The Island Diary Part 4: connecting with the mainland

Island life can feel remote but Seil is connected to the Scottish mainland by a very special bridge, says Kenneth Steven

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Clachan Bridge is what links the island of Seil to the mainland. One single high arch and you’re down on the other side; a hump-backed stone bridge built between 1792 and the year that followed.

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One of the first buildings you reach after crossing to the Seil side is the Tigh an Truish Inn: the Gaelic translating to the house of the trousers. The answer to the riddle of the name lies in Highland history: after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the Jacobites were defeated, the wearing of the kilt was outlawed. But islanders loyal to the cause continued to wear their traditional clan garb at home: it was only once at the inn, before crossing to the mainland, that they donned the hated trousers or trews.

That was before the arrival of the bridge. What runs between mainland and island is really nothing more than a thin channel of sea water (particularly unexciting at low tide). But the fact that it’s a little bit of Atlantic makes all the difference; for this reason it wasn’t long before the simple arch of stone was christened the Bridge over the Atlantic. From Easter onwards every year the buses stop here and tourists from everywhere swarm over both sides, cameras clicking.

But the place itself is special because of more than just the bridge. In winter the structure is rather drab and Presbyterian; only in summer does the fairy foxglove (Erinus alpinus) return to adorn the walls with its beautiful mauve flowers.

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Fairy foxgloves on the “bridge over the Atlantic” linking Seil to the mainland

Strange to remember that I first crossed the bridge many summers ago: the light lemon-yellow one late June evening as the car hummed across. And all the lights of the cottages on the Seil side shone out over the channel of water, that thin stretch of Atlantic. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the bats were flitting about in the air beyond the bridge. It was a truly magical moment, but never did I think I’d be returning one day to live here.

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Herons fishing in the slender Atlantic channel between Seil and the mainland

Kristian and I always hope for an otter, because we know they are here. What we do see, almost every time, is a heron posted in the channel that separates mainland from island, looking for all the world like some prehistoric creature as it stands motionless, waiting. And once, coming back late from Oban, we glimpsed in the headlights a furry beast racing from one side of the bridge to the other and vanishing into the shadows. A pine marten.

More than anything now, the Clachan Bridge is coming to mean home to us. After every long journey, the bridge is waiting at the end to bring us back. 

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Photos by Kristina Hayward