On a sunny summer day, there is nowhere better to be than on a Hebridean island. Eigg is one of the Small Isles, opposite Skye and a little gem of a place.There are two wonderful walks to do here – the Sgurr of Eigg, an imposing rock pinnacle which is easily ascended by ordinary mortals.Lowly in height at 403m but big on views.An equal pleasure is a stroll along the white sands of Laigh beach and the nearby Singing Sands (for more on this see THE BEAUTIFUL ISLAND OF EIGG (BEACHES) ) with the mountains of Rum rearing straight out of the ocean to nearly 3,000 feet. A day trip only allows one of these options, given ferry times, so we decided to stay overnight and enjoy both walks.
Day 1 : Sailing to Eigg and a walk up the Sgurr of Eigg
Walk time : 3.5 hours Distance: 5 miles/8km Ascent: 403m
Getting to Eigg from Glasgow
I booked the 11am boat from Arisaig which was the only way to get out early on a Friday to Eigg and be able to get off the island late on the Saturday afternoon.No cars are allowed on Eigg (unless you are a resident) so it’s Shank’s Pony – you have to walk everywhere, or hire a bike.But it’s a small island, so it’s fairly easy and indeed very pleasant, to get around.There’s not a huge amount of accommodation and we had intended to wild camp but at the last minute I booked a night in a self catering Yurt, run by Eigg Organics and based in Cleadale, about a 3 mile walk from the ferry. It was the one bit of the trip that I had some misgivings about as I don’t really like the appearance of them, as a general rule.(But there was a bit of method in my madness too……)
So Friday saw us getting up at the ridiculous time of 5.15am, groan, never my finest hour, as it’s a 3.5 hour drive to Arisaig from Glasgow plus we always factor in time for delays and a tea stop.We set off at 6.15am, heading out through Glencoe and given we made good time, had plenty time for a tea at Glenfinnan House Hotel. I love where the hotel is, as it gives some of the finest views of this beautiful area. Nearby St Finan’s and St Mary’s Church is also a lovely spot with a stunning backdrop.
Eigg’s 21st Birthday Party
Arrived in Arisaig village at 10.15am and only just got parked close to the jetty. There was a Ceilidh on Eigg on the Saturday night, celebrating the island’s 21st year in community ownership and young people galore were milling about, some with guitars, to make the journey and celebrate.Joined the queue in the attractive cafe to pick up our booked tickets with several day trippers ahead of us being told they might not get on the boat! They had to wait until just before it left, taking the place of a few folk who, luckily for them, didn’t turn up. Always book a ferry in advance, is the rule! The boat, a small one, carried 100 people, jam packed together like sardines in a tin and in an hour’s time, it would double the island’s population.Wow – we’d picked some weekend to visit what is normally a very sleepy wee island!
Got our gear sorted out – cool box packed with food and wine, walking stuff, poles, rucksacks etc.You have to come to Eigg supplied; I wouldn’t fancy trusting to the very small shop at the jetty.Also, if you book accommodation, the owners usually include a free pick up of you (and/or your belongings) from the jetty. Handy for immediately hiking the Sgurr of Eigg without lugging all our gear too while getting us over to the opposite side of the island where the beach walks were.And we’d get a lift back to the boat next day.
No dolphins on the one hour trip over, plenty of basking seals, lots of guillemots, razorbills, gannets and a few puffins. Beautiful sail on an almost flat calm sea.
Then we were stepping off the ‘Shearwater’ onto the slipway and shaking hands with our host Neil, who also runs an organic garden with his wife Sue. He kindly took all our stuff in his Landrover, leaving us with just day walk items – rucksack, poles, lunch. Perfect.We would then walk over to Cleadale after doing the hill.
Am Laimhrig Cafe
It was such a lovely day we decided firstly to have tea and cakes in the attractive community run café/bistro at the jetty (which also houses the small shop and toilets.) Sitting on the outside terrace looking over the sparkling Hebridean sea, it felt like we’d reached a little corner of paradise.Being on any of the Hebrides, especially the smaller ones, tends to feel like that.
Half an hour later, fuelled with excellent home made carrot cake, off we set, following a track up to pretty Galmisdale (2 houses) before picking up the hill path itself.This path gave excellent, easy walking over the rough heathery ground.
