Everytime we drive over the bridge to The Isle of Syke and pass the sign for the Gavin Maxwell Museum we say to ourselves, "we really must visit this place sometime". We both remember as children watching the Ring of Bright Water and being deeply moved by Gavin's story of his love of otters and life in The Highlands. So one sunny day in June 2017 we headed out from Mallaig over the seas to Skye to visit the museum and get a better insight into the life of Gavin Maxwell.
The Museum is situation on the wee Island of Eilean Bàn, midway between the mainland and the Isle of Skye, and is open Monday to Friday during the summer season for pre-booked tours. Gavin Maxwell, bought the cottages on Eilean Bàn in 1963, though only moved into them in 1968 after fire tragically destroyed his cottage at Sandaig (Camusfearna). In the intervening time, Gavin renovated the cottages and together with his friend Richard Frere, created the dramatic 40ft space known as the Long Room. The room was recreated by Virginia McKenna (who acted in both Born Free and Ring of Bright Water) and is now a fitting tribute to Gavin Maxwell's story.
We phoned ahead to check that the tour was taking place and to reserve our places before leaving Mingarry Lodges on our day trip. We caught an early morning ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on The Isle of Skye having purchased our ferry tickets the day before on the Calmac website. Mallaig is around 45 minutes drive from Mingarry Lodges and you need to arrive at the ferry 20 minutes before departure to check in and pick up your tickets. A return ticket for a car with two passengers is currently £31.
After spending the morning touring the south of Skye we headed up the A851 to Kyleakin, a journey of around 30 minutes from Armadale, in time to pick up our tickets (£7 each) from the Bright Water Visitor Centre by the harbour. Whilst at the visitor centre, we had a quick look around the interesting displays and exhibits and the small shop. The harbour by the Bright Water Visitor Centre overlooks Castle Moil, which according to local legend was built by a Norse Princess nicknamed 'Saucy Mary' . The scenic harbour is a great place to look out for otters fishing both in the harbour amongst the fishing boats and on the shoreline.
Our tour was led by Lesley who met us by the gated entrance to Eilean Bàn on The Skye road bridge at 14:00. Lesley is one of the volunteers who stay on the Eilean Bàn during the summer months and is currenly an administrator for the The Gavin Maxwell Society Facebook Group. Eilean Bàn covers six acres and has nature trails, a wildlife hide, a sensory garden, the Stevenson Lighthouse and keepers cottages (now the Gavin Maxwell Museum). We were joined by two other participants on the tour on this lovely sunny afternoon. We started in the sensory garden visiting TEKO's grave and then headed to the Old Bothy, next to the Lighthouse Keepers' Cottages, which houses memorabilia connected to the lighthouse.
We then visited the Long Room in the Old Lighthouse Keepers' Cottages which houses various artefacts from Gavin's life, including numerous paintings, photos, memoriablia from his wartime service with the SOE, and a writing desk complete with the first hand written page of the manuscript for Ring of Bright Water. The tour was unhurried, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly and the guide was knowledgeable about Maxwell's life and keen to share stories.
We next headed onto the 70ft lighhouse (designed by David and Thomas Stevenson and built in 1857) which nestles under the Skye road bridge. We ascended the narrow spiral stairway and climbed near vertical ladders to reach the old light chamber with its amazing multi coloured windows. Great views with interesting photo opportunities...
Heading back along the nature trails we stopped off briefly at the wildlife hide on the north of the island to look for otters and other local wildlife. We spent approximately two hours on Eilean Bàn leaving us plenty of time to return to Armadale to pick up our return ferry.
All in all, a great day out from Mingarry Lodges.