Stroma Ninjuin Renga

In 2009 I spent a wonderful weekend on the tiny deserted island of Stroma off the north coast Scotland with three fabulous Scottish poets: John Glenday, Kathleen Jamie and Alistair Peebles.

 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Stroma had a thriving community of impressively self-sufficient crofters and fishers who supplemented their incomes with carpentry, roofing, illicit distilling and smuggling. They built their own houses and boats, made their own clothes and shoes, grew their own crops, milked their own cows and kept hens and sheep and often a single horse and a pig. Peat bogs on the island supplied fuel for the winter and in the 1920s the islanders built wind turbines so they could charge their radio batteries. There were three shops on the island and a 'floating shop' that came from nearby Orkney islands. Customers were rowed out to the boat, anchored off the coast of Stroma, to purchase flour, animal feed and paraffin in exchange for lobster, salted fish and eggs. 

However, life was pretty hard on the island with no electricity or running water and no gas until the 1950s. Fishing declined after the First World War and there was no spare land for the growing population to farm. Tempted by a better life on mainland Scotland, many islanders left. The last shop closed in 1956 and by 1957 there were only three families left on Stroma. The school closed, followed by the Post Office. The last family left the island in 1962.

47 years later, the four of us travelled to the island to explore the deserted houses, the cliff-tops, the gloup, the abandoned boat and lighthouse. We rented the nurse's cottage from Jimmy Simpson, a farmer who now owns the island and uses it for grazing his sheep. The nurse's cottage is regularly used by the Simpson family and has been kept in good repair. There is running water from a rainwater tank, though we had to bring our own drinking water, and we cooked our meals on the same wood-burning iron stove that has been there since the 1930s or 40s.