The Changing Small Isles
Views of the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rùm and Canna are ever-changing as you make the journey from east to west along the coast of Moidart and north Ardnamurchan and past its spectacular cliffs, dramatic rocky shores and beautiful white sand beaches. While the dramatic peaks of Rùm’s Cuillin Mountain range are ever present, the distinctive profile of Eigg and its highest hill, An Sgurr, is a prominent feature at first, but it gradually disappears from view to be replaced by the more diminutive profile of Muck as you reach the journey’s end…….
Scotland has 40 National Scenic Areas which cover 13% of its land mass and they earn this designation because their outstanding scenery makes them the country’s finest Landscapes. One of these areas is Morar, Moidart and Ardnamurchan here on Scotland’s north-west coast. It is home to a coastline of spectacular cliffs, dramatic rocky shores and beautiful white sand beaches. Added to all of this are breath-taking views of the Small Isles of Muck, Eigg, Rùm and Canna, which sit a few miles west out in the Sound of Arisaig and just south of the Isle of Skye.
As you travel from Moidart in the east, to Ardnamurchan in the west, your perspective of the Small Isles changes significantly, with both them and features on them coming into view and disappearing again after only a few miles. This everchanging view makes photographing both them and this coastline an absolute joy and now that the evening sun is in the north-west, my plan for the coming weeks is to photograph to do just that. My aim is to capture this spectacular coastline while it is bathed in warm sunlight at the end of our long summer days. In the meantime, however, I thought I would describe this somewhat special journey and share some of the images that I already have.
On reaching Glenuig, you can turn off the main road, drive past the Glenuig Inn and continue westward for about a mile and a half to reach the road end. From there, a short walk takes you to Smirisary, an isolated and roadless crofting village that sits between a rocky foreshore and a steep hillside about two miles to the west of Glenuig. As you walk the final half mile to the village, your view of the sea is obstructed by a small hill, but as you get to the top of it, the view dramatically opens up to reveal islands that you feel you can almost touch (Image 3).
I like to visit Smirisary in mid to late summer. It is a great place to capture Muck, Eigg and Rùm sitting in flat calm seas while they are silhouetted against the colourful skies that are a feature of the sunsets there at that time of year. From there, you get a closer view of the distinctive shape of An Sgurr and the dramatic peaks of the Rùm and its Cuillin mountain range, which sits behind Eigg and simply adds to the magic you are witnessing (Image 4).
If you want to get a view of the Small Isles on this part of your journey, you need to head out to the small but beautiful sandy beach at Ardtoe where a short walk out to the headland on its western side brings the southern end of Eigg and An Sgurr back into view. From there, you also get a glimpse of Rùm because the high peaks of the Rùm Cuillin are just visible above the land that shelters the beach from the open sea (Image 1 and Image 7).
While at Ardtoe and if you don’t mind a walk over uneven and often boggy ground, you can make your way out to the end of Rubha Luinngeanach where you get a more open view of Eigg with Rùm behind it. It was at this spot where I witnessed what I think is the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen over the Small Isles (Image 8). I was out there on a rather cloudy July evening, so my hopes of getting a good image were not high. Suddenly the clouds beyond the skerry of Sgeir an Eidigh parted and allowed the most intense of crepuscular rays to shine down on the Isle of Eigg and silhouetted it against the golden backdrop that they had created. It is a moment that is forever etched on my memory.
On leaving Ardtoe to head back towards Acharacle, you’ll find that a slight diversion down the road towards Arivegaig rewards you with a fine view out through the entrance of Kentra Bay to Eigg, where An Sgurr sits directly behind the gap between the land and the sea (Image 9).
The road to Arivegaig is also a spot where you can catch a full moon setting behind the Rùm Cuillin on a clear winter morning (Image 10).
The next part of the journey west takes you along the side of Loch Sunart and it is a good few miles before you see the Small Isles again because the road now takes you along the southern coast of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It is not until you pass Camas nan Geall and follow the road north around the side of Ben Hiant to reach Doire Daraich before they come back into view again (Image 11).
Given how far west you have travelled to reach there, the perspective is now very different because Eigg now sits to the right of Rùm, while the drive down to Kilmory brings the Muck back into view as reach the phone box just before the village (Image 12).
It is from the hills above Portuairk from where I think you get the most dramatic view of Rùm and the magnificent peaks of its Cuillin mountain range. It is simply majestic, sitting there beyond Sanna Bay and the significantly more diminutive Isle of Muck (Image 15).
While there, it is well worth taking the walk from Portuairk to the beautiful white sand beach at Sanna because, as you climb over the hill that separates the two, another magnificent view of the Small Isles reveals itself (Image 16). It is from there that you can see all the Small Isles because the fourth and, up until now, elusive Isle of Canna reveals itself. If you stop there for a little whole and look north over the beach you can just make it out, sitting well out the west of the Isle of Rùm, which has Eigg to its east and Muck to its south.
Our journey from east to west along this beautiful Moidart and Ardnamurchan coastline ends at Ardnamurchan Point. It is as far west as you can go on the British Mainland and is home to the iconic Ardnamurchan Lighthouse which so many visitors head for when they visit the West Highland Peninsulas.
While you do get a clear view of the Small Isles from there, they do not readily sit in any photographic composition that features the lighthouse because the camera tends to point in a direction looking away from them or is at an angle where the islands are hidden by the lighthouse itself.
It takes a walk out on to the rocks of Dubh Rubha Mor at low tide before you can point the camera north, across the bay of Briaghlann, and capture both the lighthouse and the now familiar profile of Rùm and Muck behind it and it seems fitting that I end this journey with an image of the sun setting on this very scene (Image 17).
It was with quite a jolt that I saw this post on my Facebook feed. You see Ardnamurchan and its views of the small isles brings such a mixture of painful and beautiful memories after I first visited nearly 20 years ago to visit a friend of Roger's (my partner who has since died) at Ockle. I have been back since and think I will always return. Thank you so much for this beautiful post and the photos, just wonderful.
We spent a week in March in the area and followed the route you describe and picture. Mesmerising. Thankyou.
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Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.