There are one or two places on the west coast of Scotland that are not islands as such, but which are to all intents and purposes islands. Scoraig on Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross is one. To reach Scoraig you can either go by boat (the easy way – though always weather dependent!) from Badluarach on the south shore of Little Loch Broom – or you can walk. There is no road, no vehicular access, only a dramatic 5-mile cliff-side path. This was the route we chose earlier this year. The walk starts at the road end at Badralloch and offers spectacular views down the length of Little Loch Broom.
Until the mid 1800s the peninsula supported a number of farming townships: houses grouped together surrounded by feannagan – ridge and furrow rigs for growing crops. By the mid-19th century, however, the estate had been sold off and the new owner dramatically changed the landscape of the area by breaking up the townships and laying out crofts. These were hard, harsh times in the Highlands and Islands. New homes had to be built from scratch, infertile land worked until a living could be eked from it. Increased rents, both in kind and in labour, demanded by landlords.
But battle on they did, and that so many survived is a tribute to the courage and determination of the inhabitants. Life continued, families grew and according to Scoraig’s community website, there were 61 children at the school in 1873. However, as steamer transport declined and road and rail routes passed Scoraig by – as well as the toll of two world wars – the population began to dwindle and by the early 1960s the last of the indigenous Gaelic speaking crofters had gone.
But surprisingly Scoraig didn’t die. A new wave of settlers arrived in the 1960s and 1970s and rebuilt this unique community. Back then some of their practices were regarded as odd– but their approach to self-sufficiency, wind and solar power are now seen as the way forward for the rest of us. They were hard-working pioneers and they were ahead of their time. Scoraig has continued to grow and thrive; that the community supports a nursery and a school for children aged 5-14 is proof of that. What was once seen as ‘alternative’ living has stood the test of time and proven its worth. And can teach us all something for the challenges we face today.