The Small Isles: Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna
These four islands, part of the Inner Hebrides, lie just off the west coast at the junction of the Sound of Arisaig and the Sound of Sleat. Caledonian MacBrayne operates a regular passenger ferry from Mallaig all year round. Arisaig Marine operates day trips from Arisaig from April to September (telephone 01687 450224).
In the summer months, combined bus/ferry packages are available from Fort William so you can visit some of the Small Isles on a day trip with Shiel Buses and Caledonian Macbrayne. Click here for details.
Above: Eigg seen from Muck
Unlike many groups each island is distinct and different in geography, agronomy, population and ownership. From Muck in the south, through Eigg with its tooth-like Sgurr, and Rum, mountainous and mysterious in the clouds, to Canna in the north, the Small Isles offer a wonderful variety of scenery, wildlife and lifestyle.
Quiz enthusiasts might like to know that the islands of Rum, Eigg & Muck were called the ‘Cocktail Islands’ or ‘Cocktail Isles’ by a newspaper journalist in the 1970s but the name is not in general use and is not used locally.
Isle of Eigg
In 1997, the islanders set up the Eigg Heritage Trust with the assistance of various bodies to buy the island which had gone through a troubled time with previous owners. Now owned by the Trust, Eigg offers a variety of scenery, wildlife and a get-away-from-it-all feeling for the visitor.
The dramatic Sgurr in the south can be reached by a variety of routes and gives superb views. Near its base is the Massacre Cave - scene of an infamous slaughter by clansmen from neighbouring islands during the Clan Wars. In the north is Largs Bay with its famous singing sands. Golden Eagles live on the high basalt cliffs to the north-east and the waters round the island are home to seals, whales, dolphins and otters.
The Cleadale Crofting Museum is looked after by Eigg History Society in an old blackhouse.
Surrounded by beautiful woodlands and gardens, the old Lodge is 10 minutes walk from the main pier and seashore. It has recently been renovated by Norah and Bob Wallace and is now open as The Earth Connections Eco Centre. It runs residential eco courses and holidays to promote green living, which fits in well with the whole green ethos of Eigg. Courses feature beekeeping, bushcraft, renewable energy, 'the Good Life', ecology, etc. while holidays can include yoga, wildlife watching and much more. Tel: 01687 482495.
By the ferry pier, the Galmisdale Bay Cafe, Bar & Restaurant (formerly known as the Eigg Tearoom) offers food all day (Tel: 01687 482487). Closed Wednesdays and Sundays. Next door is a fully licensed shop with post office and crafts.
Isle of Eigg Craft & Produce Fairs are run in the community hall during the summer months.
The island minibus has a timetable coinciding with all boats entering and leaving Eigg. Bike hire is available from Eigg Adventures.
Accommodation ranges from camping and self catering to B&Bs. The campsite at Cleadale (north end of the island) is in a designated area. For more information and events, visit the community web site: isleofeigg.org
Isle of Canna
Canna is the most westerly of the four Small Isles and covers 3000 acres. Previously owned by John Lorne Campbell, it was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981. The island is farmed by the NTS and has several working crofts and a small population of less than 15. The island has been a bird sanctuary since 1938 and the 157 different species of birds have been monitored annually since 1969. Canna has many sites of archaeological interest, including nine scheduled monuments, and has links to the Neolithic, Columban and Viking eras. The Canna Local History Group preserves information about the island's history. The little church and St Columba's chapel are both open to visitors. Connected to Canna by a wooden bridge is the tidal island of Sanday where St. Edward's Chapel has been converted into the Camus Arts Centre (opened August 2013).
Canna House (now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland) was once the home of Gaelic scholars, Dr. John Lorne Campbell and his wife Margaret Fay Shaw (who died on 11th December 2004 aged 101). She wrote her autobiography in 1995 'From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides' and John Lorne Campbell published 'Canna, the story of a Hebridean Island'. Over 1000 items from the Canna House sound and picture archives and can be found online at Tobar an Dualchais - Kist o riches. Canna House will not be open for tours during summer 2016 due to renovation and documentation projects being undertaken. Access to the walled garden is free at all times. Contact Canna House Archivist/Manager Fiona Mackenzie - tel: 01687462473.
Café Canna serves light snacks, lunches and evening meals. The evening menu features produce from the local area: fresh mussels, haddock, venison and a selection of daily specials including Canna-landed lobster. Light refreshments include herbal teas, coffee and a selection of local ales, wine and spirits.
Open April to October. Tel: 01687 462251.
The new community shop offers gifts, handmade crafts and snacks. A percentage of the money raised goes back into the community fund and helps support projects based on Canna.
10 safe yacht moorings are available to visitors at £10 per night per mooring.
The Canna Feis (festival) is usually in August. Events are posted on the Isle of Canna Facebook page.
Tighard Guest House offers B&B in 3 double/twin rooms. Tel: 01687 462474.
Self catering accommodation on Canna is available through the National Trust for Scotland.
Canna Campsite has tent pitches, camping pods and caravans for visitors with toilets, showers and a drying room on site at the campsite. Tel: 01687 462477.
Isle of Muck
The smallest of the Small Isles group and the most fertile, Muck has a population of about 40, mainly living round the tiny harbour of Port Mor. It has been owned by the same family - the MacEwens - for over 100 years.
