Saturday, 14 June 2008

Red tape drives lone islander away

The Times, June 14, 2008

As he looks wistfully down on the little harbour, where a tourist boat is about to put in, Dick Gannon has no doubt about the appeal of his remote island home which he has just put on the market. “A Russian billionaire might buy this place or a businessman from the Far East. It's all about exclusivity,” he says, as the gulls screech overhead.

This is beautiful Sanda, which lies off the tip of the Mull of Kintyre, 13 miles south of Campbeltown and 20 miles east of Ballycastle, in Northern Ireland. Mr Gannon and his wife, Meg, bought it in 1989, “windswept and ruined”, for £250,000. Now, with its fine farmhouse, a renovated pub and cottages, it is on the market for £3.2 million, fit for an oligarch indeed.

It is impossible not to detect the bitterness in Mr Gannon's voice at his imminent change in circumstances. Partly this can be explained by his failed marriage and the fact that none of his four children have shown an interest in taking over the family tourism business here.

But these painful facts are just a pretext for a sale, Mr Gannon admits. He has grown tired of life in Britain, even here at its wildest margins, in the teeth of a sharp breeze whipping off the Irish Sea.

“I'll probably go abroad,” he confesses. “I'm completely disenchanted with this country. Civil liberties are going down the tube, but people just seem to want more cameras and more intervention.”

The surveillance society even affects him here on Sanda, he says. “We've had the environmental health police out here, the water police, the smoke police. They all turn up. You think that you can sail away from red tape, but you can't. They're always following you around with their rules and their regulations.”

For some time, Mr Gannon, 58, has been the island's solitary permanent resident, while Meg has operated as its tourism agent on land, using a base in Campbeltown to organise holidaymakers' trips to Sanda, which, with its petrels and shearwaters is rich in bird life, and designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

He has even achieved a certain notoriety as “Scotland's loneliest voter” who cast his vote for the SNP by post at the last Holyrood election.

Now he's disillusioned with them, too. “I did vote SNP, because they said they would get rid of VisitScotland, the scourge of the Scottish tourist trade. But they didn't. The SNP moved it sideways, increased its power, and left the same idiots in charge. What can you do?”

Over the years, Mr Gannon has single-handedly renovated the island's ruins into an award-winning pub, refurbished the six-bedroom farmhouse and the six self-catering cottages.

Sanda's 350 breeding ewes are included in the sale, along with chickens which produce free range eggs that enjoy such a reputation customers, including the Princess Royal, have sailed in especially to buy them.

The 35-40 acres that make up nearby Sheep Island, inhabited only by a flock of 60 Soay sheep, and the small lump of rock that is Glunimore Island are all part of the Sanda islands package. The sale is to be handled jointly by Vladi Private islands, a specialist company based in Germany and Knight Frank, of Edinburgh. Anyone tempted by the thought of “this little piece of paradise” would be interested in Mr Gannon's autobiography, written over the last few months and entitled So You Think You Want to Buy an Island?

It was, he concedes an ironic title and it is yet to find a publisher. And he probably won't want it translated into Russian before the sale goes through.

1 comment:

Mr. C. Morrison said...

Great story, sorry to hear about things going bad. They worked so hard to get that island.

Keep me updated, and if you have any more island stories please submit them to the 'original' Private Islands Blog