Walking on the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides

This is part two of our Isle of Eigg adventure covering our family walks on the island. Pop over and read part one for more information about Eigg, our accommodation and where to eat.

The most famous walk on Eigg is to the summit of An Sgurr, the dramatic lump of rock you can see in the photo below. I wasn’t sure how suitable it was for the kids to climb so we chose a couple of less strenuous options.

Laig Bay and Singing Sands beach

Our first walk was to the north of the island to spend a day exploring the fabulous beaches of Eigg.

An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg
Leaving the hostel, walking towards An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg

We set out from our accommodation, Glebe Barn Hostel, along the main road towards Cleadale. This took us past the village primary school and a small heritage centre which we stopped to have a look in. Next door my daughter nosed around the island swap shop; I had visions of her finding something large and bulky which we’d have to carry so I quickly retrieved her.

Banana ice cream on our Eigg walk
Banana ice cream on our Eigg walk

A better find was a sign outside a house which advertised home made ice cream. It was early in the day but it’s never too early for ice cream if you’re a kid! We sat outside, drinking coffee and enjoying the morning sunshine, whilst the kids ate some rather yummy banana ice cream.

Walk from Blar Dubh plantation towards Laig, Eigg
Walk from Blar Dubh plantation towards Laig, Eigg

Shortly after leaving our ice cream stop we veered away from the road and followed a track marked by dots up through the trees. The path continues across heather over some pretty boggy ground. It eventually led us to the gate shown above. Little did we know that after passing through the gap in the cliffs we would be treated to the stunning landscape below.

Walking towards Laig bay, Eigg
Walking towards Laig bay, Eigg

Looking across we could see the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe and below them the crofts which have opened up since the residents bought the island in 1997. Beside us was a kettle hole lochan formed by a retreating glacier, whilst in front was the Bay of Laig.

Walk down to Laig beach, Isle of Eigg
Walk down to Laig beach, Isle of Eigg

We walked down past a farmhouse onto Laig beach. As was usual in Scotland, we had the entire place to ourselves. A stream flowed down across the beach which proved slightly more difficult to cross with dry feet than you would imagine.

Crossing the stones on Laig beach, Eigg
Crossing the stones on Laig beach, Eigg

I was determined to eat an egg sandwich on Eigg so after finding the perfect picnic spot (the tree trunk in the top photo) we stopped for lunch. Sitting on Eigg, and looking across to the peaks of the Rum Cuillins I could think of nowhere else I’d rather be. I therefore declare this the best picnic spot in the UK but if you have any other contenders do let me know.

The path to Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
The path to Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

At low tide it is possible to walk along the beach from Laig to Singing Sands but the tide was too far in on our visit. Instead we detoured inland and crossed a field of cows (which my daughter hates). We passed a couple of bicycles in the field, temporarily left unlocked whilst the hirers visited the beach. The kids both remarked how you’d never be able to do this back home without them going walkabout.

View of Rum from Laig beach, Isle of Eigg
View of Rum from Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

Geologists would love Eigg. I didn’t really know what I was looking at but I could still pick out dykes, a rock arch and caves.

The beach at Singing Sands is so named because of the quartz sand grains which make a squeaky sound if you walk across them when dry. We managed to make some sounds by scuffing our boots along the sand but the term singing is rather fanciful!

Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

We loved the welly stile below, a creative use of old boots. There were also a couple of sculptures on the beach made from items washed ashore. I’ve no idea who made them but they’re a fun and thought provoking addition.

Welly stile, Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
Welly stile, Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

Dragging ourselves away from the beach, and the views, we took the direct route back to the hostel along the main road. We were passed a couple of times by cars which had seen better days. I read afterwards that cars on Eigg are MOT exempt which explains a lot!

The Cleadale road, Eigg
The Cleadale road, Eigg

We’d underestimated how warm the day was going to be and hadn’t taken enough water to drink. It was with some relief when we found that the house selling ice cream and coffee was still open for business. Even better, the lady had just baked a rhubarb pie. It would have been rude not to sample it and it certainly helped power the final part of our walk home.

Cathedral and Massacre caves

Our second walk only took a couple of hours, although at low tide you could walk further. Starting out from the pier at Galmisdale this time we followed purple paint spots for about a mile until we reached the caves.

