Scotlanders | The Last Wilderness

In Landward this year Dougie heads back to Knoydart for the first time in 20 years.

Kay from the Scotlanders heads out for an incredible weekend on the remote and entirely unspoiled Knoydart Peninsula

Knoydart, what a cool name. It denotes fantasy and fiction, with a distinct Game of Thrones feel to it. I’m not sure how fire-breathing dragons and giants with anger issues would bode for Scottish tourism, so it’s just as well this needn’t be of concern.

You could lend a name like Knoydart to an ancient fortress, or even a nerdy video game. Truth is, there are no mythical creatures or CGI warrior types in the place, but that doesn’t make it any less special.

The chunk of land known as Knoydart can be found on Scotland’s paradisical west coast, famed for its flawless beaches and idyllic isles. Not just your standard pretty peninsula, Knoydart’s vast remoteness and limited accessibility has earned its title as ‘Britain’s Last Wilderness’.

Not just a cool name, eh Knoydart?

There are only two ways into the area, and neither is by road or rail. Now there’s a wee sprinkle of modern day magic for you!

Folks of the keen bean variety can tackle the challenging – but very rewarding – 15 mile hike from Kinloch Hourn into the peninsula’s main town, Inverie. With only two nights to spend there before heading over to the Isle of Eigg, we went for the other option, the easy one.

Taking it easy

Small crates of vegetables and bags of groceries were packed alongside our fellow passengers inside on the boat’s main deck.

In a supermarket-less place like Knoydart, locals and visitors have to stock up on supplies in Mallaig before embarking on the epic ferry ride across Loch Nevis to Inverie.

To get to this point we’d travelled by train on the famous West Highland Line from Glasgow, weaving through some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramatic landscapes. Now we were shuffling our bags onto the Knoydart ferry, taking shelter inside from the diagonal rain, and making a beeline for the bar below deck.

We toasted the thirty minute journey with beverages from the Isle of Skye brewery, while chatting to a group of men from who had also been on our train to Mallaig.

They were heading to Knoydart for an “outdoorsy lads’ weekend” of sorts and were also staying in the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse.

Having been before, they pointed ahead as we were offloaded from the ferry. We set off through muddy puddles and drizzle, taking in what we could of our new surroundings through the mist.

Honesty is the best policy

The bunkhouse is owned by the Knoydart Foundation, which was established in 1999 with the aim to “preserve, enhance and develop Knoydart for the well-being of the environment and the people”.

Lodgings on Knoydart vary considerably in terms of standard and price, ranging from the Bunkhouse at £17 per person per night to the absolutely stunning Knoydart Hide at £275 upwards per night. Maybe one day! In the meantime, top or bottom bunk?

Cosy with colourful, mismatched bedding, this humble abode is everything a cold and clinical hostel dorm is not. Towels, Wi-Fi, and some left-behind staple food items are on offer in exchange for a donation in one of the honesty boxes. This system is often found in Scotland’s rural areas and islands, and this level of trust tugs at my tartan heart strings every time.

The lounge area, like the rooms, follows no common colour scheme or furniture coordination, and instead offers a super-comfy place to socialise with fellow guests, get cosy from the heat of the wood-burning stove, or choose something to watch from the extensive video library – yes VIDEO.

Aside from the bunkhouse lounge, the next best social hub is, of course, the local boozer.

The most remote

Day one on Knoydart started later than expected as our taxi driver took an accidental one hour detour between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street Station that morning, causing us to miss our train.

Four hours later we were finally on our way to Mallaig, with lighter purses and high hopes of catching the last ferry to Knoydart. We made it, but given the time of day and the driech conditions on arrival, the extent of our exploration was familiarising ourselves with the interior of the pub.

Not just any pub, I might add.

Not satisfied with just the title of ‘Britain’s Last Wilderness’, Knoydart is also home to the most remote pub on Mainland Britain, The Old Forge.

The pub is now owned by a Belgian gentleman with an impressive career history in the hospitality industry. The homemade Belgian waffles perched on the bar are the ultimate bar snack!

The promising dinner menu is heavy on local produce and seafood which is caught within a seven-mile radius of the kitchen where it is prepared. The scallops are hand-dived, and served with leek fondue, nutmeg mash and toasted hazelnuts.

It would have been rude not to try the Cullen Skink as well as the scallops. Thankfully I wouldn’t dream of being so rude. Yum!

At the table next to us, two elderly gentleman enjoyed beef fillet steaks to celebrate their mountain climb that day. This was an extra special occasion, too, as one of the men had now climbed every single Munro in Scotland after 25 years of ‘Munro bagging’.

We didn’t attempt any of the four challenging Munros the next day and instead opted for the pleasant meander on the short “Knoydart in the Knutshell” walk, before beginning the two hour walk to our dinner venue for the evening.

Doune Here

Following the sea loch’s shoreline until we began our ascent above sea level, we looked back on the town of Inverie which was now miniature against a majestic mountainous backdrop.

We were swallowed up by scenery as we traced the side of the road; hills and lochans, islands and sea. The walk was truly stunning, but felt almost never-ending. After our walk during the day, a two-hour hike for dinner was perhaps a tad ambitious.

As if sensing our sudden lethargy and heightened hunger, a kind couple who lived nearby pulled over in their jeep and drove us the rest of the way. We were bound for Doune Knoydart, an award-winning dining experience in unique lodgings tucked into a beautiful bay, at the tip of the peninsula and the bottom of a big muddy hill.

Wilderness residents Kirsten and Drew dropped us beside the sign which read “Doune here”. We were nearly there.

We practically ran down the hill – our three courses of home-cooked local loveliness were waiting!

We sat inside the rustic wooden interior, complete with sea views and the smell of fresh baking.  We were served a deliciously crunchy nut pâté with warm bread to start, followed by a tender venison stew and creamy mash. I thought I couldn’t possibly stomach any more… until I saw the profiteroles.

Our night was set to end with an, er, interesting walk back up the hill to the road where our lift back was waiting, with nothing to penetrate the pitch darkness sparing the light from my phone. It was all worth it, though, to watch the sunset which preceded the darkness – which you can see in my pic on the right.

Gazing out over the Sound of Sleat, vibrant pinks and purples morphed through the sky, and illuminated the surface of the water. The gnarly peaks of the Cuillin mountain range on Skye were visible through swirls of cloud.

Wearing the last of the winter’s snow and backlit by the falling sun, they were atmospheric and other-worldly. Even if only in my thoughts, I was completely lost in the wilderness.

Back To Reality

The ferry journey back to Mallaig the following morning was the perfect contrast to that of our arrival. Enveloped by blue, from the calm surface of Loch Nevis to the clear, sunny sky, we sat outside to truly appreciate Knoydart in all its scenic glory.

I sat with my back to the direction we were travelling, savouring the last of the place they call wilderness.

The bustling port of Mallaig was soon within sight, the gateway for the second leg of our adventure, the Isle of Eigg.

Next up from The Scotlanders it’s Neil, who’ll be sharing his Top 5 Day-Trip Hikes within reach of Central Scotland in a fortnight’s time