Scotland’s four Small Isles sparkle south of Skye, untrammeled by their well-kept neighbour’s tourist hordes.
Rum’s recent call for new residents, though, has attracted more than 3,000 notes of interest from around the world, shining a light on this unique archipelago. The successful applicants will join the island’s 32-strong population and will move into four, newly-built, environmentally-friendly homes. Who wouldn’t want to live in an unspoilt land, underwritten by dinosaur bones and hulking volcanoes; a clean, green oasis where sea eagles and basking sharks often outnumber people?
You don’t forget your first view of the Small Isles, best savoured from one of the small cruise ships that open up this island quartet. Eigg soars from the Atlantic in an unmistakable sweep of pitchstone lava; Scotland’s Table Mountain. If Eigg is a sketcher’s dream, Rum is a masterpiece of an oil painting, its Alpine-esque Cuillin mountains a match for their more renowned namesake on Skye. Low lying Muck seduces more gently; a mild, green oasis more akin to the Southern Hebrides. Canna reclines out west, a greatest hits of the Small Isles, with pasture giving way to cliffs.
The Small Isles may not register significantly on the tourist radar, but man has long been drawn to this natural amphitheatre. Tales swirl of Viking marauders and Celtic clans, but their populations were decimated by the baleful Highland Clearances in the 19th century. Much of the population was forced off to the New World as livestock took their place – history didn’t look kindly on islands that supported the Jacobite cause at Culloden.
The greenest isle of all
While Rum is calling out for residents, Eigg doesn’t have to. It’s a microcosm for what communities could achieve in Scotland’s 90-plus inhabited islands. After generations of dubious landlords, the community bought Eigg in 1997 with help from the Scottish Government. The results have been spectacular. Not only has the population swelled to almost 100, but the island has gone green. Seriously green.
Stepping off the ferry, a large sign politely asks you to embrace Eigg’s “Big Green Footsteps”. Giant steps more like. It’s not just about recycling and a sustainable mentality – community-run Eigg Electric’s solar, wind and hydro power saw it become the first island in the world to generate all its own (green) electricity in 2008. It’s not an