Walk to Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg
Walk to Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg

After our views of Rum the previous day this time we were facing the small island of Muck. We watched a couple of sea kayakers who were making the crossing over to Muck.

The path led down from the cliff onto the beach where we found our first cave of the day, Cathedral Cave. The cave was once used for Roman Catholic services hence its name. It has an impressively large entrance and can be explored at low tide as long as you remember to bring a torch.

Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg
Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg

The Massacre Cave looks less impressive from the front. It has however an incredibly sad history.

Back in 1577, as part of a long running feud with the Macleods of Skye everyone on the island hid in the cave to avoid detection. However footsteps were spotted in the snow leading to the cave and the Macleods lit a fire in the entrance. All 395 people who were hiding perished.

Massacre cave, Isle of Eigg
Massacre cave, Isle of Eigg

In the past visitors have been able to walk into the cave but a large lump of rock fell from the roof recently narrowly missing a couple. There are now signs at the entrance, and elsewhere on the island, warning not to enter. It was disappointing not to go in but I didn’t fancy a chunk of rock on my head!

To extend the walk there are several other caves and a couple of waterfalls further on along the beach but we were keen to visit the island produce and craft market back in Galmisdale so we simply retraced our route.

More info:

  • The gift shop in Galmisdale sells a pack of postcards with details of the popular walks on Eigg. There is also a map near the pier which outlines the approximate routes of the walks. Alternatively, further walks are available on the Walk Highlands website which we found an invaluable resource.
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Exploring the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides

Have you ever visited somewhere that felt so perfect that you didn’t want to leave? That’s how we felt after our short break on the Isle of Eigg.

Reached by a 1.5 hour ferry ride from Mallaig, Eigg is one of the Small Isles south of Skye. I’d been a little worried our journey would be choppy but the sea was calm. Instead the excitement was provided by the dolphins following our boat and a minke whale spotted blowing nearby.

Welcome to Eigg
Welcome to Eigg

Our Calmac ferry docked at Galmisdale, the main port on the island. We’d booked a self-contained flat annex at Glebe Barn which also offers hostel accommodation to visitors. Stuart, the owner, found us wandering on the pier, picked up our luggage and pointed out the house on the skyline, aptly comparing it to Father Ted’s house on Craggy Island. He explained we could either walk along the road or take the adventurous route via the shoreline. We played it safe and walked the road route for our first trip but soon realised the shoreline route was much quicker.

Glebe hostel, Isle of Eigg
Glebe Barn hostel, Isle of Eigg

The flat annexe consisted of a main living area, kitchen and bathroom. It usually sleeps 2 people but can accommodate 2 extra children if you don’t mind a bit of a squeeze in the bedroom. Although we had a separate entrance we were also connected to the rest of the hostel by an internal door. This was handy for the kids as they could pop down to the common room to play table football, their main source of entertainment. Unless you count watching golden eagles from the kitchen window!

Shell collecting on Glamisdale beach, Isle of Eigg
Shell collecting on Galmisdale beach, Isle of Eigg

After unpacking our bags we headed out to find the alternative route between the hostel and Galmisdale. The path from the hostel heads down through the bracken to meet up with the shoreline. Using this route it was, in theory, possible to walk to Galmisdale in about 20 minutes. However, this does not take into account stoppage time to sift through the shells at Galmisdale Bay beach.

Shells on Galmisdale beach
Shells on Galmisdale beach

I have visited several places which promote themselves as shell beaches. But the understated nature of Galmisdale Bay beach, which must contain hundreds of thousands of shells, makes it one of my favourites. Added to which the peace and views of the mainland make it a place I’ll remember for a long time.

Our planned destination was the cafe-bar near the pier in Galmisdale. Yet the shell beach wasn’t the only distraction. The light was perfect for photography and the boats in the harbour made for great subjects. Dragging ourselves away from the view we finally made it to the bar and rewarded ourselves with a drink.

Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg

Galmisdale Bay cafe, next to the pier, is a magnet for both tourists and residents. Open every day during the summer months it offers home baked food during the day, turning into a popular bar and restaurant most evenings.

