A Scottish sojourn

By | Category: Travel destinations
the main street in Mallaig

the main street in Mallaig

Despite over two decades of living in London, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve barely scratched the surface of Scotland, so this summer I thought it was time to make amends and see a bit more of the land up north. Travelling by train from Glasgow to Mallaig, up the west coast, I had a taste of the fabulous Scottish scenery. There was plenty of lush greenery and the hillsides and meadows were replete with bluebells, carpeting the landscape in blue hues. The railway line followed fast-flowing rivers and pristine lochs, interspersed with frequent glimpses of abundant waterfalls as well as snow-covered peaks in the distance. A few hours into the journey the train even crossed a bridge that looked vaguely familiar – the Glenfinnan Viaduct, aka the “Harry Potter Bridge”, crossed by the Hogwarts Express on its way to that famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Five and a half hours and 25 stops later I clambered off the train in Mallaig, the end of the line. Sadly, by the time I reached this tiny hamlet of less than 800 souls, the weather had taken a turn towards the Scottish and it was tipping it down, a wicked and very wet wind blowing down the high street. There was nothing for it but to run to the nearest seafood restaurant for some food and libation. The Cornerstone provided seafood in ample measure – my queen scallops with baby leek and red chill starter was every bit as good as my main of mussels with red onion, white wine, cream and parsley. Seafood by the sea is always so much tastier. The rain abated over night and I spent the following day checking out Mallaig. It’s a tiny place, first populated in the 1840s and still a working fishing port, hence all the good seafood. Formerly a herring fishing port, it’s now diversified its fishing industry and it’s also become quite touristy, with people using it as a base to explore the surrounding nature or taking the ferry service to the islands of the Inner Hebrides. I took a stroll along the cliffs overlooking Mallaig and enjoyed a fantastic seafood paella for lunch, before plotting the rest of my journey.

the beach on the Knoydart peninsular

the beach on the Knoydart peninsular

There is no shortage of islands to visit, but despite that I opted for staying on the mainland the following day, albeit a part of the mainland only reached by ferry – Knoydart Peninsula. The peninsula is a designated National Scenic Area and it was certainly at its most scenic when I stepped off the ferry to lug my backpack through the small village of Inverie to the Knoydart Bunkhouse, a few kilometres away from the ferry stop. The whole area is owned and operated by the Knoydart Foundation, and it’s become one of the best sustainable initiatives in the UK, since they took it over in 1997. It’s perfect for hiking, or just chilling on the quiet beaches, overlooked by lofty peaks. Inverie is also home to mainland Britain’s most remote pub, the Old Forge, but much to my dismay, this was closed on the evening I was there. Instead I opted for an amble in the surroundings and couldn’t believe my luck when I found a church with a man sitting outside it with a pint. A church converted into a pub? What joy! Well no, no such joy. This was a church converted into a private residence and said pint-drinking fellow was thoroughly unimpressed by my enquiries into where to get a beverage…

Saucy Mary's

Saucy Mary’s

Next morning I decided to check out some islands after all and made my way to the Isle of Skye, again via Mallaig, as there was no direct route. Checked in at the wickedly named Saucy Mary’s in Kyleakin, sadly not that saucy a place, at least not from what I could gather. The bus journey there, from the ferry port of Armadale, provided more gorgeous scenery – Skye had an abundance of bluebell dells that could be admired from the bus. Mountains and high cliffs loomed in the distance, every shade of brown and beige until seen up close when they suddenly took on a greener, more vivid look. I spent some three hours sailing with two local sailors, along the coast of Skye, on a rain-battered, wind-swept sort of evening, motoring out of the harbour and then setting sails further out. We followed the coastline north and the scenery, despite the rain, was very pretty, the rain eventually leaving us by the end of the evening, although thick cloud cover remained.

Over halfway through my week-long Scottish sojourn already, I continued my island-hopping the following day, reaching the Isle of Rum in the afternoon, after two ferry rides

bluebells on the Isle of Rhum

bluebells on the Isle of Rhum

. The weather was finally improving and the sun came out to light up Rum. I settled in, in the bunkhouse at Kinloch, famed for its castle, of the same name. In fact the whole island is famous, mostly as a previous no-go area owned by the Bullough family, who had the castle built and kept the island off-bounds for visitors. Finally in the late 1960s it was turned into a nature reserve and very beautiful it is too. The bunkhouse sits right on the waterfront with stunning views. The island is surprisingly green and there were still rhododendrons and bluebells, gorse and other flowers in full bloom, growing wild everywhere. The whole island is perfect for hiking. That said, I again accidentally wandered onto private property, although this time there was no beer-drinking gentleman sitting outside.

Realising my mistake I continued along a small path signposting “otter hiding”. Well, I never found any otters – they were otterly hidden – but the gorgeous path wound its way through what looked like an enchanted forest, all moss-covered and overgrown in the most wonderful fashion, bluebells lining my path and covering the forest floor, beautiful specks of blue in a bright-green environment. Not all the greenery was covering natural features – it soon dawned on me that some of the moss and lichen were growing right over ruins of old stone houses, quietly and gently going back to nature. I crossed several streams before veering off the path to a small beach, the perfect meditation spot.

Isle of Rhum

Isle of Rhum

My last night on Rum was spent in the local bar/community hall, enjoying some rum (when on Rum and all that) and it was as busy as it could be on a Saturday night in a tiny community. There was live music, tall island tales being told, friendly people and absolutely no need to ever leave. I suddenly felt like making Rum my home and not just for the name of it.

Anna Maria travelled with The Clipperton Project  which is a non-profit organisation with international reach, organising expeditions, exhibitions and various events. Most expeditions take place onboard ship.

For information on Scotland click here.

By Anna Maria Espsäter

First UK Rights

 

 

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