IT’S a place where multicolour wheelbarrows are the only mode of transport, where turning left could take you to a pen of rare Mangalica pigs and where turning right could take you windswept into the only pub for miles around.
Come September however, no matter which way you turn on the Island of Easdale in Argyll, you’ll be graced by stone skimmers, large and small, hoping to beat the best at the World Stone Skimming Championships.
Taking place a month tomorrow, the championships have been happening for one day every September on Easdale for over 20 years.
The tiny isle, only half a mile long, is the smallest permanently inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides, home to just 60 humans; but also seven rare, aforementioned Hungarian Mangalica pigs, three cats, ten dogs, a tortoise, a couple of rabbits and a parrot.
Around the third weekend of every September, the population of the island rockets, with Easdale and the surrounding area’s B&Bs and accommodation booked up for months and in some cases years in advance.
The championships see over 300 competitors not just from Scotland and the local area arriving to take part, but hopefuls from around the world, as well as a couple hundred more spectators. Skimmers have hailed from Wales, England, Holland, the US, Hong Kong and India hoping to claim first prize.
Up until 2017, hopefuls would have had to beat Dougie Isaacs, a delivery driver from central Scotland. Dougie had won seven championships out of the past 12 years and had also set the official record for the world’s longest stone skip – at 351 feet. However, last year, we was thwarted 3m by Keisuke Hashimoto, a skimmer extraordinaire from Japan, who managed to skim his winning stone 169m.
The idea for the championships was dreamed up in the island’s tiny pub, the Puffer Bar, just for a bit of fun, but now the annual event helps to fund the small island community’s hall, harbour and museum.
The event is so unique to Easdale thanks to the plethora of previous slate quarries that dot the island in deep flooded pools. In its hey day, Easdale was the “island that roofed the world,” exporting slate as far as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. At its peak in the late 1800s, the island had seven working quarries extending to 300 feet below sea level, and supported a population of over 500, housed in many of the worker’s homes still on the island today. Thanks to a huge storm and “disastrous tidal wave” in 1881 however, the quarries were all completely flooded and the industry was decimated.
Now, the remnants of this time blanket the island. Every step you take and every way you look there is slate – tiny fragments, smooth and flat, – the perfect skimmers you could scour an entire beach searching for.
Easdale is a special place, and the islanders hope to claim some authority over the quarries for future years and championships. They’re currently in the process of bidding to buy the main quarry where the championships take place, which costs the organisers £1000 to use each time, a 12% cut of the money the community earns from the event.
This year, the championships take place on Sunday 23 September and will also host a Pre-Skim party in Easdale Island Community Hall the Saturday night before the event.
For 20 years and looking set to continue for years to come, children and “old tossers” alike have been invited to take a chance at the championships; to leave no stone unturned, to throw, dance and be merry at this unique and colourful event of the Scottish Hebrides.