Isle of Eigg, fragments of an ancient stone cross
For a month-long visit to Scotland, I decided to hunker down in just one spot – on the remote and rarely visited Isle of Eigg. At twelve square miles and with a community of just 83 residents, Eigg is a blip in the sea – a smudge of land in the Northwestern Inner Hebrides.
I figured a tiny nowhere isle would guarantee an earthy, un-touristy experience, allowing me to absorb the real Scotland, and it did. To get to the Isle of Eigg, hop on the West Highland Railway out of Edinburgh, which chugs northward bound for Scotland’s scattered Western Isles. This jaunt takes just five hours across the loch-lavish purple Highlands until you get off at the edge-of-the-world port town, Maillaig.
My rented stone cottage was in Glamisdale, one of two settlements on Eigg. Staying at the Lageorna cottage or the Glebe Barn (both gorgeous stone houses with sweeping views across to neighboring Isle of Muck) also affords the authentic Scottish experience.
I trekked to my cottage on the only road from the ferry docks. The shady walkway spilled open as the woods deferred to valleys, affording views across the water to the nearby Isles of Muck and Rum. Loads of puffed baby lambs dotted the green valleys as droopy-eyed momma sheep strolled leisurely, leading their insecure heel-knocking twins across slopes in search of the tastiest grasses. The verdant valleys dipped and curved, looking prehistoric – preserved without a hint of human.
The earthy smell of the wet land pulled me down out of the haze of travel, and in that still moment, I could swear that saber-toothed tigers and bare-chested, kilt-clad members of the MacLeod and MacDonald clans stormed across the fields, warring and pillaging right in front of me.
Don’t miss hiking up the An Sgurr, the highest peak on the isle. Jutting from the center of the isle, this sliver of a mountain stands alone, looking as though someone had spliced off its accompanying ranges and left only the middle pitchstone peak. At 1,300 feet, you have a 360-degree view of all the other islands in the Hebrides.
Not to be forgotten is the classic Western Isles souvenir: a colorful striped woven hat made of wool from the local sheep. And don’t forget your rubber Wellington boots; some hiking trails cut through crowded sheep pastures. The trail books say, "Just lift open the gate, and go on through."
When I left Eigg, I watched it disappear into a sea of wind-whipped green, vanishing into an indiscernible speck rendering the tiny isle forgettable, dismissible even, except to the few who instinctually journey to the purported nowhere and are all the better because of it.