Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rum form a group of four islands located off the west coast of Scotland known as the ‘Small Isles’. All four islands are very different physically and in terms of land tenure. Rum is the largest and most mountainous of the group, lying approximately 25km from the mainland between the Isle of Skye and the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
Here you will see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – from sandy beaches to dramatic hills – green woodlands, heather moors, unforgettable views with magnificent sunsets over the Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna, Skye and the remote wilderness of Knoydart.
Eigg is the most fertile of the Small Isles and is home to half the population of the Small Isles Parish. Privately-owned Muck is the most ‘gentle’ in terms of climate and landscape, while Canna, with its high moorland plateau and good farming soil, is a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) property.
How to get there
Summer timetable: the ferry from Mallaig goes to various combinations of the 4 islands every day except Sunday between mid-April and mid-October. The winter timetable may have slightly less sailings.
These ferries are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne – Tel: 01475 650 100 / fax: 01475 637 607.
In the summer, boats from Mallaig and Arisaig go on regular day cruises to the Small Isles.
Day cruises to Rum, Eigg, and Canna
Please note that no vehicles are carried on any of these boats.
Caledonian MacBrayne runs a ferry from Mallaig to the Small Isles six days a week. Cycles can be carried for a charge of 2 pounds. If you will be travelling in a party of 12 or over, please contact CalMac in advance (Tel: 01687 462403) – it is not a big boat you know!
The 1999 summer timetable (from 2 April to 16 October) allows the following cruises:
On Saturdays you can see all four islands. It takes 7 hours and you will be on the boat all the time (no time allowed onshore) so make sure it’s a nice day. I saw a whale the day that I went. Cost: 12 pounds. It leaves at 12.30pm.
On Mondays you can see Eigg, Rum and Canna on another non-landing cruise which leaves Mallaig at 10.30am and returns at 5.30pm. Cost 12 pounds.
If you want to visit Eigg, you can have 2 hours there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Cost: 7.80 pounds. Leave Mallaig at 10.30am.
On Wednesdays you can spend 3 and a half hours on Rum (cost: 11.70 pounds) or 1 hour on Canna (13 pounds). Leave Mallaig at 10.30am.
Rum (sometimes – wrongly – called Rhum)
Bought by the Nature Conservancy Council (now called Scottish Natural Heritage) in 1957, Rum is a sort of outdoor laboratory for the study of rocks, plants, birds and animals, and as such is well-protected from tourists by strict access rules. Visitors need to apply for permission (contact the Nature Reserve Office – telephone 01687 462 026 / fax: 01687 462 805) to camp and climb here on what has long been known as The Forbidden Isle.
Rùm, by far the largest and most-visited of the Small Isles, possesses a cluster of formidable volcanic peaks, the architecturally remarkable Kinloch Castle, and some wonderful wildlife.
Rum is state owned and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) describes the Island as its ‘flagship NNR’. In terms of existing accommodation for tourists, the Island currently offers youth hostel accommodation in Kinloch Castle, bothies and the campsite, so there is the potential for a wider range of accommodation to be offered to visitors. Rum has a magnificent landscape and outstanding wildlife whilst Kinloch Castle doubles as a unique cultural asset and hostel. These attract a solid but modest visitor base.
Accommodation is limited to a hostel with restaurant and 4 bothies which sleep between 6 and 12 people each. A night in one of the bothies will cost you about 4.50 pounds. The island would be virtually uninhabited but for the SNH employees and volunteer conservationists. The island has a population of around 23 but SNH hopes to see this expand to about 50 over the next 10 years. There is a general store/post office.
Rum has been called the forbidden island, a diamond-shaped mixture of moorland, mountain and coastal grassland called machair. It is one of the “small isles” off the west coast of Scotland and, for the past 50 years, has been a nature reserve. Most of the 28 people who live there work for the government organisation Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which owns it. Now, despite its protected status, SNH want more people to move to Rum. But recently Rum Islanders have been given the green light to conclude takeover talks with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), owners of the Small Isle 16 miles west of Mallaig for more than half a century. Read more
If you do manage to get to Rum, you will be rewarded by sightings of deer, goats and eagles. Over 100,000 Manx shearwaters nest in the hills. Be warned though, the island is said to have the highest rainfall in the Inner Hebrides thanks to its 2000 foot high mountains which catch all the clouds coming in from the Atlantic. And the midges are huge apparently!