Alongside the cafe we found the Isle of Eigg store and a small gift shop. We’d bought our own food with us as I wasn’t sure what was available on the island. I needn’t have bothered lugging bags of pasta as the store was well stocked although understandably more expensive than the mainland.

Galmisdale pier, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale pier, Isle of Eigg

Leaving the bar we took the road route home as the sun was setting and we hadn’t bought torches with us. The sky turned pink and purple and it was difficult to keep our eyes on the road. Visitors are not allowed to bring cars on to the island so we were quite relaxed about road rules. However we soon discovered most of the locals had cars and some drove pretty fast, presumably because they weren’t expecting much traffic or pedestrians!

Sunset on the Isle of Eigg
Sunset on the Isle of Eigg

Eigg is 5 miles by 3 miles with plenty of walking opportunities. The next day we explored the north of the island, visiting the stunning beaches at Laig and Singing Sands. You can read more about our walks here.

As we walked we saw plenty of evidence of how environmentally aware the islanders are. Eigg generates its own electricity through a combination of hydroelectric, solar and wind power. Waste has to be burned or taken to the mainland so there’s imaginative local re-use and recycling.  Even the small school has been awarded the Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

View of the mainland from Isle of Eigg
View of the mainland from Isle of Eigg

On a sunny summer day I could imagine giving up a hectic life on the mainland and taking up crofting on Eigg. Back home a quick look on Rightmove threw up a couple of building plots and a house we’d admired in Galmisdale Bay. But we visited in summer. I’m pretty sure reality would kick in around October when the weather and a bored teen would take the shine off the idyll.

Boats, Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg
Boats, Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg

Later that day we still had some energy left after our walk in the north so it was time to return to our favourite shell beach. The kids found a rope swing over a stream nearby and messed about on this before heading towards the pier. As it was Sunday evening the cafe-bar was closed so no refreshment stop but we still enjoyed our evening stroll.

Galmisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg

We spent the morning of our departure exploring the area around the Cathedral and Massacre caves before heading back into Galmisdale. On Monday mornings during the summer there’s a craft and produce market in the Community Hall, along with a cafe run by Eiggy Bread. We’d seen hardly anyone else on our Eigg walks so it was a shock to see so many people, both tourists and locals, in the hall for coffee and a chat. We soon realised why when we ate the best food of our holiday, a delicious plum and almond tart.

Isle of Eigg community hall
Isle of Eigg community hall

We still had a couple of hours to fill before our return ferry departed so took a final stroll along the coast. I spotted a colony of seals out on a group of rocks and we sat and watched them.

Seal watching, Isle of Eigg
Seal watching, Isle of Eigg

The funniest moment occurred when a gull flew in low over the seals and almost every one of them launched into the sea. It was hilarious to watch. I wonder whether this happens every time a gull flies over?

Seals, Isle of Eigg
Seals, Isle of Eigg

It was a reluctant walk back to the ferry pier. We’d only stayed for 2 nights but all of us had fallen for the island. Our departure was accompanied by the island piper, playing her bagpipes at the end of the pier. I’m not sure we’ll ever return to Eigg but our short visit will remain in my memory for a long time.

Boarding MV Lochnevis, Eigg to Mallaig ferry
Boarding MV Lochnevis, Eigg to Mallaig ferry

Read part two of our Isle of Eigg adventure here.

More info:

  • We travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William, then picked up a hire car for the final stretch to Mallaig. Read more about our journey here.
  • We used the Calmac ferry from Mallaig to Eigg. A return ticket costs £13 for adults, children aged 5-15 years are half price.
  • The self-catering annexe at Glebe Barn costs £52 per night for 2 people. There is an additional charge of £12 per person if additional beds are used.
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A family trip on the Caledonian Sleeper; London to Fort William and on to Mallaig

Flying has lost its allure and sitting in traffic on the M6 has never had any but there was an air of anticipation as we waited to board the Caledonian Sleeper. Is there a better way to start a family holiday than going to bed on a train and waking up in the hills of Scotland?

Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper

We had booked on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service which was scheduled to leave London Euston at 9.15pm. Fearful of missing the train we’d arrived incredibly early so endured a long wait on the concourse before boarding commenced.

Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston
Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston

Thankfully we were able to check in 30 minutes before departure. As there were four of us travelling we’d booked two sleeper berths (each sleeping two) and our steward unlocked the door between them to make one cabin.

Each room has a set of bunks, a small storage area and a sink; compact but well designed. There are toilets at the end of the carriages. There isn’t much space, either in the rooms or the corridors, but you quickly get used to squeezing in to let people past.

Despite its tiny size the kids had great fun exploring the room. Both immediately bagged the top bunks and unpacked the goodies (soap, eye mask and ear plugs). A few minutes later we felt the train move, we were off!

Checking out the beds on the Caledonian Sleeper
Checking out the beds on the Caledonian Sleeper

As we couldn’t encourage the kids to have an early night we all made our way to the lounge car. This consisted of several tables and sofas which face each other across the carriage. We’d eaten earlier but some people were tucking into haggis, neeps and tatties which looked a lot better than the offering on our local trains. We ordered drinks from the steward and enjoyed the novelty of our accommodation before retiring to bed.

Enjoying the Caledonian Sleeper lounge
Enjoying the Caledonian Sleeper lounge

I’d love to say I slept perfectly but I didn’t. Whilst the mattress and pillows were comfortable the sound of the train creaking and squeaking kept my daughter and I awake for much of the night. Conversely my partner and son had a great sleep and slept through until 7am.

Breakfast in the Highlands

We had coffee, juice and Scottish shortbread delivered to our compartment in the morning. Still hungry we decided to return to the lounge car for breakfast. I knew the train had split during the night with separate sections going to Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William, but I hadn’t realised the lounge car had been disconnected and moved around too!

Views from the Caledonian Sleeper
Views from the Caledonian Sleeper

Fortunately we found the lounge (in the opposite direction) and ordered breakfast. It’s not haute cuisine but eating porridge and watching the Highland scenery go by was one of the highlights of the trip.

The train stops at several stations in the Highlands, including Rannoch Moor. Looking out on the platform I saw a couple of walkers waiting for the train, complete with midge nets over their heads. When I looked closer I could make out the clouds of midges surrounding them. I was very grateful not to get off at that stop!

Arrival in Mallaig

There weren’t any midges to welcome us when we arrived at Fort William. Instead we were met by the car hire representative. Whilst it’s possible to take a train all the way to Mallaig we needed a car to reach our evening accommodation and it was much cheaper to hire in Fort William than Mallaig.

The road takes a similar route to the railway so we didn’t miss out on the views. It was also convenient to be able to stop at Glenfinnan, home of the Jacobite Rising but more recently famous because of its Harry Potter film connections.

Glenfinnan dining car
Glenfinnan dining car

You’d have thought we’d have had enough of railways by this time but I’d already decided on a unique lunch spot, the dining car at Glenfinnan. We enjoyed a great lunch in the restored 1950s carriage; the homemade soups were really tasty although my other half wasn’t so sure about his black pudding toastie. Diners also receive a free ticket to the small Glenfinnan Station Museum which tells the story of the West Highland Line.

Walk to Glenfinnan viaduct
Walk to Glenfinnan viaduct

Glenfinnan viaduct

After lunch it was time to stretch our legs. From the station we walked along the Viaduct Trail which has impressive views over Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Viaduct. The viaduct features in the Harry Potter films and is a magnet for photographers, particularly when the Jacobite steam train (which travels between Fort Wiliam and Mallaig) crosses on its regular tourist run.

Glenfinnan viaduct
Glenfinnan viaduct

I’d hoped to co-ordinate our walk with that of the Jacobite returning across the viaduct. I had a vague idea of its arrival time but we were too early so instead we sat on the platform at Glenfinnan Station waiting to see if it came through. However something much more exciting happened as a pine marten popped out of some undergrowth and ran along the track!

Road to the Isles stopover
Road to the Isles stopover

Giving up on the Jacobite we drove on to Mallaig. Of course, soon after leaving Glenfinnan we saw the steam train coming towards us. I was able to pull over so we could watch the train although it spent most of the time hidden behind trees on the other side of a loch.

