The small but beautiful Isle of Eigg is part of the Small Isles chain in the Inner Hebrides, located 10 miles (16.09 km) off Scotland’s west coast near the Morar Peninsula.
Access is via a one-hour ferry from the port village of Mallaig on the mainland which makes it ideal for day-trippers, especially cyclists who can ride along the pretty single-track road to explore the centre of the island and the two golden beaches – the Singing Sands and Laig Beach.
The Isle of Eigg is one of the smallest islands in the Hebrides (it has a total area of only 12 square miles) but it has one of the most diverse landscapes in Scotland, making it a must-visit destination if you’re exploring the region south of the Isle of Skye.
Eigg has done a remarkable job in keeping its tourism at manageable levels – quite an accomplishment considering the isle is so pretty – and although the residents are very welcoming of tourists the island feels in no way commercialized, which only adds to its charm.
In case you were wondering, the Small Isles consists of Canna, Muck, Rum and Eigg, all of which lie to the south of the Isle of Skye and to the north of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.
While Eigg is considerably smaller than Rum it’s larger than both Canna and Muck, although at only 9 km long from north to south and 5 km wide from east to west it’s not exactly big, but what it loses in landmass against other Scottish islands it more than makes up for with its beauty and character.
There’s a heap of reasons why I think you should visit Eigg, but first and foremost has to be the scenery you’ll discover once you leave the ferry and step foot on dry land.
Although the coastline is predominantly shingle beaches and sheer cliff faces there are a few immaculate white-sand beaches to be found on the isle (check out Laig beach – it’s fantastic). In addition, visitors will see thick woodland, sweeping plains of heather-covered moorland, and An Sgurr – the enormous mountain ridge that dominates the Eigg landscape.
But perhaps even better than the scenery is the solitude you’ll find as you explore the island. There are only around 100 inhabitants on Eigg so it’s a perfect place for travellers looking to find peace and quiet, and the few locals you do meet are warm and welcoming.
The summer months admittedly see an increase in the number of visitors thanks to the ferry routes from the mainland fishing port of Mallaig and the village of Arisaig in Lochaber, but even so it’s remarkably quiet even in the peak tourist season.
Due to its ease of access by ferry from Mallaig the majority of Eigg’s visitors are day-trippers, but it’s possible to stay overnight in one of the few B&Bs and self-catering houses that are on the island – if you book early enough. If you’re interested in an extended trip be aware the accommodation is limited and vacancies fill quickly, so keep an eye on the Isle of Eigg website for updates.
Getting to the island is taken care of by Calmac ferries who sail twice daily from Mallaig to Eigg, Muck, Rum, and Canna in the summer months, but operate a reduced timetable in the winter months. You can view the timetable and make a booking via the Calmac website.
Please note, visitors cannot take cars onto Eigg so your transport options are limited to bicycle and walking.
1: The island walks are lovely and the beaches are superb, especially the one at Silver Sands.
2: The views from the road looking across Laig Bay are spectacular.
3: The locals are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, and it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Visitors won’t be disappointed by this wee island.
1: Try to climb An Sgurr if it’s a clear day and you’re fond of hill walking. Just keep an eye on the time for the return ferry.
2: There’s no public transport on the island but you can hire a bicycle near the ferry jetty (which I definitely recommend for day trippers).
3: If you really want to explore Eigg get yourself an Ordnance Survey map. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
One of the most interesting things about Eigg is that it’s owned and managed by a trust that comprises several local residents as well as the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Highland Council. Between them, they’ve managed to increase the population of the island from around 65 to just over 100 in the last 7 years.
Not a huge population by any means, but then this is an island that thrives on staying small enough to sustain itself – which can be seen in the fact that it’s mostly powered by renewable energy. That’s something the highly-populated regions of Scotland can only dream about.
When you get onto the island you’ll find a few modern amenities that cater to visitors like the café near the ferry jetty, but to be honest, there’s not much else facilities-wise for tourists.
Still, the wee café is great and serves big portions of home-cooked food at a very reasonable price, and I have to say the coffee and cakes are worth the trip on their own. My advice though, is to leave the sugary treats till you return to the ferry slipway and instead hop straight on your bike and make your way along the narrow single-track road that winds its way through the centre of the island towards the north.
