the (boatbuilder) and Lynne came over to Iona with their Skiff and gave folk the opportunity for a row. I went out with them and with Mark and Anja and the thing fairly flew. Four rowing and one at the tiller. It was interesting to see their boat next to mine, with perhaps a hundred years separating them. Both similar yet different and both very beautiful in their ways. As George Campbell Hay put it: ‘her mood is moulded on her and the mind that made her’s in her’.  The photo below shows John taking the Black Boat for her first spin.



My gramophone has come home having been exquisitely restored by Mr Mark Gray of Glasgow.  I spent a tremendous few hours with him in his home as he fed me tea and cake and played a selection of Caruso and John McCormack on my machine. To set the scene, I sat in the centre of his sofa facing the mouth of the gramophone horn, which for various good reasons was suspended by a string from his chandelier.  You could call it an early version of ‘wrap-around’ sound. He is what in past times would have been called ‘an original’ and on the back of all this sheer nuttiness, his good companionship and after such a pleasant afternoon I have applied to joint ‘The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone society’. More to follow.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2014 7:40 pm

    Like. Very much! Good luck with the bees and the boat.

  2. May 27, 2014 5:23 pm

    Really appreciate your friendly comments about my blog! Best wishes, John.

  3. Marie permalink
    May 28, 2014 6:39 am

    Can’t wait to taste the honey, John! Good work!

  4. August 10, 2019 9:24 am

    Hi John
    I have a friend, Andrew, met only in November of this year, on a cruise around New Zealand, who is dying of terminal cancer. His grandmother was from Mull. She loved Iona but Andrew never had chance to visit. We live near Kendal and offered to put them up as part of a lifelong ambition, but, sadly, he’s in the last few days of his life. We visited Iona some years ago, but sadly, I can’t locate the old photos as I’ve changed from pc to Mac in that time. I’ve sent Andrew’s wife, Marilye, a few of your photos, with a link to your site. I hope you don’t mind.
    Best wishes
    Steve Tanham

    • August 10, 2019 11:00 am

      Hello Steve,
      Of course you can use any photo’s you like. I’m sorry to hear about your friend Andrew. I know from my own experience that it is a consolation to know that these special places and simple beauty continue though life’s vagaries.

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