With every step the Sgurr or great rock prow of the hill loomed closer, looking impossible to hike onto and wildly impressive.But the track, which gained height at a lovely ,easy angle, headed right, below and well beyond the prow itself. It then found an easy way up a rocky gash in the ridge, from where the final slopes to the top really began.
I must admit, my first view of the scrambly rocky route ahead made me baulk initially. It was steep with a big drop on one side.Not difficult however though dramatically situated.No exposure however. The views were already looking good…..
I’d hiked the hill many moons ago and didn’t remember this first bit. Age is clearly making me less nimble and seeing risk where there isn’t really too much though it is probably a natural thing; in built protection for 60 year old bones and joints!
Now we started to see the mountainous Isle of Rum, another Small Isle but looking anything but.
The Golden Eagle
Onwards and upwards and then came a section I did remember – a straight narrow path contouring the hill above steepening heathery ground. There are small red paint splotches on the rocks to confirm you are going the best way.
Then another slightly surprising scramble up a gash in the rock, but very easy and safe.It was just at this point that a golden eagle swept past us on the hunt.Wonderful sight.Five minutes later , we saw it again, this time clearly holding something in its talons.
I noticed a chap coming up behind us, who we’d talked to for a few minutes on the moorland. He was here for the day only but wasn’t sure if he had enough time left to climb the Sgurr AND catch the boat back.He was cutting it fine but after checking our map re distance and ascent, it looked like it was only another 25 mins to the top. He’d been hesitant and we’d left him to ponder but he’d clearly taken us at our word and was now haring up behind us – I just hoped we’d calculated properly!
In no time, we were walking up the final rise onto the rock platform of the Sgurr itself.It’s a wonderful viewpoint though there was a haze that meant the more distant views to the mountainous western seaboard and Skye was not quite as clear as I’d hoped (never happy.) Still, not a bad view for all the effort – it had taken us around 1.5 hours to here from the jetty.
We had a nice conversation with the Day Trip guy, who arrived puffing and panting 5 minutes later. He’d had knee replacements earlier in the year and this was his first outing – what a brilliant achievement.He agreed with me that slopes that he might not have thought much of in earlier years, now seemed more challenging – I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t alone in this! Took some photos of him on his phone and he did the same for us.Then he waved a goodbye and headed down at pace, while we enjoyed our eagle’s eye viewpoint for a while longer, demolishing sandwiches , fruit and for Chris , a much needed beer.
Took our time descending, enjoying the ocean below us, islands and the mainland hills of wild Ardnamurchan.
Back to Galmisdale and we now had a walk of 3 miles on good tracks and finally Eigg’s only road, to Cleadale, located on the north side of the island.
A wildflower and wildlife walk
It was a beautiful walk itself with stunning views opening up.May is a gorgeous month in the Highlands and Islands.Wild roses were in bloom, the air was scented with meadowsweet and bluebells, ox eye daisies dotted the emerald grass verges, flag iris and broom were dazzling yellow, delicate purple marsh orchids sat on their spiky stems.
Incredibly, another golden eagle (or perhaps the same one) swept over the fields below us a distance away, before disappearing out of sight amongst the dips and hollows.Those broad brown wings were like a barn door flying through the air.
Seconds later, above the cliffs, a male hen harrier appeared, swooping across the high ground, his give-away pale colour and black tipped wings etched clearly against the blue of the sky. Despite the predators about, larks were trilling melodically above us, singing their hearts out, as if with the sheer joy of summer having descended on their island home.
Chris’s heel was playing up by now and it was a relief to reach the Yurt, looking like an igloo made of canvas. It was open with the key in the door (no-one locks doors here) and in fact, it was a delight inside – roomy, charmingly decorated, well equipped,bright and situated in lots of garden ground with an impressive cliff backdrop.It was a great location and we had a nice bench to sit out on, pour ourselves a welcome drink and admire the peaceful surroundings.
Not the loveliest structure on the outside but we were happy with it and it was brilliant value at £55 for the night.Our luggage had been left inside, as well as our Cool Box with lamb steaks, home made potato salad packed with ice which had come to no harm, thankfully, despite the warm weather. We were all set now for a relaxing evening, some good food and hopefully an evening stroll to watch the sunset over the beach.
Next – a visit to beautiful Laigh Beach and the Singing Sands.