Where a Maxwell Swam with Otters
A new conservation center has opened on the west coast of Scotland, inspired by the writings of naturalist Gavin Maxwell. The Bright Waters Visitors Centre, named for Maxwell’s most famous book, Ring of Bright Water, opened in May 2000 at Kyleakin, on the Isle of Skye.
The new center offers educational exhibits and serves as the entry point for visitors to take guided boat tours around Eilean Ban, a six acre island being restored as it was when Maxwell lived there among his beloved sea otters. It is part of a project undertaken by the Born Free Foundation in partnership with the Eilean Ban Trust, and the Maxwell name is at the project’s heart since the island was Gavin Maxwell’s final home and where he wrote best-selling book.
Born in 1914, Gavin Maxwell rose to prominence in 1959 when he completed Ring of Bright Water. The book was set in a near paradise surrounded by sea, rocks, trees, mountains, and wildlife. It was Maxwell’s account of his own life and relationship with the otters and formed the first part of the Ring of Bright Water Trilogy, with two later books, The Rocks Remain (1963) and Raven Seek Thy Brother (1968) continuing the story.
Ring of Bright Water sold more than a million copies in English and was a milestone for wildlife conservation, marking the beginning of worldwide support for otter conservation. It was while filming a movie of the book that actors Virginia McKenna and the late Bill Travers, founding members of the Born Free Foundation, became involved with otter conservation. When the island was to be sold in 1996, the Foundation intervened to prevent the sale. Ultimately, the island was transferred to the Eilean Ban Trust to be set aside for conservation.
To preserve the serenity of the environment, only 12 visitors are allowed on the island at a time, shuttling from the Visitors Center by boat. On the island, they can traverse a nature trail, view wildlife from a specially designed “hide,” and visit a museum in memory of Gavin Maxwell which occupies the 40 foot “Longroom” of the home where he lived and wrote until his death in 1969. The museum contains artworks, furnishings and artefacts donated by friends and by his nephew (and Clan Maxwell Society honorary member), Sir Michael Maxwell.
Check the web for more information on Eilean Ban