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The End Of The World

With a population of 12, no cars and no way in or out except by boat, the tiny island of Ulva is a world apart.

BY TERRY WILLIAMS

"TO SUMMON ULVA FERRY UNCOVER RED PANEL"

I reached up to the sign beside the pier and slid a small wooden board from right to left, uncovering a red-painted square. Immediately, a figure emerged from a shed on the opposite shore and, less than a minute later, a small aluminium workboat was buzzing across the water toward me. Feeling rather self-conscious, I obeyed the second half of the instruction:

"AS BOAT APPROACHES RETURN BOARD TO WHITE"

Separated from the Hebridean island of Mull by just 150 metres of sea, Ulva can only be reached by boat. This is, of course, a large part of its enchantment.

Donald Munro, ferryman, is everyone's first point of contact with Ulva and surely its finest ambassador. During the two-minute crossing, I heard that he had been operating the ferry for 12 years and, on learning the reason for my visit, he proved to be a fund of information and help. At the landing place, Donald introduced me to Ulva's owner, Mrs. Howard and her son, Jamie, who manages the island. Jamie shook my hand firmly: "I have to go to Tobermory, but I'll be back this afternoon. We'll meet up later." With that, he boarded the ferry and disappeared across the sound.

I was soon drinking coffee in the sun outside the Boathouse tearoom, just a stone's throw from the jetty. The Boathouse is where all visits to Ulva begin and end.

Named Ullfur (Wolf Island) by the Vikings, the island measures just eight kilometres long by four-and-a-half wide (about five by two-and-three-quarter miles) and 313 metres at its highest point (just over 1,026 feet). It lies off the west coast of Mull, between Loch na Keal and Loch Tuath. This island off an island is indeed "a world apart" as its publicity brochure proclaims. There are no wolves on Ulva today. There are no roads, no post office, no school. Most of the population left in the mid 19th century, clearing the way for sheep. And now there are no sheep. But Ulva feels a happy place.

Twelve people live here in seven households. Everyone - whatever their age - gets gets about by quad bike. Visitors are extended a warm welcome.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2008 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Kilravock Castle by Richenda Miers.

Photos: © Terry Williams