The Slate Isles- Off the beaten track charm
Off the west coast, five small islands were the centres of the Scottish slate industry in the 18th and 19th century. Known as the islands that ‘roofed the world’, these small isles were home to hundreds of men and women who were employed in the quarries through the years. Visitors can easily reach three of the islands connected to the trade: Easdale, Seil and Luing. One of the islands can no longer be seen, as it was mined so completely that it fell into the sea in the late 20th century. With scenic views and a rich flora and fauna, the Slate Islands are an essential part of a visit to the west coast.
Seil has been linked to the Scottish mainland since 1792 when engineer Robert Mylne built the Clachan Bridge, now better known as the Bridge Over the Atlantic. At its heart is Balvicar, a picturesque fishing village with a friendly island shop and post office. Further down the road is the former slate-mining village of Ellenabeich, now a conservation area with a Heritage Centre run by the Scottish Slate Islands Trust. Housed in a former slate quarry worker’s cottage, the centre features displays about life in the 19th century, the history of quarrying and exhibits n the local flora, fauna and geology. Parts of the film Ring of Bright Water were filmed in Ellenabeich.
Ferries sail from Ellenabeich to Easdale, and from Cuan to Luing. The mother of Princess Diana, Frances Shand Kydd, lived there until her death in 2004.
The island of Easdale lies off the Isle of Seil and is accessible by a small passenger ferry from Ellenabeich. No vehicles are allowed on the wee isle. Note the colourful wheelbarrows parked at garden gates-this is how the locals carry their groceries home. A giant pirate ship playground provides hours of fun for the little ones, while mum and dad can enjoy refreshment at the café and bar. The Island Folk Museum features displays about the slate industry and other interesting items associated with its history. Home of the annual International Stone Skimming Championships, Easdale attracts skimmers from all over the world in September to try their luck flinging across one of the island’s many slate quarry pools.
Called Argyll’s ‘best kept secret’, a visit to the Isle of Luing is like going back two hundred years, with charming whitewashed cottages, unspoiled scenery and serene beauty. An easy trip by ferry from North Cuan on the south tip of Seil, the island can be explored by car, bicycle, boat or on foot. Interpretive signage located throughout the island gives information about the history, culture and wildlife of the area.
Stop at the beautifully designed Atlantic Islands Centre, where you can learn about the history and geology of the islands, along with art exhibitions and a local history and genealogy reference library. Visit the gift shop, which showcases work from local and regional artistes and follow your nose to the café and fuel up with yummy hand baked goodies or a hot lunch.
Luing is located within the Firth of Lorn Marine Special Area of Conservation, one of the premier tide-swept areas in the North East Atlantic. Keen nature lovers can spot otters, hares, seals, dolphins, buzzards, occasional eagles, and even the rare March Fritillary butterfly. And Luing is home to Argyll’s only recorded Greater Spearwort.
Explore the charm of the Slate Isles on a private day tour from Oban with Imagine Alba! Island hop these quirky off the beaten path isles that will capture your heart with beautiful coastal scenery, world class seafood and interesting history. Get in touch about a day tour from Oban to the Slate isles for 2021!