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.
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 Sustainability Centre. It runs residential eco courses and holidays to promote green living, which fits in well with the whole "green" ethos of Eigg. Courses include Practical Sustainable Living, Beekeeping for Beginners, Fun with Nature, Ecorenovation and more. Tel: 01687 482495.
Eigg has a fully licensed shop with post office, tea room and crafts. 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 and Gardens can be visited during the summer on Wednesdays (1pm - 2.30pm) and Saturdays (4pm - 5.30pm). Access to the walled garden is free at all times.
Canna Bay Bistro is open for summer 2013. The community shop at the pier offers gifts and handmade crafts. The shop is based on an honesty system and a percentage of the money raised goes back into the community fund and helps support projects based on Canna.
The Canna Feis (festival) is on 7 - 10 August 2013. 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.
You can camp on the island and there are toilets and showers at the farm. For advice on the best places to pitch your tent, call the NTS property manager, Stewart Connor - tel: 01687 462963.
Isle of Muck
The smallest of the Small Isles group and the most fertile, Muck has a population of about 30, mainly living round the tiny harbour of Port Mor. It has been owned by the same family - the MacEwens - for over 100 years. The Craft Shop, Tea Room and Restaurant in Port Mor is open every day during June, July and August from 11am onwards, and most days for the other summer months (tel: 01687 462990 or 01687 460057).
Accommodation on the island includes a hotel, bed and breakfasts, self catering cottages, bunkhouse and yurt. There are music events and ceilidhs in the new community hall. The Muck Open Day is held in June each year and includes farm tours, island walks and other activities. Please visit the community web site www.isleofmuck.com for further information.
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. You can read the Rum Ranger's Blog online for the latest island news and wildlife sightings. 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.
Mountain Leader, Gav Copland, offers guided walks up into the mountains, as well as 4x4 safaris over to Kilmory and Harris for a chance to see the Red Deer, Golden and White Tailed Eagles, the Rum ponies plus the historical and geological sights of the island. Special tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer are designed to fit between ferry sailings. Email email@example.com or connect on Facebook.
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 - 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.
For self catering information and details of the campsite, visit the Rum community web site: www.isleofrum.com