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Issue 93 - Argyll's Island Jewel

Scotland Magazine Issue 93
June 2017

 

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Argyll's Island Jewel

Keith Fergus visits the slate isle called Easdale

Sitting just a few miles south of Oban, Easdale is the smallest of Argyll’s permanently inhabited Slate Islands, covering an area of about 10 hectares. It is a fascinating place where much can be learned about Scotland’s industrial history.

For 300 years, from the early 17th Century, Easdale was at the heart of Argyll’s slate industry, employing several hundred people during its heyday in the 19th Century. The stone from Easdale travelled far and was used on many buildings across Scotland.

In 1881, a massive storm flooded a number of the quarry pits, an event that heralded the beginning of the industry’s demise — although it held on until the 1950s. Several pits are still visible today where guillemot, cormorant, common tern, and (occasionally) brave wild swimmers might be spotted.

During the 1960s the island’s population was only four, but today a thriving community of nearly 70 exists. Tourism is the mainstay of Easdale’s economy and the World Stone Skimming Championship, which draws hundreds of competitors and large crowds every year, is a particular highlight of the island’s calendar. For those who fancy competing, the championship takes place on the last Sunday of September. Even if you’re not there at that time, you’ll most definitely be able to try your hand at skimming as the island’s beaches are made almost entirely of rounded slates. It’s quite the sight to behold.

However, it is the view from High Hill that will likely linger longest in your memory. It's the highest point of the island and a good path climbs to its summit. As well as offering a wonderful view of Easdale and Seil, High Hill also grants a gorgeous panorama across a litany of islands including Mull, Lismore, Scarba, Luing and, on a clear day, Colonsay as well as the Mull of Kintyre.