Inchconnachan: the British island where wallabies reign
(Image credit: Monica Bertolazzi / Getty Images)
Once the rural retreat of a motorboat racing countess, this uninhabited island is now a slow travel paradise home to Scotland’s most exotic mammal.
There is no graceful way out of a small inflatable ship as it crashes against the shore in an unexpected cuttlefish. With my backpack over one shoulder and one leg on the wet arch, I awkwardly jumped up and dipped my right boot straight into the freezing water of Loch Lomond. My left boot quickly followed, hitting the swampy grass of the isolated island of Inchconnachan, the former summer playground of Fiona Bryde Gore (née Colquhoun), Countess of Arran – and home to the only colony of wallabies in Scotland.
After being in love with Inchconnachan for years, I had finally arrived on this uninhabited 103-acre island in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park; although with much less style than a certain Lady Arran would have. A member of the famous Colquhoun clan – which under Luss Estates still owns several islands and part of the mainland west of Loch Lomond – Fiona Colquhoun fell in love with this hidden oasis and commissioned a half-timbered holiday home, a boathouse and jetty for personal use. All three are now abandoned; the latter explaining my awkward entry.
Slow travelers can rent a kayak or canoe to paddle to the uninhabited island of Inchconnachan (Photo credit: Dominic Walter / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Colquhoun, born in 1918, grew up on the shores of Loch Lomond and loved to explore the islands surrounding her childhood home in Rossdhu, on the west shore of Loch Lomond. She often returned to Inchconnachan – which means “the island of Colquhoun” in Scottish Gaelic – above other neighboring islands of Inchtavannach, Inchmoan and Inchcruin, due to its mid-loch location and secluded bays which made it ideal for motor navigation.
After taking part in a speedboat speed test aboard the Miss England III racing boat on Loch Lomond at the age of 13, Colquhoun’s need for speed accelerated. She would eventually earn the nickname “fastest granny on the water”. And after becoming the first woman to cover over 100 mph on water, reaching a breakneck speed of 103 mph on Lake Windermere in 1980, she was awarded the prestigious Segrave Trophy, awarded to Britons showing “skill, exceptional courage and initiative on land, water and in the air “.
“Of all the accounts, [Lady Arran] was an eccentric figure, ”said Carron Tobin, former executive director of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. Today Inchconnachan remains in a way a testament to the countess’s whims.
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After marrying Sir Arthur Gore, the 8th Earl of Arran, in 1937, Colquhoun became the Countess of Arran. At home in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, Gore’s penchant for raising non-native animals, such as llamas, alpacas and wallabies, was well documented.
“I understand that she introduced wallabies to the island shortly after WWII, having kept them at her home in England,” Tobin said. “I believe there are around 50 to 60 who still live on the island today. Inchconnachan is also home to the capercaillie, an endangered Scottish wood grouse. It’s disputed, but they seem happy to live with wallabies. “
Today, 50 to 60 red-necked wallabies roam freely on this uninhabited Scottish island (Credit: Monica Bertolazzi / Getty Images)
Considered to be Scotland’s most exotic animal species, Inchconnachan’s red-necked wallabies are a smaller relative of kangaroos. Although they are native to the temperate regions of eastern Australia and Tasmania, wallabies seem to have developed a particular fondness for the gloomy climate of Inchconnachan over the years, and are even known to leap through. the frozen loch and frolic in the nearby forests during severe winters.
Like Colquhoun (died 2013) and her pets, I too have a special affection for Loch Lomond and have spent countless days exploring it on foot and by boat over the years. Scotland’s largest lake, Lomond is dotted with 22 islands and 27 islets, most of which are covered in dense forest. It is these islands, and more precisely Inchconnachan, that have piqued my interest for a long time. I always wanted to know who – or who – was walking on these distant tree islands.
While Lady Colquhoun used Inchconnachan to fuel her speed demon dreams, these days she – and most of the islands in Loch Lomond – are inaccessible by ferry or public boat. Instead, slow-traveling adventurers like myself can hire a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard in the nearby village of Luss and paddle 1 mile through the island’s generally calm waters. Once there, another adventure awaits you.
Few travelers can realize that, like the famous Swedish want to travel law, Scotland is one of the few countries in the world (and the only country in the UK) where wild camping is legal. And while parts of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park are protected by wilderness camping bylaws between March and September, thanks to Scotland’s Land Reform Act 2003, everyone is free to camp on most unfenced land in the country, including on Inchconnachan.
Wild camping is permitted on Inchconnachan and throughout Loch Lomond (Credit: Paul McGee / Getty Images)
After belonging to the Colquhoun clan since the 14th century, Scotland’s uninhabited ‘wallaby’ made headlines in July 2020 when it went on sale. It was finally sold in March 2021, but despite its new ownership and new status as a private island, Scotland’s wilderness camping access rights still apply – although it is important to travel in such a way. responsible.
The main thing, says Tobin, is to “leave no trace and take back whatever you have brought.”
Wild camping in Scotland
If you are planning a wilderness camping trip to Scotland, be sure to familiarize yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to comply with the country’s no-trace policy.
So there I was, wandering the soggy swamps of the island looking for a place to camp. I chose the west bank facing The Narrows, a calm stretch of water resembling a river between Inchconnachan and Inchtavannach whose shelter from the prevailing winds offers tranquility. As the rain showers passed and I pitched my tent, I quickly realized that I had landed a sun trap – one that was within walking distance of the Countess’s vacation lodge.
Today, the long-abandoned retreat hardly looks like a decaying squat, with its rotten planks, soggy mattresses, rusty oven and shattered tub, all in situ. But the charms of the island were elsewhere.
The village of Luss, 1 km from Inchconnachan, is a popular place to rent kayaks and canoes to get to the island (Richard Franks)
Inchconnachan is fairly flat and its few trails lead to unspoiled beaches, centuries-old evergreens and oaks (making it a site of special scientific interest in Scotland), and elevated views of the lake from the humble summit of 50 m from the island. Visitors with keen eyes should also look upward to spot a pair of nesting sea eagles, which recently returned to the area for the first time in over a century.
As night began to fall, I followed a trail lined with knee-high blueberries and burnt orange ferns to a sandy beach at the north end of the island, which offers uninterrupted uninterrupted views. on one of Scotland’s most popular munros, Ben Lomond.
Then all of a sudden I heard something stir under the trees. I turned slowly, torch in hand, to see if Scotland’s rarest beast had appeared. It wasn’t, so I continued on the trail. After a few more minutes, a red-necked marsupial no more than 50cm tall jumped in my way, just a few feet away, before recognizing my company and running away. A brief but beautiful meeting.
As tempting as it was to sleep under the stars, the weather quickly turned and reminded me that I was positively in Scotland in October. I left the solitude of the beach for my sheltered tent on the other side of the island, from where I cooked a chilli dinner cooked on a portable stove and fell asleep to the sound of chirping birds , chattering ducks and – yes – frolicking wallabies.
The Narrows separates Inchconnachan and Inchtavannach and is considered the Jewel of the Loch (Credit: Sky View Video / Getty Images)
At 5:45 am I was woken up by the rain pouring against the canvas and the sound of what I thought was a bellowing deer. I opened my tent, carefully climbed outside, and sat down as the sun slowly appeared over the Luss Hills to the west. My unexpected alarm was indeed a red deer on the hillside.
As the rain died down and the mist began to clear, I spotted something in the water. What appeared to be a doe was swimming through The Narrows, perhaps drawn to the call of her new mate. In all my years exploring the Loch, this has been the epitome of the splendor of Scottish landscapes. I could see why Lady Arran kept coming back.
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