DISCOVERING KNOYDART: SCOTLAND’S LAST TRUE WILDERNESS

 

Knoydart is a very special place. A peninsula on the west coast of Scotland accessed only by boat, it has all the feelings of a remote Scottish island. Staying in the village of Inverie, I went there recently to explore Scotland’s last true wilderness.

 

 

 

Standing on the pier at Mallaig, I couldn’t believe how many bags we had. The pier was strewn with luggage, not just ours of course, but several families worth of bags. Everyone taking enough to survive the week. There are no grocery stores as such on Knoydart so it is essential to take provisions with you. There are, however, a couple of places you can pick up basic supplies. The post office sells a few household goods and provisions. The Knoydart Foundation has its own shop in the village and it has a freezer full of excellent venison and a small Off Licence for important stocks of booze.

You really get the feeling you are going somewhere off the beaten track particularly when you scan your eyes round the harbour. The boat to Knoydart doesn’t leave from the larger ferry terminal for the Caledonian McBrayne services sailing to the Hebrides. Surrounded by fishing boats a small vessel with a cabin big enough for a dozen or so people appears round the corner and docks discretely alongside the harbour steps. Men throw ropes to tie up, while others help passengers step over the side of the vessel and up the steps onto the shore on their return to Mallaig from Inverie.

We get the signal to board and before long a human chain had formed the length of the harbour steps. Bags of all shapes and sizes were passed from one pair of hands to another. There was something really lovely about how naturally a human chain formed between strangers and everybody helped out to put all the luggage on board. Bags, canoes and even a didgeridoo passed through peoples’ hands as the boat slowly loaded up. Once on the boat, the goods were covered with a thick tarpaulin to prevent them becoming wet from any spray that might come over the bow during the short forty minute crossing. The boat sailed to the right from the harbour and conversations began between people from several nationalities speaking in different languages.

 

 

The sail up Loch Nevis and into Inverie felt just magical. Surrounded by the most beautiful of Scottish Highland scenery, the whitewashed cottages that line the front of the village came closer into view. How lucky I felt, that this picturesque location was going to be my home for the next week. I couldn’t wait to explore the forests and rugged coastline that stretched into the distance. Bags were unloaded into the back of Landrovers that arrived onto the pier to meet the boat. After being a hive of activity, the pier was soon empty and deserted again as visitors were taken to their accommodation.

We were staying in a traditional style cottage called Tigh Na Feidh, in the village of Inverie. This had once been a crofter’s cottage and boasted magnificent views over Loch Nevis and to the hills beyond. It was very comfortably furnished inside in a very charming traditional manner. It wasn’t long before we settled in and looked forward to evening drinks in the sitting room around the wood burning fire.

Knoydart is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. Whether its canoeing, mountain biking, walking or fishing, this is wonderful environment to be in. Many people go to Knoydart for its wilderness experience and enjoy the isolation in some spectacular scenery. We spent the first morning walking to explore the village and its immediate surroundings. Some beautiful woodlands line the road that takes you along towards the Kilchoan Estate.

I had forgetten how much I enjoyed sea fishing and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to fish again. When I was child I loved fishing with my father from his small boat. We would launch it off Dunbar on the East Lothian coast and often come back with lots of fish. Unfortunately, fishing is one of the few things I can’t do on my own due to the dexterity required to tie lines. So, I took advantage of having some help this week and spent a few evenings fishing off the pier. The mackerel I caught made a tasty supper one evening.

One of the things I most wanted to do was to climb Ladhar Bienne, the highest Munro on the peninsula. We planned to hire a Landrover to take us into the valley to the foot of the mountain so as to shorten the route. Unfortunately, I have been finding walking very difficult at the moment so climbing a Munro was not a option for me. People who follow my blog will have seen a recent post about the difficulties I am experiencing in walking. However, I discovered a new interest which I never knew could be so much fun, and that was driving the dirt tracks with a Landrover.

 

Of course, not having many roads suitable for a vehicle on Knoydart, there isn’t very far you can go. In an easterly direction from Inverie there are two roads, or should I say dirt tracks. One of them leads to a small cove called Airor. What a wonderful journey it was past the headland with some magnificent views over to the islands of Rhum and Skye. At the end of the road was the most remote of little cafes with a lovely selection of food and beautiful home baking. Situated in a lovely bay it had fantastic views over the beach and across to Skye.

The other road from Inverie leads six miles to a farm at a place called Inverguserin. A really beautiful journey through the wilderness takes you into the valley where walkers might begin the ascent of Ladhar Bienne. This was truly beautiful and felt very wild indeed. To add to the atmosphere we came across a stalker who was saddling up two ponies to go up and take the deer off the hill. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to go stalking, I find it a nice thing to do. I’m hoping to get the opportunity to do this someday. Although climbing the Munro wasn’t possible for me this time, the experience of being there was really wonderful.

 

I’ve visited many parts of Scotland over recent years and had some amazing experiences. I have to say however that Knoydart is a very special place and already I am longing to go back there. The isolation, the peace, and the feeling of true wilderness make it just magical There are no ferries arriving each day bringing hundreds of tourists. The majority of people there are those who live there. Although this is part of the Scottish mainland, it really feels like island life. Just things like the old cars, and the lack of road signs make it feel very isolated. There is a lovely farm shop on the Kilchoan Estate selling some nice things that has an honesty box for people to leave their money. Doors are seldom locked and keys are left in cars giving a beautiful feel of community and trust.

There are those who would like ferry companies such as Caledonian Macbrayne to begin running a scheduled service to the peninsula. This would indeed bring many people and money into the community. There would however be a price to pay for this. More infrastructure would be required to support a greater number of visitors and this would change the feel of the place. Before long Knoydart would require more amenities, shops and cafes. One can’t help feeling that something special would then be lost forever. I hope Knoydart remains a true wilderness and the already fragile community there survives for many generations to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.