Kintyre: the blessing of solitude or the curse of isolation?

The Sunday Times, 20.07.2008, by Tim Dawson

Sanda Island is a tiny speck of Scotland that appears to have dropped off the end of the Kintyre peninsula and is now floating towards the Isle of Man

Sanda Island is a tiny speck of Scotland that appears to have dropped off the end of the Kintyre peninsula and is now floating towards the Isle of Man. Unusually in this age of community buyouts, it could be your own little kingdom — so long as you can put up the £3.25m asking price.
The 358-acre island is 13 miles south of Campbeltown, with hills rising more than 400ft from the sea, a sheltered bay, a jetty, a lighthouse and a ruined chapel. Getting there takes about an hour by sea from Campbeltown. The sale includes a five-bedroom farmhouse, five cottages and a recently established pub.The next owner will be able to take over a 300-sheep farming business, produce their own stamps and style themselves laird of Sanda.
The tiny neighbouring islets of Grunimore and Sheep are also part of the sale. With an abundance of wildlife, all three islands have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Sanda, which on a clear day offers views of Ireland, has already generated a great deal of interest, says Farhad Vladi, the German-based island-sales specialist engaged to find the island’s next laird.“In the past 10 years, the level of interest in owning your own island has rocketed,” says Vladi, who has sold nearly 2,000 in his 30-year career.“In the world of islands, Sanda is unusual for a number of reasons — it is in a politically stable area, it is being offered effectively as a freehold and it is easily accessible and topologically interesting,” he adds.The Hamburg-based estate agent paints a compelling picture of the high-glamour world of island ownership. Just look at the celebrity club you would be joining, he says. The late Marlon Brando owned an island; Sir Richard Branson has Necker and two others; Mel Gibson and Johnny Depp own specks in the sea, as do billionaire dynasties such as the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers.Vladi rents out islands, too. In the past year, he has let islands to Sir Paul McCartney and to Larry Page, co-founder of Google, for his wedding.

“The feeling that you get on an island gives you strength,” he says. “You have the ability to control everything you see. You don't have any neighbours, what you see is all yours.
“But you also have to respond to nature and to the elements. Everything about being on an island is pharmacy for the soul. The balance in your body can be brought back so quickly on an island.”
In addition, he says, “on an island you have to improvise. If a tree falls down, you cannot just call someone.
Everything is more difficult. You have to consider weather and tides — they are the salt in the soup. “Islands are the complete opposite of the city. On the mainland, you are looked after by communities, by neighbours and by organisations. None of that is true on islands.”Sanda has been known to navigators for centuries — it is mentioned in Norse sagas and was a gathering point for Vikings. In the 18th century, the island was used by smugglers plying the waters between Ireland and Ayrshire.For half of the 20th century, Sanda was owned and run as a family farm, until it was sold to the Glaswegian bass guitarist Jack Bruce, one third of the supergroup Cream. Thereafter it passed through several hands before being bought by Meg and Dick Gannon. The couple paid £250,000 for the island in 1989.“My husband and I met on Lundy Island [in the Bristol channel], so we had the romantic idea that we would like to buy an island of our own,” says Meg. “We had been scouring Scotland for some years and, when Sanda came up, it seemed like exactly what we were looking for.”


Until then, the couple had run an antiques business and auction house in Shropshire, England. They sold their businesses, bought the island and moved with their four children to a house in Campbeltown. “It was a totally new direction for us, but our idea was to develop the farming business and run the island as a tourist destination,” says Meg.To look at the island now, it is clear they have made a success of the venture. The grazing lands are all fenced and well-looked after, and the buildings are in trim, maintained condition. When the Gannons bought the island, the lighthouse and its three cottages were still manned. Today, the lighthouse is automated, and ownership of the cottages has reverted to the island. If the lighthouse ever ceases operation, its ownership will revert, too. The biggest change of all, however, is the pub the couple opened on Sanda Island in 2003. Built almost entirely by Dick, the Byron Darnton keeps regular hours and does a surprisingly good trade from passing sailors in search of refreshment and sustenance. 
However, the couple, now in their late fifties, have decided to separate. And with none of their adult children interested in taking over the island, they have put it on the market. The couple have rather different feelings about Sanda. “Pictures never do Sanda justice,” says Meg. “It is such a beautiful, peaceful place and an amazing place to spend any time.” Dick, who has been living on Sanda for 10 months each year, has a different perspective. “Being on an island can be like doing a jail sentence. You can feel incredibly cut off from the rest of the world — save for the endless mad regulations they impose on you that makes running a business nearly impossible.” 

Once the sale goes through, Meg plans to stay in Campbeltown and run the shops and businesses that she owns in the town. Meanwhile, her soon-to-be ex-husband has renovated an old campervan and intends to search for pastures new in southwest England. Vladi, who owns two islands himself, is not wholly unfamiliar with the idea of island life as imprisonment.
“Robinson Crusoe is the original inspiration for me and anyone who cares about islands,” he says. The classic novel by Daniel Defoe was inspired by the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who, in 1704, was washed ashore on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, 400 miles off the coast of Chile. He was rescued after four years and four months alone on the island and returned to London, where his story became well known. Despite his theory about the Crusoe story, Vladi is less certain about the other motivations of those who yearn for a wave-lapped retreat. “After I sold my 100th island, I tried to find out who were my clients so that I could point my marketing in the right direction. It would have been easy if I had found out that they all had something in common, but they do not. The only common elements are that they love nature, they have some money and they are all individuals. None of them would be happy on a packed tourist beach,” he says. There are beaches aplenty on Sanda, but none is crowded with visitors at the moment. The island’s next owner could choose to develop its tourism potential further. It’s more likely, however, that it will once again become an oasis of solitude.
For anybody who would like to try the island but can’t run to the asking price, the self-catering business will continue, and the Gannons are currently seeking a winter caretaker for their rocky outcrop. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, reflecting on the connectedness of humankind. Perhaps the appeal of a place such as Sanda is the ability that it gives us to temporarily loosen the ties that bind each of us to the rest of humanity.




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