The Sheerwater operates daily from late April until late September, departing Arisaig at 11.00 am. The Schedule varies through the week to give you the opportunity to visit and explore the contrasting islands of Eigg, Muck or Rum. Take a day trip aboard the Sheerwater, or use the service to travel between the islands. A variety of accommodation is available on all of the islands and many visitors return to spend a week’s holiday or more so they can enjoy their full potential.
Deposits of platinum and other minerals have been found on the island by scientists from Essex University in England – alas not enough to start mining!
Overlooking Loch Scresort, a sheltered bay halfway up the east coast where the ferry arrives, sits the reddish form of Kinloch Castle, an extravagant Edwardian dream, built by wealthy industrialist George Bullough in 1901. Apparently Edward VII stayed here and had an affair with the mistress of the house. The castle used to be a hotel (up until 1996). Guided tours are now given daily. Kinloch means ‘at the head of the loch’. The Bullough family mausoleum can also be visited if you want to walk over to it.
Isle of Rum Tourist Information Centre:
The Reserve Manager, SNH,
Reserve Office, The White House,
Isle of Rum, Inverness-shire PH43 4RR.
Tel: 01687 462026.
Fax: 01687 462805
Kinloch Castle for hostel accommodation on the island. Tel: 01687 462037.
Rum Deer Management Association: http://www.rumdeerstalking.com/
Isle of Rum Community: http://www.isleofrum.com/
Eigg is the second largest in the Small Isles group. Its distinctive outline is provided by a sloping ridge of lava known as the Sgurr which runs down the island like the backbone of some prehistoric creature. In fact the name Eigg comes from the Gaelic word meaning ‘notch’.
Eigg, which measures just five miles by three, is mostly made up of a basalt plateau 1000ft above sea level, and a great stump of columnar pitchstone lava, known as An Sgurr, rising out of the plateau another 290ft. It’s also by far the most vibrant, populous and welcoming of the Small Isles, with a real strong sense of community.
Eigg has been community owned since 1997 and they have established inclusive governance arrangements through the IEHT. There has been extensive improvement of the community infrastructure over the last decade. The Isle of Eigg was purchased by its own community following a widely publicised campaign and appeal for funds. Ownership was duly transferred to the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust (IEHT) in 1997 and it has just celebrated the first 10 years of its stewardship of the Island’s affairs. The main driver for the purchase was to provide secure tenure for Eigg residents so that they could invest with confidence in their homes and businesses. In addition, the community as a whole wished to invest in the Island’s infrastructure and create the conditions which would attract more people to Eigg and so enable the resident population to increase to a more sustainable level.
If you walk along the road from the pier through the moors, you will reach Laig Bay. About a mile to the north are the Singing Sands of white quartz. There are also a few historic ruins on the island including Iron Age forts, a 6th century Christian church and Viking burial mounds.
The island has been bought and sold several times over the last 10 years. Not all of the owners have been particularly liked by the 60 or so inhabitants whose supplies are transported on the ferry from Mallaig. After many empty promises, the present owner – a German who bought it in 1995 – put the island up for sale. In August 1996, the islanders launched a public appeal to raise money so that Eigg could be properly managed by the islanders themselves in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Highland Council. In April 1997 their offer of 1.5 million pounds was finally accepted and they happily took possession on 12 June 1997. In June 1998 a new pier side complex was opened with tea room and restaurant, craft shop and information centre.
Eigg is the only Scottish finalist in the £1million nationwide Big Green Challenge, designed to encourage people to work together to find new and better ways to tackle major challenges, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They are encouraging others to follow in their “green footsteps” through a new website – www.islandsgoinggreen.org – which is to be officially launched this weekend at the Big Tent Festival, Scotland’s biggest eco-festival, at Falkland in Fife.
