McCall Smith vows to give Cairns of Coll back

Alexander McCall Smith describes his new purchase as 'a place that can bring peace and content'. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Alexander McCall Smith describes his new purchase as 'a place that can bring peace and content'. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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WRITER Alexander McCall Smith has revealed that he bought a remote chain of Scottish islands after spotting the Cairns of Coll advertised in The Scotsman and that he now plans to gift them to the nation.

The creator of the fictional No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of books, recently bought the uninhabited islands in the Hebrides for just under £300,000 after seeing them in the property section of The Scotsman. He had previously visited the remote chain, which can only be reached by boat and in good weather and whose sole inhabitants include seals and birds such as shags, terns and guillemots.

In an article published yesterday McCall Smith, who is a keen sailor, said that after his death the islands would be left in trust for the nation so that anyone may visit them provided they leave nothing behind when they leave.

He wrote about discovering their sale: “One morning I opened my copy of The Scotsman and glanced at the property section. There, among the suburban bungalows and the tenements flats, was a picture of the Cairns of Coll. I rushed to my wife’s study and showed her the advertisement. ‘We have to buy them’ I said. She agreed, and we phoned our lawyer half-an-hour later. Our lawyer is accustomed to my peculiar schemes…

“The islands were being sold by someone who lived on Barra and in whose family they had been for three generations. We talked at length about my intentions. I assured her that I would look after them. I suddenly found myself the owner of a number of the most beautiful islands in the world.”

He explained that he had fallen in love with the islands after dropping anchor and enjoying a picnic on white-sanded beaches theree, but that he is now embarrassed to be referred to as the “owner” of the islands.

He said: “I am embarrassed to use the term ‘owner’. I do not own these islands as I own my clothes. I am the person to whom the legal system of Scotland has given custody of this sacred spot, and that is something quite different. I intend to do absolutely nothing with them, and to ensure that, after I am gone, they are held in trust, unspoilt and uninhabited, for the nation.

“I want them kept in perpetuity as a sanctuary for wildlife – for birds and seals and all the other creatures to which they are home.”

He added: “I want people to sail past them and marvel at them; as long as nobody leaves anything behind, I want people to be able to set foot on these beaches and feel the sand between their toes and the wind in their hair, and to have their heart broken by the sheer beauty of these tiny slivers of Scotland. I want people who go there to return home, close their eyes and feel some of the peace and content they can bring.”