When you take the West Highland train line from Glasgow up to the fishing port of Mallaig, in the heart of the Highlands, you can get a boat over to the Small Isles of Lochaber, which form part of the archipelago known as the Inner Hebrides. Along with many varieties of seabirds, including puffins, and a fabulous array of wildflowers to be seen on the islands, dolphins, porpoises and whales are regularly seen in the surrounding seas, as well as seals. With a temperate climate, beautiful scenery and welcoming hospitality, these are some of the most unspoilt and fascinating islands in the British Isles.
Among the many attractions of Eigg are the famous ‘Singing Sands’ of Largs Bay, so called because they make a squeaking sound when you walk on them. The skyline is dominated by An Sgurr, one of the tallest ridges in Britain. It takes about two hours to climb, and at the top you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the highlands and islands, mountains, lochs and seas stretching into the distance for miles around. On top of this ridge there are several small lochs, called lochans by the Scots. One of these, Nam Ban Mora is a favourite with outdoor swimmers. After your dip, you can sit on the hand carved wooden bench bearing the name ‘honesty’. Beside this bench there’s a bottle of whisky which will not be empty, as long as the last passersby were honest!
In 2010 the 86 inhabitants of Eigg won the National NESTA Big green Challenge in 2010 when they became the first island in the World powered entirely with renewable energy. Accommodation ranges from camping or yurts, cottages and guest houses.
One of the earliest settlement sites of Britain (tools have been found dating back to 7000BC), Rum was for a many years privately owned and known to the locals as the ‘Forbidden Island’. It boasts Kinloch Castle, a wonderful example of ludicrous extravagance in a remote setting. It cost what would today be worth £15 million to build back in 1891, and boasted a conservatory full of exotic fruit, a palm house with humming birds, and highly elaborate Georgian plumbing. Now open to the public, it provides an insight into a sumptuous way of life which disappeared completely after World War I. The owners eventually sold the island to the Government Nature Conservancy, and it has grown into a globally important nature reserve. A red deer study is currently being conducted there.
Rum also has its own mountain range, The Cullins of Rum, a series of dramatic jagged peaks formed by an ancient volcano. It is considered one of the best mountain walks in the islands.
Staying on Rum is easy with a campsite, hostel and guesthouse facilities. There are two free Bothys, with very basic amenities (take your own sleeping and cooking gear). Bothys are a Scottish tradition, providing shelter from the elements and a workable fireplace.
With a population of about 38 and only one road, Muck is attractive to a growing number of families seeking a better way of life. Two and a half miles long, it contains more seals than people! Still it offers a range of hotel, Bed and breakfast and self catering accommodation. There is a craft shop, tea room and restaurant and very year the islanders run a series of craft courses for visitors, from basket weaving to rug making. Though it is the smallest of the small islands it is the most fertile, with a healthy farming tradition. Muck lamb and other local produce is one sale to visitors.
Linked at low tide to its tiny neighbour Sanday, this picturesque and fertile land is littered with Neolithic and Viking historical artefacts, and boasts nine important archaeological sites attesting to 9000 years of occupation. Canna was originally owned by John Lorne Campbell, a well known historian and folklore scholar. He bequeathed his island, including Canna House, to Scotland. The House is now a museum with an extensive Gaelic library.
All of the islands welcome visitors. In summer ferries also run from the fishing port of Arisaig further down the coast. For nature lovers, walkers, or just those who want to escape the fast lane, the small islands offer enchantment and peace.