Motherwell connection to BBC show on island life

A former Motherwell woman who runs a guesthouse on the isle of Canna is one of the stars of a documentary screening on BBC Alba tonight (Thursday)

Eilean Chanaigh/Summer on Canna will give a heart-warming insight into how the close community lives and works together.

The westernmost of the Small Isles archipelago in the Inner Hebrides, Canna has only 16 residents living across 10 households, no schoolchildren and a lack of easy access to the mainland.

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This documentary spends a summer with the residents to find out what life is like for them and how they cope with the challenges island life throws at them, from weather to water supply.

The harbour is the heart of the community, bringing yachts, ferries and visitors, and there’s even a priest who comes four times a year on ferry from Mallaig to celebrate Mass in the chapel.

Midas Media producer Patricia Macleod, who made the programme, said: “Tourism is a vital part of their economy and they attract around 15,000 visitors each season from around the world. Ferries come five times a week in the summer and only twice a week in the winter.

“At the height of summer, there can be upwards of 30 yachts per day coming into the sheltered bay. There is a community shop with an honesty box because there’s no shopkeeper, one café, a B&B, a campsite, and a handful of self-catering accommodation and a very strong community spirit.”

Fiona Hutton, originally from Motherwell, manages the only B&B on the island, Tighard Guest House, on her own.

The house belonged to the Thom family from 1881 until 1938 when Gaelic folklorists John Lorne Campbell and his American-born wife Margaret Fay Shaw bought the island.

Fiona has been running the guest house since moving from Duror, Appin, near Glencoe, in 2018 and has hens who lay eggs and grows vegetables for her guests to eat.

She said: “Canna is just beautiful. I love the isolation but it doesn’t feel like I’m miles away from everything.

“Sometimes I do feel lonely, in winter, but I absolutely love it here and don’t want to leave ever.”

John and Margaret lived in Canna House until they died, and the National Trust for Scotland now owns the island.

Canna House has a rich collection of historically important archives and the current archivist Fiona Mackenzie is featured in the programme with her husband Donald, the harbourmaster.

They carry on a tradition started by Margaret and John – to fly an American flag every July 4 for Independence Day.

Other residents featured are postmistress Anna Rothach, who moved to Canna six years ago from near Fort William, and also runs a graphic design business, Graficanna.

She met her schoolteacher fiancé, Martin Merrick, when he came to be a teacher on the island, but when the one family with children moved away he found work on Eigg.

The documentary also meets farm manager Geraldine Mackinnon, who was born on the island, and her partner Murdo Jack, National Trust for Scotland rangers Mike Butler and Gillian Gibson, and Café Canna owner Gareth Cole, who came from Aberdeenshire and lives in London off-season.

The island is also home to around 2000 puffins and 10,000 seabirds that are part of the national Seabird Monitoring Programme which is carried out by a team of Highland-based volunteers that have visited Canna twice a year since 1969.

Eilean Chanaigh/Summer on Canna is broadcast at 9pm and will be available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days