A landscape alive with history.
People have lived on Eigg for thousands of years and signs of that rich legacy can be discovered everywhere in the island landscape. As you stand at the top of the Old Pier, admiring the view over the bay to Kildonnan, an Early Christian site dating back to the 7th Century AD, you are standing where an Iron Age fort guarded access to the island 200 AD. As you walk on the foreshore, you are following in the footsteps of the island’s first inhabitants, as virtually all beach sites have been visited by the itinerant hunter gatherers of the Mesolithic, 8 000 BC. Making your way to the caves on the South East side of Eigg, you also pass through the ruins of a Neolithic hut 3000 BC.
But it is in the hills and moorland of Eigg, that the experience becomes perhaps more of an adventure. Climbing the Sgurr, you must make a wish, for there is a Gaelic saying that because you have walked hard and long to climb the ridge, the wish you had in your heart at the start of the climb will come true. Once there, it becomes obvious why islanders in the Iron Age used the ridge as an observation point and a fortress to defend and demonstrate power: on a clear day the 360 degrees view from the Sgurr is unsurpassed, encompassing Knoydart to Moidart and Ardnamuchan point to the procession of islands on the horizon, from Mull to Tiree and Coll, Muck, Mingulay, Barra, the Uists and Rum. Meanwhile to the south, nestling between giant boulders of Sgurr rock, the ruins of Grulin, a village deserted by the 19th Clearances, can be seen amongst the bracken.
From the Sgurr to the lochs, you discover a mineral world where mosses and grasses are declined in a wide palette of muted colours. Tenanted by the occasional sheep, it is the world of the eagles and if you are lucky, you will see them flying in vast majestic circles and you might easily imagine yourself a bird as you explore the mile long ridge. Walking on giant hexagons formed by rapidly cooling lava 36 millions years ago, worn by wind and rain to resemble the hide of an ancient beast, you can discover hidden lochs and lochans on your meanderings along the narrow sheep paths, taking you from Loch nan Ban Mora to Loch Beinn Tighe, you will discover there through a dividing of the rocks at the end of the loch, a unique almost bird’s eye view of the peaks of Rum.
This mineral world seems to be a vast empty moorland, yet there are traces of summer shielings where girls made cheese for the winter months and waited for their suitors on the long clear evenings. In places, rectangular hollows in the heather can be traced that hark back to ancient peat grounds. Before the growth of peat in a damper millennium, it was the high ground that sustained the island population and hut circles can be found in many places on the Laig side of Beinn Tighe where above Poll Duchaill, a high ledge provided an ideal place for an impressive fort. A beacon lit there at night would signal very effectively to all seafarers from the north that the island was not theirs to take.
Beinn Bhuidhe, on the north end of the island, derives its name from the colour the deer grass takes each autumn, as it comes to resemble the pelt of a giant animal body. For the ancient Celts, the earth was indeed a living body and so the highest peak on Beinn Bhuidhe is An Cruachan, which means the hip bone.
Following the Cleadale cliffs rewards the walker with the patchwork panorama of the crofting township, revealing to the eye the geology underlining it, all ridges and hollows left by the retreating ice flows that once covered the land. In May, the patchwork takes on a sublime bluish purple tinge from the sheer intensity of colour that bluebells in full bloom provide in fresh contrast with the light green of young bracken shoots. Before the steep descent into Cleadale through the zig zag path, there are breathtaking views of Talisker point with its distinctively sharp nose, the majestic Skye Cuillins, and the pyramidal splendour of Blaven to their left. And as you start your descent, an ancient field system can be discovered, with its maze of rounded fields enclosed by stone walls and earthen dykes, near the abandoned village of 5 Pennies, a name dating back to the Viking occupation of the island in the 8th and 9th centuries.
Indeed, wherever your walk takes you on the island, even in its most deserted places, there will be this feeling of a land which has been fashioned by centuries of human occupation, its trace light but persistent.