Muck welcomes visitors all year round, and has a range of accommodation available including a catered Lodge, a large self-catering house, self-catering holiday cottages, a bed & breakfast, bunkhouse and a yurt. The Craft Shop and Gallanach Lodge offer evening meals (please call in advance to check availability). Campers are also very welcome.
Muck may be a small island, but it has a lot to offer and is an easy island to explore on foot. Muck is a great place to get away and relax, having wonderful quiet beaches, stunning landscapes and wildlife. Some of the sites include Beinn Airein (at 451 feet the highest point); Camus Mor, a designated Site of Special Interest (SSSI); Bágh, a renovated croft house with a turf roof; 'A'chille' ('the old village'); Shell Bay- a bay of sea shells; and Caisteal an Duin Bhain - a prehistoric fortified rock.
Whilst exploring the island visitors enjoy a wide variety of birds, including eagles; as well as seals around the seal colony, and some are lucky enough to see whales, basking sharks, porpoises and otters.
A selection of craft courses are available, including making a woven rug on a peg loom from island fleece. Basketry courses are held in May and September.
Muck has a wonderful Community Hall for islanders and visitors to enjoy. Facilities include a main hall with sports equipment, table tennis, meeting room, heritage area, library, toilets, shower and washing machine. Visitors are very welcome to join in activities and social events whilst they are on the island.
The island is provided with 24-hour electricity by the community wind-solar electricity scheme. Until recently the island only had electricity 10 hours/day.
On the farm, there are hairy Luing cattle, a range of breeds of sheep, pigs, hens, and Highland ponies, with three brood mares and the impressive stallion, Strathmashie Seumas Mhor (Seumas). Highland ponies are available for sale.
The Craft Shop in Port Mor is the centre for both locals and visitors alike during Spring to Autumn, (open a few days per week April, May and September, and 7 days per week during June, July and August). The Craft Shop is a sympathetically renovated traditional black house serving freshly caught shellfish from around the island, and home baked bread, cakes and soups. A good selection of crafts and gifts are also available.
The Green Shed is stocked exclusively with items produced on the island, and boasts a large range of hand crafted goods, including felt animals, slippers, pictures and bags, handmade soaps, jewellery, re-cycled slate paintings, and painted buoys, many unique to Muck. The Green Shed also stocks local seasonal vegetables, and is open 24/7 on an honesty basis. Internet access and Wi-fi are available at both the Community Hall and The Craft Shop & Tearoom.
View from Muck to Eigg
Isle of Rum
Bought by the Nature Conservancy Council (now called Scottish Natural Heritage) in 1957, Rum is one of Scotland's finest National Nature Reserves. The island is a haven for a variety of birds and animals including sea eagles, deer, goats, otters, seals and many others, and provides a superb opportunity for detailed research.
The Community Trust Ranger Service offers guided walks and evening talks from April to October - telephone: 01687 462404. Visitors are welcome to follow the nature trails laid out around the village of Kinloch. The newly-built otter hide is situated along a path which is easily reachable from the ferry terminal (turn left at the top of the pier).
The Cuillins of Rum, with their Norse names - Askival, Hallival, Trollaval, Orval - lend an air of mystery to an island that was known as the Forbidden Island. These mountains are the remains of a huge, ancient volcano and attract geologists from all over the world. Rum was the site for the reintroduction of sea eagles in Scotland. The red deer research by Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities is one of the longest running studies of a population of large mammals anywhere in the world.
Once supporting a thriving community, Rum was 'cleared' to make way for sheep and deer and in the latter half of the 19th century was sold to the Bullough family who had made their money through engineering. They only used the island in the autumn for deer stalking and fabulous parties at the incredible Kinloch Castle which they built at the head of Loch Scresort on the north-east of the island.
Rum is a granite island but Kinloch Castle is made entirely of Red Sandstone from Annan. The luxurious castle with its ballroom, elaborate Great Hall and, for the time, unique and complicated showers, proved a wonderfully secluded venue for private parties with a glittering guest list. Seclusion and privacy were paramount and guns were often fired at approaching boats to discourage the curious - thus the 'Forbidden Island'. Rumour and legend abound about the island and the Castle, but are little founded on fact. It is said, for instance, that the family must have tired of the island because after one visit they locked the doors and left never to return. However this is not true and various members of the family visited up until the 1950s when Lady Bullough gifted the island to SNH. It is also said that music and instruments were left by the stands in the musicians gallery in the ballroom, which seems very unlikely since the instruments would have belonged to the musicians rather than the family. They did however leave wine in the cellars.
Kinloch Castle, still as it was when the family left, is a perfect time capsule of Edwardian life, including superb furniture and fittings, a marvellous Steinway piano, Lady Bullough was a pianist, and one of the few operating Orchestrions, automated organs operated by paper-rolls, in the world. Guided tours take place daily during the summer season and also on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12.30pm over the winter. Telephone 01687 462037 to avoid disappointment.
The village has a shop / post office (tel: 01687 460 328) and there is a teashop in the newly redecorated Village Hall. Rum Crafts has a craft shop on the shoreline near the village.
Ivy Cottage Guest House offers dinner, bed & breakfast accommodation in 2 ensuite rooms. Contact: Fliss and Sandy on 01687 462744.
For self catering information (hostel, bothies, camping cabins) and details of the campsite, visit the Rum community web site: www.isleofrum.com
Above: Rum seen from Muck