I recently visited the Isle of Skye for a weeks holiday. I have been to Skye on several other occasions, but generally have been passing through on the way to the Outer Hebrides, or on a brief tour on the way up to the Summer Isles or Ullapool. This was the first time I had spent a week on the island.
Having visited Skye before, I had been to all the major islands surrounding it such as the Small Isles (Canna, Eigg, Muck and Rum) as well as Raasay. I had arranged to go to Raasay again, so I was looking to visit another island, preferably one I had not visited before. I had two options. A visit to Rona or a visit to the uninhabited island of Isay. I couldn’t find any tour operators who were visiting Rona, so that option was ruled out pretty quickly.
I got in touch with Aillen and Gordon from Divers Eye Boat Trips at Stein in the north of Skye. They offered to take me out to Isay and leave me there for about 3 hours. This sounded great!
I set off early in the morning, as I was staying in the south of Skye at Isleornsay. The boat set off around 10am from Stein, in the north west corner of Skye. I approached the Harbour on a winding, single track road and descended into the village of Stein. On the right hand side of the road is the Divers Eye Booking Office and Car Park, so I parked here and made my way down to the Harbour front. Gordon was already there preparing the boat and was chatting to another couple. They were going out on the boat for a wildlife watching tour and we were soon joined by another four people who had booked onto the wildlife tour.
The boat set off and as soon as it did, the heavens opened. Fortunately it was only a quick shower and throughout my trip there was intermittent rain, but nothing too severe. We made our way around Loch Bay and towards the small island of Sgeir nam Biast, where there was a small colony of seals, lying lazily on the shore.
From here, we made our way over to Isay and I alighted with a little help from the landing stage. I waved back to the other passengers, who were off to spot as much wildlife as possible before picking me up on their return journey.
As I stood on the island for the first time, I sat on a handy large stone postioned nearby and took stock. I didn’t know that much about the island, but I knew that there was an abandoned village close to the shore. I could just about see it in the distance, so I carefully made my way there via a faint path close to the shoreline.
I scrambled down a hill to get my first good look at the village. The remains of the abandoned houses could be clearly seen from the bottom of the hill. I counted the ruins of about 20 houses and set out to investigate them further.
I am surprised that the island isn’t more widely known as the houses are reminiscent of ‘The Street’ on St Kilda. As well as the houses, there are also the remains of a General Store and further afield is the imposing Isay House. The island has been uninhabited since around 1860, after it was cleared as part of the Highland Clearances. Around 100 people lived on Isay at its peak in the mid nineteenth century.
Once I had taken some photos and had a good look around the occasionally eerie houses, I carried onto Isay House. The house is roofless and is missing half a wall at one end, but it is still a fair size. There is a grand staircase leading up to the first floor that is still in suprisingly good order. In the 16th century the House was inhabited by the Macleods of Lewis. The dastardly Roderick Macleod killed two families by calmly asking them to step outside while he gave them some good news. All so that his grandson could inherit the Isle of Raasay and land around Gairloch.
From Isay House, I then made my way to the islands high point and marvelled as the whole island came into view. In the distance, there were some rudimentary dry stone walls that looked like they could have been built as large animal pens, or possibly a boundary of some sorts.
My time on the island was almost at an end, so I made my way down to the slipway to await the returning ferry, which luckily arrived on time. The other passengers animatedly told me about some of their encounters with the local wildlife, including seals and myriad species of birds. The rain had now ceased altogether and we calmy sailed back into the Harbour at Stein. Truly, a day to remember.