Travel

Visit a wild and beautiful Scottish island owned by its residents

This off-the-grid summer escape is perfect for birdwatching, kayaking, and picnicking among sheep.Monday, April 29, 2019

By Danielle Bernabe
Climb the rocky plateau on Eigg’s northern end for a view of the neighboring Isle of Rùm framed by the pinnacle Bidean an Tighearna, or “God’s Finger.”

The familiar markers of island life immediately reveal themselves on the Isle of Eigg: salt-tousled hair, rusty cars, and the soundtrack of lapping waves. But one quickly learns island life here is different. The distinctive ridge of An Sgùrr cracks the horizon in the distance; a throng of identical, blue-eyed border collies sniff and charm newcomers; and crucial, unanimous advice is offered by all: “If you get sick, make sure it’s on a Wednesday. That’s when the doctor visits.”

Though only 10 miles off the west coast of Scotland—the nearest port a five-hour drive from Glasgow—Eigg seems a world away, living off its own, sustainable electrical grid. Each year, the island’s 107 residents welcome around 10,000 tourists who arrive on Eigg with walking sticks in hand, prepared for a daylong jaunt of wildlife discovery. But to dig into the island’s quirky nature and storied past, it’s best to stay awhile. 

A storied road

The town of Eigg has a single main road, which extends nearly the five-mile length of the island, and a single stoplight—not used for streamlining traffic (what traffic?) but to alert everyone when electricity is running low. Lining the street are humble attractions like the tiny post-office-turned-museum detailing island history; a wee, closet-size shed boasting handcrafted curiosities for sale by the honour system; herds of distrustful sheep; and pit stops such as “Rest and Be Thankful,” a patio tea garden open only when the sun shines. 

Enjoy communal dining among locals at Galmisdale Café and Bar.

Today’s peaceful community has come a long way from the “Massacre Cave” incident of the 16th century, where nearly the entire population met its gruesome demise after a contentious dispute with a clan from the Isle of Skye. And after years of neglect by the previous laird, or estate owner, the people gained ownership themselves in 1997. Now, visitors to the nicknamed “People’s Republic of Eigg” contend with nothing more dangerous than negotiating walking territory with sheep or engaging in cheeky yet informative banter with Charlie Galli, the sole taxi driver and self-proclaimed “Eigg Gazette.”

How to visit

After arriving via Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry from nearby port towns of Mallaig and Arisaig, visitors explore Eigg by foot, bike, or “by sticking your thumb out,” as locals advise. All outside cars are prohibited unless required for those with disabilities. Airbnb lists most accommodations, which include yurts, camping plots, or bothies (small shelters usually equipped with a modest stove and outhouse). Summer months are best, and though midges are a pest, they can be tamed with bug spray and a light breeze. 

Self-catering is the norm on Eigg, so pack provisions or stock up at the Isle of Eigg Shop or Eigg Organics. Enjoy communal dining among locals at Galmisdale Café and Bar, or head to Lageorna for a three-course meal and views of the nearby Isle of Rùm. If beer’s more your thing, embrace the jovial sloshing of pints from Eigg’s own Laig Bay Brewing Company (sip slowly, it’s potent).

Take a morning birdwatching walk to spot more than 200 species, including golden eagles; lazy cows roaming the shores of pristine Laig Bay; and the ubiquitous chicken pecking for crumbs. At night, skies completely devoid of light pollution make for unforgettable stargazing. Peering into depths of the cosmos from this sheltered island is a reminder of our tiny place in the world—as long as you ignore the recently introduced WiFi.

Danielle Bernabe is a lifestyle, history, and culinary writer based in Los Angeles. Find her on Instagram @dbernabe.
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