"Don't camp outdoors, or the cows will trample you."
October 2, 2022 6:53 AM   Subscribe

The trip to Rose Cottage is Cal Flyn's account of a trip to Swona, a remote Scottish island that was abandoned in 1974. A herd of cattle has been running wild there for decades.

Videos of a visit to Swona in 2000 and a history of the island capture its peaceful desolation. If you're ever sailing due west of Burwick in Orkney, why not stop by for a visit yersel'?
posted by rory (7 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I've read this as a chapter in the book Islands of Abandonment, which has lots of other stories about interesting abandoned places.
posted by easternblot at 7:37 AM on October 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

> But the cattle’s presence is having a positive effect on the island’s ecology: by cropping the grass short, the cattle have created a lush, beautiful wildflower meadow right across the island, and it now has Site of Special Scientific Interest status.

This is a surprising take. I wonder if this "positive effect" exists chiefly in the minds of people who forgot that the British isles had loads of trees before they were all chopped down for human reasons.
posted by serif at 8:12 AM on October 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Fascinating, thank you! One detail I noticed in the set of coincidences that led to this herd of cattle: there aren't sheep because they succumbed to liver fluke. But the cattle were treated with a de-wormer, which got them through.
posted by thandal at 8:13 AM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Fascinating, thanks rory. That main article's so well written, so evocative of the slipping away of time and the accretion of age (and the chilling image of the tent upstairs, maybe occupied, maybe not - ewf!).

It reminds me of a trip I once made to River Island, in the Falklands. The Falklands are pretty isolated for starters. If you leave the only town, Stanley, for the rural areas across East Falkland, even more so. If you then leave East Falkland for West Falkland, it's further flung still - there are just isolated farm settlements with half a dozen or a dozen or so families. If you then leave one of the settlements, Port Howard, and drive off road for long enough, you'll reach Purvis, a lone house by a sand beach - once occupied by shepherds. One of them, George Llamosa, born in 1893, lived there alone a while, and the story goes that one night he thought he was going to die, so he - just like the Rosies - let all his animals out to roam, and lay down with his arms neatly crossed on his chest. Only much to his surprise, George woke up the next morning and then he had to go off and chase down all his bloody animals (not the sheep - they were already roaming wild - they always do).

Anyhow. Purvis is still used occasionally by shepherds but just for a night or two as they move the sheep that still roam free, gather them en masse for lamb-marking or shearing. And as if it weren't remote enough, you can go further. There's a boatshed there, and if you're lucky enough to be with the right people, you can pull the boat out and cross the lagoon to River Island. There's an old shepherd's house there, too, with a calendar still set to a year in the 1950s and piles of magazines from the same decade by the beds. And unlike Rose Cottage on Swona, it's wind and watertight, and so it really - just really - feels like time has ceased to move there, and the Queen has just taken to the throne, and a fella in woollen clothes, who's never heard of synthetics, is going to come in from chasing sheep on horseback any minute now, hang up his coat, and stoke the peat in the Raeburn.

That aside - I watched the first video from the 'more inside' and found myself fascinated by the narrator's accent. I assume it's an Orkney accent, but it has so much in common with Newcastle/north east of England. For example, 'wir' instead of 'our', and so many other turns of accent and phrase. A Viking influence that skipped much of the rest of Scotland and hit Orkney and Tyneside, I wondered? But then started reading this about the Geordie accent which debunks that (I think - I got a bit lost!) and gave up.

Also: The main article rather glides over the two sisters who just 'got married and left' without explaining where they found husbands if they lived on the island until nuptials beckoned!
posted by penguin pie at 3:17 PM on October 2, 2022 [10 favorites]

Needs more Farmer Derek.
posted by y2karl at 2:11 AM on October 3, 2022

This is a surprising take. I wonder if this "positive effect" exists chiefly in the minds of people who forgot that the British isles had loads of trees before they were all chopped down for human reasons.

How much of that land was forested and how much was meadow-land or scrub is actually a bit of an open question in European ecology in general. In particular, there are certain plants (including oak trees), the pollen and other records of which don't seem to be consistent with everything being trees between County Kerry and the Urals.

Restoring large grazing animals is a project really promoted by the people who fall on the "meadow" side of that debate.
posted by atrazine at 3:32 AM on October 4, 2022

fuar fliuch imnioch ocrach anróch "cold wet anxious hungry miserable" was status-normal for fisherfolk off the West coast of Ireland. That's according to Diarmaid Ferriter's On The Edge Ireland's off-shore islands: a modern history [2018] which I read this Summer while sofa-bound [warm and dry] in a cottage on the west coast of Ireland. In 1841 [first national census] 34,000 people lived on 60 islands; in 2011 only 2,000 live on the six offshore islands unconnected by bridges/causeways.
My sister spent several years living hand-to-mouth sustainably on Erraid, an island off the island of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. Eventually the horizontal rains of winter tipped the balance and she fled South. Swona must have been similar.
posted by BobTheScientist at 5:01 AM on October 4, 2022

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