To get to here: Knoydart and the Hebrides

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“But really, I thought, to even want to do this? To get to here….”

A guest post with reflections, by Sarah, on her wilderness walking last week.

“‘Walking’ is an understatement I feel. To get to places like this”

*

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As I sat on the shore of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, some 450 miles from home, having my lunch, I thought, ‘How long did it take to get to here?’ Loch Coruisk sits in heart of the Black Cuillin, it is surrounded by 22 peaks. It’s only accessible from the sea by boat, or on foot from two villages, both about eight miles away.

Today, the 15th of September 2017, it took nearly four hours from Doune on the Knoydart peninsula to get here. But including travel from home, more like two days. But really, I thought, to even want to do this? To get to here….

For the last week I’ve been exploring wild places, on a Wilderness Scotland guided walking holiday. ‘Walking’ is an understatement I feel. To get to places like this:

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From our base in Doune we have made a number of excursions, around the Knoydart peninsula and also to the isles accessible from here, on the boat the Mary Doune.

We arrived at Loch Coruisk by boat…

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Suitably ‘wowed’ by the scenery on our arrival.

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I am in a group of ten people with a very enthusiast guide – Dave O’Brien, who is extremely enthusiastic about Skye.

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We walk to the end of Loch Coruisk, just two miles, but on very rough ground, and make our way back, returning to the boat.

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I have spent a lot of this week on a boat, I arrived in Mallaig, on the train, and from there we were transported by boat to the Knoydart peninsula.

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Arriving at Doune, our home for the next week. In this modest wooden hostel, right on the beach.

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A delight for fans of the littoral, the in between place at the edge of the land and sea, like myself, for listening and observing the tides, and for enjoying the seaweed.

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Some of my time is spent exploring here.

With views from Knoydart to Sleat on Skye, and across to the isle of Eigg.

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Most days it rains.

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Other days we go further afield. Exploring the Knoydart.

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And also across to some of the isles.

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On Eigg we split into two groups – one group to make the ascent of An Sgurr, and the other to walk to the Bay of Laig – my choice. Here the isle of Rum visible across the sea.

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Eigg is now owned and managed by the community, they bought the island from the landowner in 1997. They have developed their own electricity supply, which is environmentally and economically sustainable. More about Eigg here.

Another day we make the trip to Rum.

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Where we land by dinghy at Kilmory. We walk from here to Kinloch. Passing ‘Protest Rock’. The stone is unmarked, and it’s only the next day when I read John Hunter’s book, ‘The Small Isles’ that I discover what it represents.

 “An unmarked memorial to the centuries of traditions and memories that vanished from the island.”

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This is one reminder of the islanders’ struggles, and in particular the clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. Reading John Hunter’s book I am starkly reminded that there were communities on all these islands – they lived and worked here, their leaving was not by choice, and devastated many of these places.

At Kinloch we have time to visit ‘Kinloch Castle’, as the owners – the English ‘Bullough’ family – grandly called this sandstone house, which they built in 1897. They were not a wealthy family but became rich through the cotton industry. They used the house for entertaining, and for lavish ‘sport’, as did many rich landlords.

The house is quite something – it was very innovative of its time, it had electricity and a telephone (before Glasgow), as well as central heating. It was opulent and lavish, a testament to its owners wealth (they kept turtles and alligators in the heated conservatory), and they were – apparently – good employers. But… still and all, was this really necessary?

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We are given an interesting tour by our guide Ross, of Scottish Natural Heritage, who is very entertaining, and tells us a few stories of what the aristocracy got up to with their lavish parties here (which he told us you won’t find in the guidebook). The final owner, Lady Monica Bullough, sold the house to Scottish Natural Heritage, so it could be preserved in its entirety, with a lot of its contents. However, generous though that might at first seem, she didn’t also leave the money for it to be repaired, and it is now looking rather neglected. So what will become of this now gently crumbling and fading house? It needs millions to be renovated fully… It awaits its fate, and not everyone would wish to have it restored – Scottish writer Jim Crumley describes it as:

“A monument to colossal wealth and ego and acquisitive greed… perpetuates the worst kind of island lairds.”

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I am acutely aware here, that I am a tourist. A visitor. I am aware from my time at Doune that life here is difficult – without mains electricity (we have power at Doune from a generator, it’s not on 24 hours a day), without mains water or drainage, and for all provisions (and waste) to be taken to and from the islands by boat. To live here requires dedication and a respect of the environment. To build a lavish ‘castle’ seems inappropriate somehow…

We leave Rum.

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The boats are safely moored, the sun sets, and the tide continues to flood and ebb.

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And then it’s time to say farewell to Doune.

I will treasure so many memories from Doune. The magical experiences documented here in photographs, but also those that aren’t. The sightings of Minke whales on our trip back from Eigg. The stars at night. The shining in the sound. The wee dram. The enthusiasm of everyone for this place. The wild-ness and remote-ness. The magic of Doune.

On Knoydart I have the luxury of time; time to walk, time to rest, to reflect, and to put some perspective on the ups and downs of life. To be completely in touch with the basics – am I warm and dry, and do I have enough to eat? (Always ‘yes’ at Doune, I wanted for nothing).

For me to be here has been to enjoy feeling unconnected to the rest of the world, to experience a different place which is so remote, so wild, so magical. It’s good to get to here.

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*

My ‘adventure travel’ holiday was booked through Wilderness Scotland. I stayed at Hotel Doune-Knoydart. The food at Doune is superb. Local foods, like crab and fish, venison, cheese; and homemade cakes, bread and desserts. Breakfast was amazing – a full spread, and specials like kippers and porridge. And all the food was fabulously and stylishly served, as well as being generous and delicious. Thank you to everyone at Doune for their hospitality and care.

Thanks to Dave O’Brien for the photo of me at Loch Coruisk, and to Heather O’Hara for the photo of me on the boat. Heather also bought John Hunter’s book which provided good reading for me whilst enjoying quiet time at Doune. And thanks to all of my colleagues on the holiday, we made a great team.

6 thoughts on “To get to here: Knoydart and the Hebrides

    1. Sarah Horton Post author

      Thank you! We are lucky that Knoydart is so ‘accessible’ to us – some of my colleagues on the trip had travelled from Europe, US and Canada (and south of England)… so a relatively ‘short’ trip for me to wilderness. What a trip indeed!

      Reply
  1. hirstsj

    Thank you for posting this Sarah. It’s inspiring. I would love to try just a little of what you have done and see if I take do such a trip too. The photographs of seaweed and beach are my favourites. I take many of these on the beaches in Australia.

    Reply
  2. hirstsj

    I read my own comment and realized that I must re-read things before posting, autocorrect is not always automatically correct! I think you got the gist though. Very enjoyable post and one I read again today with my husband (hence discovering the mistakes).

    Reply
    1. Sarah Horton Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad you found the trip inspiring… it’s always good to go a little bit further afield and see what we find. Especially if it involves seaweed 😉

      Reply

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