You could walk, but as the return ferry only gives you around five hours on the island it’s doubtful you’ll see much of it unless you’re a fast walker, as the route from the ferry terminal to the singing sands is around five miles each way and part of it goes through rough grassland.
That’s why I suggest taking a bike as you’ll have a leisurely ride along a level road that only has an occasional moderately steep climb, and you’ll be able to see a large part of the island without having to worry about missing the return ferry.
Just continue north along the road to its far end at Cleadale, tie the bikes up, and then follow the signs to the footpath that leads to the Singing Sands beach.
I have to say, this part of Eigg is stuck forever in my memory as it’s one of those unexpected ‘wow’ moments that Scotland does so well.
As you near Laig Bay you’ll notice the landscape opens up to a wide, flat plain comprised of farmland, a few houses, and two stunning white-sand beaches that are flanked by a vast, impenetrable wall of sheer cliff faces. Remember the scene in the film Zulu where the tribal warriors suddenly appear on the top of an enormous ridge? Well it looks like that, only even more dramatic.
I’ve included a few 360° on this page that will give you an idea of what it looks like but to be honest, photos simply can’t get across how stunning this part of the island is.
When you finally manage to tear yourself away from that view, head down to the Singing Sands and look across the water to another gorgeous view where the dramatic peaks of the Isle of Muck rise into the sky. The view is just one part of what makes this beach so special as there are a series of amazing caves with waterfalls to explore on the shoreside as well as lots of rock formations on the beach that are home to crystal-clear pools of seawater.
If you have children with you you’re going to have a hard time dragging them away from the Singing Sands.
To the south lies another beach at Laig Bay which is much larger and renowned for the mesmerizing fern-like patterns in the sand that change with the motions of the waves – a natural phenomenon caused by a combination of quartz black basalt and white shell.
But as pretty as Laig Bay is, by this point you’ll have to start thinking about making your way back to the ferry terminal, especially if you haven’t started bird-watching yet.
Eigg is renowned for the number of bird species that live on it (212 at the last count) so if you take your binoculars you’ll be in for a treat as the island has breeding populations of falcons, kestrels, owls and even golden eagles swooping over its landscape.
If you’d like to see my recommended birdwatching binoculars take a look at this article: The Best Binoculars for Birdwatching in Scotland.
Arguably the remotest part of this isle is the moorland plateau on its southern half which rises an impressive 400 metres above sea level at An Sgurr, the enormous sheer-sided pitchstone pinnacle that dominates the island and offers amazing views from its summit.
It’s possible to walk along the ridge that leads to the top of this rocky outcrop where you’ll be able to see across to the Isles of Mull, Coll, Muck, Rum and Skye – at least in good weather. Try this climb on a misty day and the views will be a lot less interesting.
Unfortunately, completing the return climb to the top of An Sgurr will take at least four hours, which means you can either visit the north part of the island on a day trip or do the climb. I took the first option so I can’t really comment further on the ridge but the superb Walk Highlands website has an in-depth guide to climbing it.
Other highlights include the wild willow and hazel woodlands that bloom with wildflowers, the otters that can be regularly seen hunting along the shores, the seals, dolphins, and minke whales swimming all around the coastline, and the white-tailed sea eagles that frequently soar overhead on the hunt for their next meal.
Who needs to visit a zoo when you can see that lot for free?
People have been living on Eigg (pronounced ‘egg’) since the Bronze Age and traces of ancient weapons including knives, axes and arrowheads have been dated from around the Neolithic era.
In many ways, there are a lot of similarities between Eigg and the islands of Orkney and Shetland in the far north. But where those islands are really quite desolate, Eigg has plenty of woodlands to complement its wild and remote areas.
Early Iron Age huts have been found throughout the island along with small fortifications that were designed to restrict incoming access – many of which are over 8,000 years old. However, the greatest number of remains of Eigg’s ancient inhabitants date back around 1,500 years when Irish missionaries first brought Christianity onto the island.
Saint Donnan established a monastery at Kildonnan along with a large number of his followers, and historical evidence suggests this monastery thrived for many years until the Picts massacred them in 617 AD.
