Crowds celebrate life of Gavin Maxwell

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On Saturday September 7 at Sandaig Beach, people from all over the world crowded around a simple rock, with a plain plaque upon it.

Songs were sung and poems read to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the Scottish natural historian and writer Gavin Maxwell, who died aged only 55 from lung cancer in 1969.

Organised by the Gavin Maxwell Society, the commemorations began at 2pm with a reading by society member Margaret MacKenzie, from Maxwell’s most famous book A Ring of Bright Water, which tells of his life at Sandaig with his first otter Mijbil.

Richard Wathen, a distant relative of Maxwell, read the poem Avalon by Tennyson followed by a minute’s silence which ended the gathering, with many spotting a golden eagle flying overhead. It is with thanks to Lord Dulverton of the Eileanreach estate, that vehicle access was given to the beach for the ceremony.

To bring the day of commemoration to a close, the Gavin Maxwell Society had gained permission from the Eilean Ban Trust to use Gavin Maxwell’s last home before his death, the lighthouse keeper’s cottage of Eilean Ban.

Gavin and his last otter Teko moved to the Island after the fire at Sandaig in 1968. The society had organised a number of speakers and musicians for the evening and the Eilean Ban Trust had provided drinks and a buffet.

From 7.30am visitors from all over Lochalsh, society members and students
representing Plockton High School arrived to gather in the large living room of the cottage, called the Long Room. Americans, Europeans and locals swapped their favourite Maxwell anecdotes, before order was called by the evening’s compere Peter Lees.

Society member Helen Storey began the evening with a reading from the ending of A Ring of Bright Water, after which Peter Lees introduced Jane Frere to speak about the many occasions she had travelled with her father Richard Frere (author of Maxwell’s Ghost) to Sandaig and Eilean Ban, where as a child she had played.

Finally, Tobermory Distillery was toasted with a fine rare malt from its donation of four bottles to the event, a very apt last salute to a man who was well known for an appreciation of a fine whisky.