Haggis supper, Mallaig
Haggis supper, Mallaig

Our journey ended in Mallaig, a small port on the west coast of Scotland. We were staying in one of the nearby villages before heading to the Isle of Eigg a few days later. More posts will follow but in the interim I’ll leave you with a photo of the deep fried haggis my partner had for tea!

More info:

  • The Caledonian Sleeper runs every evening except Saturday. We paid approximately £145 for the one way journey between London Euston and Fort William. This covered 2 adults and 2 children using a family railcard. Whilst it may sound expensive you save on accommodation costs and travel ~500 miles. Plus it’s a pretty unique and fun experience!
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Campsite review – Sands Caravan and Camping, Gairloch

Sands Caravan and Camping site is a bigger and busier site than we usually choose, but it was its outstanding location in the north west highlands of Scotland that pulled us in.

The site

Sands is 3 miles out from Gairloch village, out along a coastal road.  It offers camping, touring and static caravan pitches and wooden wigwams. The camping and caravan sections are set apart from each other, with campers able to pitch their tents in amongst the dunes. The pitches all looked pretty flat and spacious.

The campsite is in a fabulous location, as you’ll see from this picture.

View from wigwam at Sands Campsite
View from wigwam at Sands campsite

In front of our spot, over the dunes, is the sandy beach.  The small uninhabited island of Longa is visible directly in front, with Skye a little further out. On the other sides are mountain vistas. Could the location be any more spectacular?

Our wigwam

I’d booked us into a wooden wigwam, partly because it saved us carrying all our camping gear and partly as protection against rain and midges.

Rona - our Sands Campsite wigwam
Rona – our Sands campsite wigwam

The wigwams are basic enclosed wooden shelters with platforms and mattresses to sleep on. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow.  There is a small storage area, a kettle and a heater, which we definitely didn’t need.  Each wigwam also has a picnic bench and fire pit outside.

Inside the wigwam at Sands Campsite
Inside the wigwam at Sands Campsite

We needn’t have worried about the rain as it was unexpectedly warm and sunny throughout our stay. However the midges drove us crazy!  We were near enough confined to our wigwams once they came out each evening.  Due to the heat the wigwams resembled saunas as we kept the windows and doors shut in an attempt to keep the midges out.

Campsite facilities

There were plenty of toilets and showers, and they were kept pretty clean given the number of people using them. Annoyingly, the shower buttons had to be pressed every few seconds to stop the water turning off.  Very tricky when you’re trying to wash your hair!

You’re not allowed to cook in the wigwams, and as we’d managed to forget our camping stove we were thankful for the hob in the undercover cooking area (£1 for 20 mins of electricity). There’s also a dining area, which some people were using to escape the midges.

If you don’t fancy cooking, there is a small onsite cafe with home baking, lunches and breakfast rolls.  It’s open from 9am-5pm, then reopens again 6-8pm for evening meals. We popped in for drinks and cake, but didn’t eat there in the evenings.

Sands Campsite cafe
Sands campsite cafe

The camp shop is well stocked and sold just about anything you could possibly need on holiday. It opened at 8.30am, and we were always there ready to pick up freshly baked chocolate croissants each morning. Very tasty and highly recommended.

The shop has tourist information and details of walks in the local area. Directly across from the campsite entrance they’ve created a 1km looped trail, which was popular with the dog walkers. If you fancy a little more action you can also hire bikes (£12 a day) and kayaks (£25 a day) from the shop.

The beach

Beach at Sands Campsite, Gairloch
Beach at Sands campsite, Gairloch

The sites biggest attraction for families is the sandy beach which the campsite fronts onto. I’m guessing that for most of the year its pretty wild and windswept, but during our stay it was the scene of sandcastles, paddling and beach BBQs.

One last tip – if it is sunny during your stay, head up to the dunes to watch sunset (which can be pretty late in summer).   The pinks, gold and orange reflect onto the sea, creating an amazing spectacle. Certainly an impressive end to the day!

Sunset at Sands Campsite beach
Sunset at Sands campsite beach

More info

  • To book, or find out more,  see the Sands Caravan and Camping website.

Costs

  • Our family of four paid £48 per night for the wigwam. This was peak summer pricing. You can get smaller wigwams, these cost £32 for two sharing.
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