Blame it on devouring ‘Swallows and Amazons’ as a kid. There’s something magical about camping on an island. First, there’s the challenge of the journey there by canoe or kayak, then the ‘discovery’ of an uninhabited land. Even though the stretch of water may be no more than a few hundred metres, it puts a much greater psychological distance between you and the rest of civilisation. It transforms a mere excursion into a real adventure.
My first overnight camp on an island was on a tiny, unnamed stretch of land in Loch Moidart a couple of years ago. It was a great trip that whetted my appetite to repeat the experience. This article has been several years in the (mental) planning and collates a list of ten island campsites on Scottish lochs. I’ve drawn from various sources (notably a list of freshwater islands in Scotland on Wikipedia) and selected suitable islands for camping with convenient access points. Unless I missed it, I’ve not seen a list of best places to camp on Scottish loch islands before.
Relatively few people venture out to camp on islands within Scottish lochs. And that’s probably a good thing since smaller islands represent a fragile ecosystem devoid of human interference. It goes without saying that it’s absolutely imperative you leave no trace of your visit – adopting the ‘no trace’ seven principles – to minimise any impacts from camping.
The ten islands I’ve selected are all small, uninhabited islands that make for a great overnight expedition. There are many hundreds of loch islands across Scotland and so I’ve been fairly selective I’ve steered clear of Loch Lomond, which is often busy with boats and where are there already bye-laws in place during the summer to clamp down on irresponsible camping. In any case, if you’re in search of wild Scotland then there are far better places to spend your time.
I’ve also steered clear of islands which are ancient burial sites. I was surprised to discover that these are quite common and found, for example, on Lochs Shiel, Awe, Maree and Leven (the Ballachulish one). I don’t know about you but I would never consider camping in a cemetery and so burial sites should be given the respect and peace they deserve.
Seven are freshwater lochs and the remaining three are sea lochs, and all in relatively sheltered locations. At this point it’s worth saying a little about safety and equipment. It goes without saying that venturing out into deep water comes with its own risks, and so these expeditions should only be made with the appropriate knowledge, skills and gear. Knowledge of tides and weather will help avoid any particularly challenging conditions; winds can change direction and whip up waves even on inland lochs. Given relatively benign conditions all of these journeys are possible using an inflatable kayak or packraft – rigid kayaks or canoes are ideal – but knowledge and sound judgement are essential given local conditions.
I’d love to hear any feedback on these ten suggested islands. Do you know of any better camping spots? This post provides my shortlist for future adventures and so I’d love to hear back from you.
- Eilian Sùbhainn on Loch Maree [grid ref: NG914730]
Eilean Sùbhainn is the largest of several small islands in Loch Maree in Wester Ross, and the second largest freshwater island in Scotland after Inchmurrin (Loch Lomond). Lying 2km northeast of Talladale, the island is a nature reserve and includes several small lochans. The highest point is 36m and it has good views to Slioch just across the water.
While Isle Maree might be better known for its strange wishing tree and stone circle dating from 100BC, Eilian Sùbhainn is famous for a different reason. It is one of the few (only?) places where there is an island on an island – the photo below shows the small island on one of Eilean Sùbhainn’s larger lochans. You might be able to string a hammock between its trees to stay for the night but unfortunately it doesn’t look to have any suitable tent pitches.
Access: Parking and access from near Tollie Farm at NG869782.
- An t-Eilean Meadhoin, Eilean a’ Phidhir, Eilean Bàn and Eilean nam Breac on Loch Morar [grid ref: NM700917]
There are four named islands at the western end of Loch Morar, An t-Eilean Meadhoin, Eilean a’ Phidhir, Eilean Bàn and Eilean nam Breac. All contain mixed woodland and rise to just over 20 metres. Loch Morar is the fifth largest loch in Scotland with a surface area of 10.3 square miles. It’s also the deepest freshwater body in the British Isles with a maximum depth of 310 metres (1,017 ft). Like Loch Maree, care should therefore be taken when paddling by canoe or kayak (especially the inflatable variety) in exposed stretches of water. The wind can whip up decent sized waves on large lochs.
Access: There are several jetties on the north shore of the western end of the loch, just near the village of Morar.
- Eilean nan Gobhar on Loch Ailort [grid ref: NM 694794]
There are a number of small islands in the mouth of Loch Ailort in Moidart of which Eilean nan Gobhar (see aerial image) is one of the largest. Eilean nan Gobhar (“goat island”) rises steeply to 42m and has two Iron-Age vitrified forts located close to its summit.
Access: There are jetties in Glenuig Bay (NM674777) and near Lochailort (NM759814); from memory, there’s a small parking space on the roadside at the latter. You may also be able to gain access from Roshven (the nearest access point) at NM715790.
- Eilean Gorm on Loch Ard [grid ref: NN457015]
Loch Ard is a particularly scenic loch in the Trossachs, just west of Aberfoyle, and its sheltered location means that it is ideal for kayaking. There are several small islands including Briedach, Dundochil and St. Mallo, rumoured to have an old chapel dedicated to that saint. There is also a crannog. Eilean Gorm is the largest island (approximately 200 by 50 metres), wooded and including a bothy.
Access: There is parking available at Kinlochard (NN456023) on the northern side of the loch. You can also gain access at NN498015, with parking available nearby at NN499012.
