The Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Jul 26, 2019 - Lord of the Glens

The sheltered harbor of Tobermory at the northwest corner of the Isle of Mull was founded as a fishing town in 1788. A ship of the Spanish Armada had sought refuge here 200 years earlier and, having survived a battle with the English navy and a storm-torn circumnavigation of northern Britain, was blown up by the local clansmen. Today Tobermory is a haven of tranquility, its colorful houses framing the waterfront while visiting yachts bob in the harbor alongside local fishing boats. 

It’s an eclectic place—the home of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust—and it was delightful to have free time to explore its many curiosities, craft shops, and cafés. Some us took a walk-through extending from the Celtic rainforest to Rubha nan Gall lighthouse. The natural woodland here consists of species such as hazel, birch, holly, sessile oak, ash, and mighty Scots pine, protected from development by the steep coastal slope it occupies.

The lighthouse was built in 1857 by the famous Stevenson brothers and it sits in a commanding position, looking out over the Sound of Mull to the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula beyond. That peninsula, the most westerly point of the British mainland, is guarded by another fine Stevenson lighthouse. Everywhere there were wildflowers—meadowsweet and self-heal, tormentil and herb Robert, and of course, heather.

At noon we slipped away from our berth and sailed to the Isle of Eigg, one of the small isles. En route, we spotted Manx shearwaters, northern gannets, the great skua, and a few porpoises. The tiny island was the subject of a community buy-out in 1997, and since then the once-dwindling population has grown to around 100 people and a suite of initiatives for green energy and other sustainable industries have been implemented. Some of us took to bicycles and explored the island by pedal power. The rest of us walked the island’s meadows, lanes, and shorelines, watching butterflies and oystercatchers, and imagining what life would be like in such a small community, set aside from the rest of the country.

Lord of the Glens turned toward the northeast and carried us over to the mainland, into Loch Nevis and the remote Highland village of Inverie. A string of white-painted cottages and a pub hug the shore, backed by forest and looming rocky peaks. A young musician came aboard to play for us around dinner. There’s no road to this village, only a footpath across the mountains, and so access to schools and essential services is all by water. It is an area of mesmerizing beauty, stunning in the glowing evening light.

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About the Author

Carol Knott

Expedition Leader

Carol studied archaeology, history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, her native city. She spent many years as an archaeologist in the southeast of England, specializing in medieval ceramics and the conservation of historic houses and gardens. Since 1988 she has worked as an archaeologist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, living in a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, and was formerly archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland for their World Heritage site of St Kilda. Her great pleasure is to explore the cultures of Scotland, Europe and the North Atlantic, and to bring them to life for a modern audience. 

About the Photographer

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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