Knoydart is undoubtedly worth the effort. It does lie literally between heaven and hell: Loch Nevis (Loch of Heaven) hugs its southern fringes and Loch Hourn (Loch of Hell) guards its northern boundary.
On this peninsula you quickly realise that man plays firm second fiddle to nature in a wildscape where humans are easily outnumbered by deer. The UK’s largest land mammal is backed up by sea eagles and otters. In the aquarium-clear waters marine mammals abound with minke, humpback and even killer whales. There are rare sightings of leatherback turtles too as well as pods of dolphins, who often skip in the wakes of startled yachts.
“Knoydart may be a wilderness, but it’s very much a manmade one”
Knoydart may be a wilderness, but it’s very much a manmade one. Its history swirls in tales of feuding clans – rumour even has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie himself hid from the British Redcoats here after the Battle of Culloden. By the late 18th century over a 1,000 clans people eked out a living here through subsistence crofting. Then the baleful Highland Clearances decimated Knoydart in the 19th century, with its inhabitants (many who had never left the peninsula before) forced off the land and packed off to the New World.
By the 20th century Knoydart and its sparse population were being passed amongst various landowners so the hardy locals decided to take matters into their own hands. The legendary ‘Seven Men of Knoydart’ staged a daring land raid in 1948. Although it ‘failed’, unpopular landowner Lord Brocket did eventually relinquish ownership. In 1998 the local community finally took control of their own destinies by buying the land and setting up the Knoydart Foundation.
Today Knoydart’s population has grown to over a 100 with affordable housing being built to help boost numbers and kick-start the economy, with the focus now on sustainable development. Unlike some of Scotland’s anachronistic, closed estates, the Knoydart Foundation are welcoming and visitor-friendly. The Foundation runs a ranger-guided walking service, bike hire and a campsite. A new hydroelectric project and the planting of half a million trees demonstrates their firm environmental aspirations.
Those ranger-led walks are the ideal way for more timid walkers and those looking to learn more about the community. If you’ve got the skills and the gear to head out on your own a trio of mighty Munros beckon in the craggy form of Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe. The views across to the mountains of tourist-infested Skye are worth the effort alone. Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, a jagged gem that rises behind the Old Forge, is a surprising challenge too, with an airy ridge and deep gully.
Knoydart’s ‘capital’ is the hamlet of Inverie, home to a ramble of little whitewashed stone houses and, of course, the Old Forge. This iconic, frankly brilliant pub (I’ve spent many nights here warmed by its welcoming community vibe and raucous impromptu live music) in recent years has become embroiled in controversy.
“Tales and counter tales about unlicenced firearms and unpaid utility bills have waged”
Tales and counter tales about unlicenced firearms and unpaid utility bills have waged between the Belgian owner, Jean-Pierre Robinet (who took over in 2012), and some of the community. The Times have as gone as far as dubbing Knoydart a “community in crisis”.