- Eilean a Ghiubais on Loch Arkaig [GR NN160888]
Loch Arkaig in Lochaber is around 12 miles long and up to 300 feet deep. At the eastern end are two islands, the larger of which is Island Columbkill or Eilean Loch Airceig. This is the site of a ruined chapel dedicated to St Columba and the former burial ground of the Camerons of Locheil. However, midway along the loch just off its southern shore is Eilean a Ghiubais. This is a wooded island with a small beach on its western end. The island is separated from the mainland by only a very short stretch of water.
From here you could paddle to the western end to climb Streap, a Corbett. Alternatively, there are many other surrounding hills at the western end including Sgurr na Ciche and other munros up Glen Dessarry.
Access: There appears to be a small layby on the northern shore of the loch at NN077919. Access may also be possible at NN065921.
- Fraoch Eilean and Innis Chonnell on Loch Awe [grid refs: NN108253 and NN977120]
Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute is the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland with a surface area of 38.5 square kilometres (14.9 sq mi). It is the longest freshwater loch in Scotland, measuring 41km long (25 miles) and with an average width of 1 km. There are a number of islands along its length, many with ruined castles or chapels on them (Inishail, for example, has a 13th Century chapel and graveyard). Of those which are not burial grounds Fraoch Eilean, Innis Chonnell and possibly neighbouring Eilean nam Meann look most promising.
Fraoch Eilean (“heather island”) is at the northern end of the loch and is home to a 13th Century castle built by Scottish King Alexander III. A sand and shingle beach connects its two rocky areas with the ruined castle occupying much of the eastern end.
Innis Chonell is around midway along the length of the loch, opposite Dalavich. Its ruined castle was a stronghold of Clan Campbell and possibly dates from the 11th Century. The photo below shows that you can climb the ramparts, giving a good view of neighbouring Eilean nam Meann.
Access: Access and parking available variously from Loch Awe (NN124274), Portsonachan (NN049209) or Dalavich (NM970126).
Photo looking from the ramparts of the ruined castle on Innis Chonnell. Photo credit: Newdaze on Songofthepaddle.co.uk
- Unnamed island off Shona Beag, Loch Moidart [grid ref: NM665730]
A large island, Eilean Shona, provides much of the shelter for Loch Moidart, protecting the loch from the winds that blow 3000 miles across the Atlantic from Canada. Either side are two channels whose water levels (especially the North Channel) are highly dependent on tidal conditions.
In 2014 I ventured along Loch Moidart and found a great camp spot on a small unnamed island just off Shona Beag. This was sheltered, grassy and with a small campfire area that had previously been used. I had the island to myself although there were a couple of yachts moored some distance away, sheltering for the night. Note that water levels at the eastern end of Loch Moidart are subject to the tides and so unless you’re happy to drag your kayak across the mud between channels (as I did !), make sure you check the tide tables. Finally, since this is a sea loch, you’ll need to take sufficient water for cooking and drinking with you.
There are other nearby islands such as Riska Island but they appeared very rocky and wooded. However, it’s definitely worth exploring Loch Moidart and in particular, viewing ruined Castle Tioram.
Access: There is a layby at grid ref NM682736 with access right at the lochside down a steepish bank.
- Eilean a’ Mhadaidh on Loch Laxford [grid ref: NC195499]
Loch Laxford is a sea loch in the far north west of Scotland, just north of Scourie. It’s a marine conservation area famed for its mussels and near to the bird reserve on Handa Island. A slipway at Fanagmore gives access to the sheltered loch with its many islands and inlets, the largest being Eilean a’ Mhadaidh. Images are hard to find, this being the best I could source.
Access: From Fanagmore at NC178498.
- Loch Dochart Island on Loch Dochart [grid ref: NN406258]
Just off the A84 east of Crianlarich, on the main Stirling to Fort William road, lies a peaceful and scenic loch, Loch Dochart. There’s a small wooded island in the middle of the loch with the ruins of a castle originally built by Sir Duncan Campbell between 1583 and 1631. There are two parts to the loch, linked by a narrow channel, and the loch offers a particularly sheltered spot for paddling.
Access: A small car park off the A84 at NN425268.
- Eilean Camas Drollaman on Loch Shiel [grid ref: NM764964]
There are two good options on Loch Shiel. The first is the unnamed island at the northern head of the loch at Glenfinnan near the Monument, seen in the photo below, accessed from the jetty on the right hand side of the photo.
The other option is Eilean Camas Drollaman, at the western end of the loch about 5 miles east of Acharacle and in a much more secluded location. This is a wooded, uninhabited island just near the shore and about 1.5km from a nearby pier. Much nearer the pier is the island of Eilean Fhianain, home to a ruined chapel said to be the first home on the Scottish mainland of St. Finan, a teacher of St. Columba. This island also has a burial ground adjacent to the chapel.
Access: To access Eiliean Camas Drollaman there is a pier at NM751684 and for the unnamed islane near to Glenfinnan Monument there is a jetty at NM901805.
Finally, there’s another island well-known to fans of Harry Potter that deserves a mention, even if it doesn’t look suitable for camping. Little Eilean na Moine is a much-photographed spot on Loch Eilt, seen in particular from the nearby railway where the Jacobite steam train runs in the summer. In the Harry Potter films the island is the site of Dumbledore’s final resting place, and where Voldemort steals the Elder Wand in Deathly Hallows Part 1. It’s also where Harry and his friends find Hagrid gloomily skipping stones out over the water in Prisoner of Azkaban after learning that Buckbeak is to be put down.
I’d love to hear any feedback on these ten suggested islands. Do you know of any better camping spots?