The Slate Islands

22 November 2016

 

easdale

The Slate Islands offer some of the most easily accessible island getaways in Scotland yet still remain a bit of a mystery to most. The attractions of the bigger Hebridean islands are well trumpeted but despite their amazing and unique attractions most people would struggle to pinpoint Seil, Luing and Easdale on a map.

The most accessible of these islands, due to the superbly named “Bridge over the Atlantic” is the island of Seil. The bridge, which dates from 1793, has a distinctive arch to it that allows large vessels to pass under it and was originally designed by Thomas Telford. Only a 30 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Oban and one Atlantic crossing later and you are on this most scenic of isles.

One of the first buildings you pass as you arrive is an old 18th century Inn called Tigh an Truish (affectionately known to locals as the TNT). The name translates from Gaelic as ‘the house of the trousers’. In the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 the wearing of kilts was outlawed so locals would stop here and change into trousers before heading to the mainland.

Collectively these islands are known as “The islands that roofed the world” and as you journey through Seil you can see evidence of the industry that gave the place the title.  Strange as it may seem nowadays, this was one of the global centres for slate mining in the 19th century with exports around the globe. The boats that came to take away the slate brought soil with them as ballast which was spread around the islands to create gardens for the locals to grow their own produce. This creates a stark contrast between the dark hues of the old quarries  and the lush greenery that surrounds them. The island folk museum which is owned by the local community tells the story in detail.

Easdale island is just a short hop by ferry from Ellenabeich. This remarkable and unique place has managed to preserve its charm in no small part because of the resistance by the island population to being connected to the main island of Seil by causeway. It is the smallest inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides and it’s this manageable size and the lack of cars that make this the perfect retreat to get away from it all. Home to one of the finest pubs in the area, The Puffer is famous for its hospitality and it’s worth visiting the island just to sample the delicious seafood menu.

The one time of year when Easdale changes character entirely is for the weekend of the world stone skimming championships. Every September people from all over the world arrive to compete in this prestigious but very informal event. The rules are simple, you get three attempts using a specially selected pieces of Easdale slate and whose stone travels the furthest, after a minimum of three bounces,is the winner. So on you go, get practicing!

Take the Argyll and Bute ferry, just 200 metres across the Cuan sound, from the south of Seil to the outer island of Luing. This low lying island is probably most famous for its distinctive cattle which have been bred here since the 1940s. It’s also a fabulous place for wildlife with otters, dolphins and seals in local waters and it is part of the Firth of Lorn Marine Special Area of Conservation. in spring the island is carpeted with primroses, bluebells and later with wild iris. Ardlarach Lodge has amazing views down the sound of Luing and across to the uninhabited islands of Scarba and Lunga, a luxurious getaway but still only two and a half hours drive from Glasgow airport.

Photo Credit: Dennis Hardley