On the Front Page this month:

  • The Autumn Food & Drink Festival
  • a briefing of island news, and
  • a farewell to another island stalwart

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

October and there can be no doubting that autumn is well and truly here, and with increasing risk of stormy weather winter is not far off.  On Colonsay the short days and cooler air are not a call to shut up shop, at least not yet. The Autumn Food & Drink Festival brings a suitably indulgent end to the season with two weeks of events and classes focused on the creation and consumption of all manner of delectable delights.   Then the end of October is marked for the island by the ferry service moving over to its thrice-weekly winter schedule. This signals the annual transition for the community to focus more on events for islanders, particularly the children, starting of course with Halloween.


News Briefing

A few news lines:

  • the CCDC has selected a new Local Development Officer and an announcement is expected imminently
  • local resident Sheena (Sine) Pelling died on 28th September (see family eulogy below)
  • the Marine Harvest fish farm nets a giant tuna (see more below)


Autumn Food & Drink Festival

As the nights draw in there is one final festival in the Colonsay calendar when October sees two weeks of events dedicated to the indulgence of the senses, particularly those infused by food and drink.

Home made liqueurs

For those whose food is their thing there was a series of savoury and sweet treats on offer, including a lunch time cookery class with Mary Contini – of Valvona & Crolla fame – that had Colonsay House Kitchen full of happy visitors well feed on a menu of Scottish & Italian dishes that were crafted before their eyes.   Later, Philip Contini complemented this with an evening tasting of Italian wines that showed how in recent years Italian wine makers have continued to enhance the quality as well as the variety and depth of their wines.

The current vogue for artisanal gin meant there were three separate gin related events, each with their own twist. There was a tasting from Colonsay Brewery of their beers and gin, including the awarding winning Wild Island Gin; Geraldine Coates, writer and gin expert, lead a tasting of 5 Scottish island gins; and Finlay and Eileen Geekie held a tasting of their own Colonsay Gin with a variety of tonic waters.

For those looking for an alternative to gin, there was a tasting of wines from around the world with Donald Paterson, a very convivial beer tasting with Chris Nesbit, Colonsay’s own brewer, and an evening of whisky tasting with Charles Maclean, author and leading whisky expert.

For those looking for something tasty to complement the wide variety of drinks on offer, Donald Paterson gave a class on savoury tart making, while for those with a sweet tooth there was handmade chocolate making with master chocolatier Charlotte Flower, and Carol Paterson leading a boutique class on liqueur and aperitif making. As a delicious antidote to excess of alcohol and sugar Fiona Misselbrook’s classes on autumnal and vegetarian cooking showed aspiring chefs how to make Ottolenghi style dishes, and Katie Joll demonstrated preserving techniques for everything from jellies to chutneys. Fiona Houston took us out on to Colonsay’s beautiful shoreline in search of edible seaweed, and then back to Colonsay House to demonstrate how to use this natural bounty.

Carol Paterson’s liqueur making class

To offset the conspicuous consumption of the indulgent food and drink events, there were plenty of outdoor walks on offer with Andrew McMorrine exploring both the ruined village of Riasg Buidhe with more than an added touch of Gaelic folklore and history, as well as the atmospheric remains of the medieval priory on Oronsay. Local knowledge always leads to insight and understanding and Kevin Byrne shared his search for the 33 varieties of fern on Colonsay, while David Hobhouse opened the gates of Balnahard farm to show its natural diversity of animals and habits. The Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Trust, newly homed in the old Baptist church, held a talk on the “Circles and Stones” on Colonsay, and then had a walk to some of Colonsay’s important historic and archaeological sites. From Marine Harvest, Alistair Geddes, manager of the Colonsay fish farm, gave a history of salmon farming, and taster of Colonsay’s own salmon.

For those looking for the chance to stay indoors and get creative there was Christmas decoration making with Anne Ferguson. Anne also joined with Carol Paterson for a Colonsay inspired collage making session, and then Anne led a session on fabric printing to make individualized fleece scarves. Families were also well served with Grace Johnston giving a class for kids on making cupcakes and other treats, as well as other family friendly events throughout the festival.