The remains of Viking settlers have also been discovered on Eigg, most notably an elaborately decorated silver and bronze sword handle that was found near Kildonnan.
Evidence of Norse inhabitants has also been unearthed at Laig where the remnants of several Scandinavian fishing boats have been uncovered by archaeologists.
After the ownership of the western isles was handed from the Norse to the Scots in the 1266 Treaty of Perth, Eigg was controlled by the MacRory clan and then by the Scottish crown, though several bloody conflicts saw it pass through the hands of several Scottish nobles in the following centuries.
Suffice it to say, this wee island has a lot of stories to tell, but the most notorious event in Eigg’s history occurred in 1577 with the massacre at the Cave of Frances.
At this time a number of the MacLeod clan were being hosted on Eigg by the Ranald clan. Unfortunately, the MacLeods began taking advantage of the local Eigg women and in retaliation, the Ranalds rounded them up and set them adrift at sea.
After being rescued by fellow clan members the MacLeods returned to Eigg to seek revenge on the island’s inhabitants – who had already spotted the approaching invaders and had hidden inside the Cave of Frances. The cave was large enough to house all 395 Eigg residents but it had a small entrance that was overgrown with moss that made it all but impossible for the MacLeods to find.
After a few days of fruitless searching, the MacLeods were ready to depart but just as they were leaving they noticed one of the Islanders near the cave opening.
The MacLeods found as much combustible material as they could and set it alight outside the cave entrance so that everyone inside died of slow asphyxiation from the billowing smoke.
Legend says that only one islander survived the massacre – an elderly woman who had decided to hide elsewhere on Eigg – and while some historians question how much truth there is in this tale, many human remains have been uncovered inside the Cave of Frances over the intervening years.
Things to Do
Hiking An Sgurr: The Sgurr is a dramatic pitchstone ridge, the highest point on the island, which offers panoramic views of the Small Isles and the mainland. A hike to the top is a must-do adventure for any visitor as the trail takes you from gentle slopes to steep, rocky peaks.
Wildlife Watching: The Isle of Eigg is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. Spot an array of bird species including golden and white-tailed eagles, puffins, and buzzards. In addition, seals are often seen basking on the shores, and with luck, you might see dolphins, porpoises, and even minke whales in the surrounding waters.
Walk on the Singing Sands: This stunning white shell beach is named after the strange sound the sand makes underfoot in dry weather. Along with this phenomenon, the beach is a tranquil spot for picnics, swimming, and soaking in the spectacular views of the Isle of Rum.
Visiting the Massacre Cave: This historical site is a poignant reminder of the island’s past. The cave’s grim name comes from a massacre that occurred in the 16th century when 400 islanders were killed by a rival clan from the Isle of Skye. Today, it’s a fascinating site to explore and is worth visiting for anyone with an interest in clan history.
Kayaking: The Isle of Eigg, with its stunning coastline and clear sea, is ideal for kayaking. It’s an excellent way to explore the island but tourists should not attempt this activity unless the sea is calm and they are wearing a life jacket.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there cars on the Isle of Eigg?
Yes, there are cars on the Isle of Eigg. However, the use of vehicles on the island is limited as it has a limited network of roads. The ferry service that connects the island with the mainland doesn’t carry vehicles for visitors, so the cars on the island are only used by residents. Visitors are encouraged to walk or cycle to keep the island’s carbon footprint low as part of its commitment to sustainability.
Who owns the island of Eigg?
The Isle of Eigg is owned by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust which manages it on behalf of the island community who purchased it in 1997. The trust manages the island’s infrastructure, its natural heritage, and its tourism.
Can you stay on the Isle of Eigg?
Visitors can book accommodation on the Isle of Eigg, though spaces are limited and are usually fully booked by the start of the year. The island has a campsite at Eigg Organics (postcode PH42 4RL) that has been voted one of the top 10 in the United Kingdom.
What is Eigg famous for?
Eigg is known as ‘the jewel in the Hebridean crown’ thanks to its sparse population and attractive landscapes. The island is also widely known for An Sgurr, the highest point on the island and a popular hill walking destination.