A mere hop, skip and jump from Mull will land you on Ulva. An island with ancestral links to David Livingstone, known in the past as ‘Wolf island’, and the scene of sweeping Clearances. To this day Ulva is as culturally fascinating as it is wildly beautiful.
North West Mull Community Woodland Company became the owners of Ulva in July 2019, and from the outset their aim was to encourage social and economic development for the benefit of the community.
Their ambitions will benefit hugely from receiving £812,682 from the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund (NCHF), £212,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £194,090 from the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. This money allows work to begin on spreading the word about Ulva’s rich history through the creation of an ambitious new visitor centre in Ulva House.
The centre will certainly tell the story on the ground, but thanks to a strong digital approach the community will also speak to virtual visitors around the globe. The interpretation and education centre will make the story of Ulva, and its people, accessible to audiences who otherwise might never hear of, let alone visit, Ulva.
The built heritage itself is worthy of a chapter in any cultural update.
Ulva House is a Grade B Listed building, it may only date back to the 1950s (there were other Ulva Houses before this one) but it was designed by the famous Scottish architect, Leslie Grahame-Thomson. There are two other Grade B listed buildings on Ulva – the Kirk and the Manse – both of which have design links to Thomas Telford.
Telford’s isn’t the only famous name to feature in Ulva’s history. The ‘father of Australia’, General Lachlan MacQuarie was born on Ulva and there should be space too to mention Dr Johnson and James Boswell who visited in October 1773 during their intrepid travels. But it is the tale of the ordinary Ulva residents which carries deepest human interest – fishing, ferries, and farming have long been the heart-beat of this island.
Clearances loom large over the history of Ulva. The island fell into the grasp of the notorious Francis William Clark in 1845. He carried out a vigorous and sweeping series of clearances which saw the population of Ulva fall from 570 in 1841 to just 53 souls by 1881. Today the ruins of 16 abandoned townships stand testament to the relentless clearances.
Whilst visitors reflect on the past, residents will concentrate on future growth and sustainability. In what is often perceived as a remote and rugged area, creating jobs, whilst supporting local community businesses and services, is a constant challenge.
The rich natural history of the area should help. Otters, seals, orchids, sea eagles, hen harriers, golden eagles the slender Scotch Burnet Moth, these are just a few of the ‘local residents’ that are bound to captivate and draw visitors. With a mixture of habitats ranging from coast to moorland to woodland, there is something for everyone with an interest in natural history.
A research project with the University of the Highlands and Islands will investigate further the story of the people of Ulva. They will be busy. This is an island with a fascinating history. And whether it is nature or history that provides the spark, one thing is sure, Ulva will remain a gem in the crown of Scottish islands.