Sheena (Sine) Pelling

Colonsay is sad to lose Sheena (Sine) Pelling who died peacefully at home on Colonsay on 28th September 2017. The Corncrake is grateful to be able to reproduce extracts extract from the eulogy written by her family and read by Kevin Byrne at her funeral, which was held on Colonsay on 12th October.

“Born to Peter Macneill and Agnes, née McBride, on 13th June 1923 in Helensburgh, Sheena was the youngest of four children. She had a sister Ann and two brothers, Alasdair and Andrew. Her older siblings were all mildly irritated when her father called her his “Million Dollar Darling”.

Sheena’s parents divorced when the children were very young.  They were brought up by their father and his caring sister Sarah, who had been born in Port Mhor. Together they ran the family business R&A Urie, China Merchants, on Clyde Street, Helensburgh.  It is still family-owned and run by her nephew Peter.

Sheena’s family lived in a large flat on the first floor of 7 William Street.  It was a lively household and their very capable housekeeper from Tiree was invaluable.  She helped to keep everything running smoothly, on good Hebridean principles.  On one occasion,  however, in the days well before anyone had heard the term “Risk Assessment”, Sheena and her lifelong friend Kate Forrester terrified the neighbours. They spotted the two young girls coming out of one of the flat’s windows and executing a daring traverse along two window sills before they vanished safely through an open adjoining window.

Sheena’s connection to Colonsay goes back through many generations. Her forebears worked as stonemasons and some were skippers on the mail packets.  Her family enjoyed annual summer holidays on Colonsay and sometimes on Tiree.  They visited family and friends and reinforced lifelong bonds.  Sheena loved her time staying with her MacAllister relatives whilst her father and brothers enjoyed camping outside. She often talked fondly of these happy childhood memories. She vividly remembered making many a journey on the McCallum, Orme steamers.  They travelled most often on The Hebrides and the Dunara Castle, their excitement rising as they approached Colonsay, whether in sunshine or storm.

All four children attended The Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh. When Sheena left school her first job was in the china shop, under the exacting eye of her Aunt Sarah. Sheena would often recount how she took pride in her daily tasks of crystal polishing, sweeping the pavement, watering the hanging baskets and replenishing the water in the bowls provided for customers’ dogs.

When war broke out, Sheena’s brothers and sister volunteered for service.  Aged 18, in 1941, she joined the WAAF and left home for the first time to do her basic training in Liverpool.  Here she took great delight in square-bashing and learning to drive on five-ton lorries.  She loved wearing her smart uniform but, like all her fellow service girls, hated the very rough blankets and coarse stockings.

She was posted to Islay and then to Tiree where she met and fell in love with Roy Stevenson. He was an RAF observer flying in the Halifaxes of 518 Squadron, in all weathers, gathering vital meteorological data which was essential for the war effort. They married on Tiree in 1944.  Roy, along with the entire crews of two planes, was tragically killed six weeks later when two Halifaxes collided over Tiree, having flown sortie after sortie gathering information for the D-Day landings.

Sheena gave birth to her first child in January 1945 and named him Roy, after his father.  The young widow moved with her son to Glasgow where she got a job and her mother helped to look after Roy.

When back in Helensburgh she met her second husband Keith Harding, a young RNVR Officer from Nottingham.  They married in 1948 and settled in Nottingham where they had their three children Iain, Philip and Laura.  Sheena steadfastly maintained links with her dear brothers and sister and her beloved Colonsay.  Her children and their cousins met frequently, often gathering on Oransay to help their Uncle Andrew and Aunt Flora during the summer months. Stevensons, Hardings, Macneills and McMorrines all had enormous fun there. The Oransay Agricultural College sent them off to meet the world in fine style.

Roy married Nina and they went on to have Tracey, Andrew, Lisa and Gareth, all frequent visitors to Colonsay.  Sheena was devoted to all her Stevenson family and remained very close to Ginny, her first mother-in-law, throughout her life.

