It rains a lot on Mull. It was pouring the day of my story. We’d just finished breakfast and our two young daughters, Avril and Jennifer, were doing puzzles in the window seat of our holiday cottage. Avril peered up the street through the curtain of rain and haar and said,
“There’s something funny happening outside the hotel.”
I came over to look. Sure enough there was a melee of men and dogs in the car park and I could hear voices raised in anger. The hotelier – a gentle, courteous man – seemed to be getting the worst of it. I called over my husband to watch.
“I don’t like the look of that,” he said.
He put on his wellies and cagoule and went up to investigate.
In a few minutes he was back, fuming.
“Those blokes are otter hunters. They’ve killed all their own otters, so they’ve come up here to kill ours.”
We were horrified. Only yesterday we had been watching them playing in Loch Keal.
“No – we can’t let this happen,” I said. “What can we do?”
“The hotel guy is organising a sit-in to block their cars in the car park.
We dressed the kids in umpteen layers and trudged down in the pouring rain to the car park. A handful of locals were sitting among the scattered puddles. We nodded to them, and sat down where there were gaps in their line.
Avril and Jennifer were silent and wide-eyed. They had ever seen angry men before and the milling hounds must have seemed huge. Someone brought them a beer crate to perch on and they were relatively sheletered under the family golf umbrella. Jennifer was suchking her thumb – a habit we thought she’d outgrown – when I heard her whisper,
“Will the bad men run us over?”
Her big sister gave her a hug and said “Course not – they’d get in too much trouble.”
The men were yelling their fury at our interference. They’d travelled all this way and spent so much money only to have their holiday ruined by us protestors. We responded with a chant of,
“Go home, go home, go home!”
The number of people who had joined the protest was growing and, soon, the road was blocked in both directions.
Eventually, the local bobby arrived and had a quiet conversation, in Gaelic, with the hotelier before announcing in English,
“Listen up, folks: otter hunting is legal. These people are within their rights and I must ask you to disperse.”
We howled our disbelief as the otter hunters cheered, loading their dogs into the boots of their cars. We stayed where we were. Things began to get nasty. The otter hunters started dragging us aside. We offered no resistance, but the minute one person was removed from the line another protestor simply took their place. Thankfully, they didn’t dare touch the children, who were becoming very scared by what was happening.
More policemen arrived and watched us in silence before the senior officer asked Avril and Jennifer for the beer crates they were sitting on. They stood on the crates and said,
“Otter hunting is legal, yes, but your behaviour is a breach of the peace. I’ve witnessed intimidation and common assault. You have two choices: accept our escort to the ferry, or stay and be placed under arrest.”
The cheer from the protestors was deafening. The policemen waited while the otter hunters packed up their bags, paid their hotel bills then departed. Many of the sodden protesters took up the kind offer of soup from the hotel, but we hurried Avril and Jennifer home for a hot bath. At bedtime, we talked about conscience and responsibility.
Thankfully, otter hunting was made illegal in England and Wales in 1978 and Scotland followed suit in 1979.