Isle of Eigg Tourism Information Centre:
The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust is a company limited by guarantee, and a registered Scottish charity, set up in 1997 to secure the Island’s future and to provide its small population with the opportunity to grow under their own initiatives and efforts. The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has three members: Eigg Residents’ Association, The Highland Council and The Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust
Maggie Fyffe (secretary)
Tel: 01687 482486
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Isle of Eigg PH42 Scotland
Tel: +44 (131) 3127765
Fax: +44 (131) 3128705
Eigg Primary School
Eigg Primary School actively promote partnership between the school, home and the wider community, including the other Small Isles schools and Inverie.
igg Primary School
Isle of Eigg PH42 4RL
Tel: 01687 482424
The furthest of the Small Isles from the mainland. From afar, it appears small and whale-shaped, with a solitary stack rising out of the sea near the east coast. Currently in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, Canna is the only island in the group where the ferry can actually land. The harbour cliffs are daubed with decades of graffiti from seafarers happy to find a safe haven and leave their ship’s name for posterity. There is now a gift shop on the pier. Pony-trekking is also available – telephone Hebridean Trekking Holidays on 01687 462829. The island’s church was built in the 1890s for the Roman Catholic congregation. Looking out over to Skye sits Compass Hill, so called because the iron in its basaltic rock affects compasses up to three miles away.
The island of Canna which is one of the ‘Small Isles’ just south of Skye has around 15,000 seabirds of 14 different species nesting around its shores. Its a cultural background, archaeology and ornithology make it one of the most interesting islands in the Hebrides. Sustainable farming and crofting systems are carried out on the island, which is a Special Protection Area for its large population of seabirds, especially shags, which nest in the cliffs of its dramatic coastline. Canna is also a Special Area of Conservation. Pony trekking is available.
During the sixteenth century there was a lengthy feud between the MacLeod and MacDonald clans, which the led to the massacre of the island’s entire population in the late 16th century. In 1566 a party of MacLeods staying on the island became too amorous and caused trouble with the local girls. They were subsequently rounded up, bound and cast adrift in The Minch but were rescued by some clansmen. In 1577 a party of MacLeods from Skye landed on Eigg with revenge in mind.
Eigg is the most fertile of the Small Isles and is home to half the population of the Small Isles Parish. Privately-owned Muck is the most ‘gentle’ in terms of climate and landscape, while Canna, with its high moorland plateau and good farming soil, is a National Trust for Scotland (NTS) property. Canna is wholly owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). The main Island is operated by the NTS as a livestock farm. Sanday, linked to Canna by a causeway, has 10 crofts. There are currently 17 people resident on the Island (with a family of four due to move there in January 2008). The residents range in age from 3 to 73. There are currently two pupils in the primary school. The Island’s principle economic activities are farming and hospitality (guest house, self-catering, café).
Connected to Canna by a wooden bridge is the tidal island of Sanday which has a population of 18. St. Edward’s Chapel and Point House have been granted half a million pounds of lottery money to turn the chapel into a study centre according to news reports dated February 1997.
Canna, off Skye, is 4.5 miles long by a mile wide is renowned for its birdlife, including sea eagles, golden eagles and puffins. The island is also inhabited by a number of rare butterfly species. In the nearby waters one can spot dolphins and smaller whales. Canna is noted for its tiers of basalt pillars that rise over the eastern half of the island and the sea cliffs that dominate its northern shore. The highest point on the island is Càrn a’ Ghaill (Gaelic for rocky hill of the storm) at 210 metres (689 ft). On the eastern edge of the island, Compass Hill 139 metres (456 ft) is formed of a volcanic rock known as tuff of such a high iron content that nearby ships’ compasses are distorted, pointing east, rather than north.
In September 2008, Eigg began a year long series of projects as part of their success as one of ten finalists in NESTA’s Big Green Challenge. While the challenge finished in September 2009, the work to make the island “green” is continuing with solar water panels, alternative fuels, mass domestic insulation, transport and local food all being tackled. In May 2009 the island hosted the “Giant’s Footstep Family Festival”, which included talks, workshops, music, theatre and advice about what individuals and communities can do to tackle climate change.
Canna Tourism Information Centre
Inner Hebrides IV Scotland
Tel: +44 (1475) 650100
Canna Primary School: http://www.canna.highland.sch.uk/