Sheena and Keith divorced in the late sixties and she began working for a taxi company in Nottingham where she met the man who would become her third husband, Bert Pelling.  Bert was a man who was full of fun, just what Sheena needed. When Sheena first took Bert to Colonsay he was immediately smitten.  They both considered it an honour to be asked to hold the fort in the Post Office whenever Keith had time off. Bert and Sheena also looked after the hotel in the same efficient and cheerful manner when Angus and Peggy and later Christa and Kevin were away.

When Bert and Sheena retired they moved from Nottingham to live permanently on Colonsay.  Sheena’s daughter Laura was, by this time, living there and her brother Andrew and his wife, her dear friend Flora, had also moved over from Oransay.  Life was secure and Sheena and Bert were very happy. They were a very hospitable couple who welcomed many friends, relatives and visitors into their home. They relished the ceilidhs, concerts and all the fun of island life.

Then, all too soon, tragedy struck once more. 1986 was a terrible year with Laura dying in August and Bert dying from an infected blood transfusion in December.

Sheena continued to live at Glassard, moving next door to Andrew and Flora. She always felt safe, surrounded by good friends, family and kind neighbours. She was an important and much valued member of the island community.

Sheena was working part-time in the Colonsay Post Office with Keith and ‘wee’ Angus MacFadyen who lived next door to her at 5 Glassard.  She and her friends – Irene, Jessie, Ray Chisholm, Betty Paton and Paddy Leahy to name a few, would have a picnic on a Wednesday afternoon at various locations and would tease Angus by refusing to tell him each week where it would be. He found out the chosen location on one particular Wednesday lunchtime when he arrived home to find them seated at the picnic table in his own front garden!

Sheena’s brother Andrew died suddenly in 1997. She and Flora maintained their very warm friendship and Sheena took great care of her dear pal whilst she was ill. She missed Flora greatly when she died in 2013 after a period of nursing at home.

Her’s was a house that was often visited.  Throughout all adversities Sheena always loved conversation, reminiscing and laughter. She much enjoyed all her visits to Phil and Morag and their family in Uist, particularly the many Christmases she spent with them there.

Her ninetieth birthday was a testament to the great love and affection in which she was held by everyone who knew her. What a day of celebration it was!  Well over ninety cards arrived, sent from family and friends scattered all over the world.  Her little house, with its array of photographs, paintings and prints, each one with a story of its own, was alive with warmth and joy. People called throughout the day and so many folk enjoyed being able to be with a very special lady as she celebrated her birthday.

She remained independent to the end, and we will all remember how immaculately she dusted and hoovered her Glassard home and refused any offer of home help. What other 94 year old woman did any of us know who did all her own cleaning, cooking and washing and always presented herself so very smartly? She used to say “At least I always remember to put on my warpaint.” The week before she died, she made the ferry journey to and from Oban to get her hair done!

She believed firmly in the importance and value of family, duty and the community. She gave her love, affection and great humour to all her kind neighbours.  She gave it also to her beloved island and, of course, to her large and much-loved family which includes 11 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and 6 great great grandchildren.

Her rich life was accompanied by some health issues, all of which she faced with admirable resilience and courage. She had a mastectomy in 2003 and was cared for by a talented team of surgeons, doctors and nurses. She really appreciated all the wonderful support given to cancer patients by both MacMillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care. Her will stated that she wished that any donations made in her memory should be to either of these two charities.

She faced her health problems with resilience and bravery. The wonderful doctors and nurses who attended to her on Colonsay, together with those on the mainland, supported her with their skill and caring expertise, for which her family will forever be most grateful.” 



The more recent traditions of Halloween are now well ensconced in national culture, though to older eyes many seem to have been more newly imported from across the Atlantic. Whatever the origins and roots of the tradition the fancy dress and party games of Halloween were again hugely enjoyed in Colonsay’s own reincarnation of the annual festivities at the Colonsay Hotel in the early evening of Saturday 28th October.



Giant Tuna caught in Colonsay fish farm

If it were 1st April you would suspect that someone was playing you, but yes a giant Pacific blue fin tuna fought its way into the nets of Colonsay’s fish farm. The event made the national news and the BBC report, along with a genuine, non-photo-shopped photo of the surprise catch, can be found here:











The full Corncrake for October will soon appear as a pdf on the Corncrake website and in hard copy at the Post Office.

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