Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ring of Bright Water & Maxwell's Ghost

Although I did not know it at the time, my first exposure to Gaelic, the Hebrides, and the west of Scotland happened when I was 12 years old. That was in 1969, when my mother took me to a theater in downtown Seattle to see the movie Ring of Bright Water. Some scenes were filmed at Ellenabeich (Seil) and in Oban. And there are views to several islands in the Firth of Lorne, including Scarba and the Garvellachs. The story of the otter, and the scenery, made quite an impression on me.

It wasn't until 1991 that I actually read the book, which is very different from the movie, and much more interesting. After reading Ring of Bright Water (published in 1960), I went on to read the other two parts of the Bright Water trilogy: The Rocks Remain (1963), and Raven Seek Thy Brother (1969).

After reading the trilogy I came across a book about Maxwell called The White Island (1972), by John Lister-Kaye, who was involved in Maxwell's plans to construct a zoo on Eilean Bhan; the White Island that now lies under the Skye bridge. It has a sad ending as the author describes how, after Maxwell died, the zoo-in-progress had to be dismantled, and that they were worried about finding a home for Teko, the last of the famous otters. But they did not need to find him a home, because Teko died of a heart attack not too long after Gavin Maxwell died of Cancer.

Another excellent book that describes much of the back story of Maxwell's life at Sandaig and Eilean Bhan is Richard Frere's Maxwell's Ghost (1976).

It is easy to visit Eilean Bhan these days, and tours are offered by the Bright Water Visitors Centre. On the island you'll find a memorial stone that marks where Teko is buried. Teko and Gavin Maxwell both died in 1969, the year I first saw Ring of Bright Water.

Stone on Eilean Bhan - TEKO 1959 - 69

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