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Exploring Inverie, a Beacon of Community at Scotland's Edge

On the northern shores of Scotland’s Loch Nevis, at the foot of a lush, green stretch of mountains, a tidy cluster of whitewashed buildings marks the Knoydart Peninsula’s village of Inverie, the most remote town in all of mainland Scotland. To get here, travelers must hop on a boat for the seven-mile journey from Mallaig, brave an 18-mile hike through the Highlands from the nearest road—or, for travelers on a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyage, arrive in style aboard the stately Lord of the Glens

There are cars in Inverie, ferried in by barge, but follow the single-track road through town long enough and you’ll eventually hit a dead end. “Close your eyes and imagine a couple hundred square miles of untouched Highlands—not on the grid, community owned, no streetlights, no mobile signal,” says Expedition Leader Jessica Todd-Marrone. “It’s like the U.K.’s last true wilderness.”

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Local Jackie Robertson, a 30-year resident of Inverie and a former owner of the Old Forge pub in town, echoes that sentiment. “We’ve got a majestic landscape—wide open spaces, good fresh air, changing seasons. And we're very fortunate, we've got a complete array of wildlife on our doorstep—otters and badgers and pine martens, dolphins in the water, eagles and seals. It's a very symbiotic relationship with both nature and the animals.”

The remote village of Inverie is surrounded by hundreds of square miles of untouched highlands and stretches of mountains.

A Welcoming Town Where Community is King

Despite that abundance of natural beauty, it’s the village itself—and the people who live there—that make Inverie so beloved, both by visitors and by the locals who call it home. “The community is a very strong, resilient, sociable, kind community,” explains Robertson. “You can travel in all corners of the world, but when you find a place where the people don't only care about themselves, they care about each other and the environment, then you know it's special.”

The idea of a remote village inaccessible by car may convey, at first brush, a distaste for outsiders or an independent-to-a-fault ethos, but Inverie has fashioned itself a place where community thrives, visitors and transplants are embraced, and leaning on one another is merely how things are done. 

“The people in Knoydart are just so welcoming, and they’re always excited that we’re there,” Todd-Marrone explains. “They don’t want tourists to come to spend money, they want tourists to come to experience their community. It’s ‘come to our bar because we're playing music tonight and we think it's going to be so fun and you should also have fun in your life!’” 

That’s in part because Inverie doesn’t operate like a typical town—the land and buildings are primarily owned and run in communal fashion by the Knoydart Foundation. “The whole remit of the foundation is to preserve the land and environment for the future for the community,” explains Robertson. That means leasing affordable housing to residents and shop facilities to local businesses, as well as operating a number of subsidiaries—for electricity, butchery, land management, and so on—that reinvest in the community itself.

The Old Forge Pub: The Heartbeat of Inverie

The Old Forge Pub is the vibrant heart of this warm and welcoming community. Photo: Courtesy of the Old Forge Pub

Nowhere is this ethos more on display than at the Old Forge, the most remote pub in the U.K., which serves as a gathering space, income generator, and the heart of community and cultural exchange in Knoydart. “The pub is the conduit,” says Robertson. “It's what brings everybody together. That's the place everybody goes when there's good news to share, when people need to come together for comfort in a time of solace, where they celebrate. The pub is a sort of mecca for us.”

The long, single-story white building is marked by a small black sign, and behind its wooden doors you’re apt to find a motley crew of peak baggers, sailors, musicians, and regulars from the town. And above all, music—it’s not uncommon to hear the cheerful fiddling of a Scottish traditional song wafting out from the windows. Weekend jam sessions are a regular occurrence in the pub, and there’s a selection of instruments hanging on the walls for anyone to strike up a tune at will. “Usually if a tourist picks up an instrument, you’ll find a local will join,” says Robertson. 

A few years ago, after a change of ownership, the Inverie townspeople were frustrated at the direction new leadership was taking with the Old Forge, so they rallied together and raised funds to buy it back. “Now it's owned by the community—we're all shareholders,” Robertson explains. “It's staffed by the community, we all work there. The community is involved in the decision making. It's got sustainability at its heart—it's not just about profit. We're all hugely proud of the pub.” 

While the pub itself may be owned and run by the residents of Inverie, its legions of supporters and admirers span far beyond the bounds of the Knoydart Peninsula—and the Old Forge now bears physical markers of just how beloved it is. After a recent Kickstarter to support a renovation initiative, the bar itself is now made up of small rectangles of wood, each engraved with the name of someone who forked over their own money to support the project.

Large RGB-LEX-Scotland Lord of the Glens 01.jpg
Nimble and small, Lord of the Glens is uniquely built to navigate the Caledonian Canal as well as venture to remote coastal villages like Inverie.
Photo: Ian Strachan

For Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic travelers, the Old Forge isn’t merely a waystation—it’s the climax of an afternoon spent getting to know the landscape and locals of this incredible town. After disembarking from the Lord of the Glens, visitors can join a hike through the forest surrounding Inverie, where traces of the past still linger and where lessons in Inverie’s infrastructure, forest and wildlife management, and history unfurl along the way. The hike culminates in a vista, where the whole of Inverie and Loch Nevis can be seen stretching out below. “You see the gravity of the landscape when you go up to that high point—the boat is so small and the mountains are so much bigger,” says Todd-Marrone.

After a history tour, several encounters with locals, a break for dinner, and a Q&A session with Robertson herself to delve deeper into the rewards and challenges of life in Inverie, the evening culminates with a round of pints at the Forge, the heartbeat of this magical, singular little town, where every visitor who passes through the door is sure to be welcomed. “It doesn't matter if you've been here a day, a month, a year, everybody tends to respect everybody,” says Robertson. “It doesn't matter whether you come in on a multi million-pound yacht or you come in on a raft or kayak.” 

The next morning, intrepid travelers are invited to venture down the old slipway to refresh themselves with a cold plunge in the eye-poppingly chilly waters of Loch Nevis—a baptismal experience of sorts to mark an unforgettable stop on a remarkable journey through Scotland.