In January this year I was commissioned by Avaunt Magazine to head up to Easdale Island off the west coast of Scotland – it is the smallest populated island of the Inner Hebrides, and just a short two-minute ferry from the mainland. It’s just a 45-minute flight from Bristol to Glasgow. I asked my friend Roman to join me on the trip, I needed an extra pair of hands on the shoot and we’d been meaning to catch up, so he flew from Czech over to Glasgow. We picked up a hire car and drove the three hours it takes to reach the car park next to the ferry.
There is one B&B on the island (population 59), so we stayed with Ruth. Over the four days she cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner given that there were no other options for being fed nearby at that time of year. Ruth kept two excitable spaniels, two hairy mangalitsa pigs and a handful of hawks. In the evenings we would pop over the pub on the mainland – drinking time was hinged around the ferry times.
The weather was bad, everyone we met said ‘you should come back in May’. The first morning was so wet that my waterproof boots lost the will to live – they didn’t dry out until we left and a spaniel demolished my insole. Ruth lent me some spare wellies, Roman lent me his del-boy jacket. One of the highlights of the trip was nearly getting stuck up the hill that overlooks the island from the mainland – the sun went down abruptly on us, and we could no longer see our route up the hill. Sheer drops all around, or at lest that’s how it felt. The sheep laughed at us as I slid down the side of a hill on my arse. I had lost my cable release on the way down, and a little pride, but we were soon stood drying our sodden jeans against the pub fireplace for an hour until the ferry ran us back. The temperature, however, was surprisingly warm for the time of year. The island benefits from being in a gulf stream, so when the weather was in our favour it was an amazing island to wander and to photograph.
In the 1800s the population on Easdale Island was ten-fold what it is now, and the slate mines were thriving. Easdale slate can be found all over the world covering the rooftops of churches as far away as New Zealand. There are specks of iron in the slate that are a signature for the island. My job on the island was to give an impression of nature reclaiming the industrial landscape. Quarries on the island were as deep as 300ft in places, with a thin wall protecting them from the sea beyond. In 1881 a colossal storm put an industrial sized nail in the coffin, filling many of them with seawater and instigating the decline of slate mining in Scotland. By 1960 Easdale had a population of 4.