Knoydart, a refreshing, beguiling destination for intrepid travellers, once visited never forgotten
How poetic that Britain’s last wilderness should lie between heaven and hell. It does. Knoydart Peninsula in the Lochaber district of the western Highlands of Scotland is lapped by the waters of Loch Nevis (Loch of Heaven) in the south, and of Loch Hourn (Loch of Hell) in the north.
Eighty five square miles are almost all surrounded by sea; but there’s enough land left to keep this remote, vertiginous wilderness part of mainland Britain. It’s a 16-24 mile trek or two-day hike from the nearest mainland road across country to Knoydart. Alternatively, visitors to Inverie (the peninsula’s largest settlement) can leave their vehicles at the port of Mallaig, then get on a boat and make the last leg of their journey by sea (a distance of seven miles). Clearly Knoynart is not a place to just happen on!
It is this remoteness and a paucity of people that underpins the sheer joy of a visit to Knoydart, or as it’s traditionally known, Rough Bounds. The peninsula is renowned for its staggering beauty, rugged splendour and intoxicating tranquillity. It neighbours the fascinating isles of the Inner Hebrides: Canna, Skye, Rum, Eigg and Muck and is home to four of Scotland’s 282 Munros (mountain peaks that rise above 3000 feet and to six slightly lower Corbetts). It is also home to spectacular wildlife, including red deer which come down from the hills to rut in autumn and potter companionably along the coast in winter. In the sky, Knoydart’s nesting pair of Golden Eagles can be seen just about anywhere catching the thermals and riding the skies.
The hub of civilisation and culture, however, is at sea level and found in the village of Inverie. Approached by sea it’s a bright ribbon of white, sleeking along the loch, in the lee of the mountains. Up close the white separates into homes, B&Bs, a primary school, post office, community shops, tea room, pottery and pub. Everyone has the same postcode, PH41 4PL. One hundred and twenty locals live in Inverie, half the peninsula’s population.
Knoydart’s only pub, The Old Forge, is celebrated almost as much as the entire peninsula. Famous as mainland Britain’s remotest pub (Guiness Book of World Records), it has racked up a whole host of national and international awards. Starting life as the village smithy it became the love project of Belgium licensee Jean-Pierre Robinet, or JP, in 2012. His passion for Knoydart started 23 years ago and a snap decision saw him turn his life upside down and reconnect with his roots. His family are six generation hoteliers and JP’s grandma has a Michelin star. Naturally everything here is cooked from scratch; they have their own scallop diver, lobster man, octogenarian langoustine diver and ready supply of Knoydart venison.
Hospitality at mainland Britain’s remotest pub is surprisingly and unsurprisingly cosmopolitan. JP holds court amongst Ozzies and Scots, Gaels and Poles, South Africans and Kiwis; some behind the bar, some in front. Their season is March to October and it’s open from 11:30am till midnight every day, except Wednesday – famously this pub has the reputation for ‘never refusing to serve anyone at any time’.
Any night in The Old Forge showcases the type of visitor to Knoydart and their passions. With little space between tables, which is uncharacteristically pleasant, it’s likely a yachtsman will chatter to a hill walker, a fisherman to a mountaineer, a bird watcher will enthuse to a painter and a cyclist will listen eagerly to a local. And if the talk quietens it’s because music and entertainment has the floor. Pipers, fiddlers, Ossiach storytellers, belly dancers, puppeteers, jugglers, poets, banjo players, guitar strummers and singers are welcome and everyone makes room for the performance. Personal space has no great place at The Old Forge and neither does wifi which ends promptly at 6pm.
All that’s left of an evening in The Old Forge on Knoydart, ‘Britain’s last wilderness’, is to stand outside in the luxurious stillness. There’s no mobile phone reception. Take a moment to register the inky blackness of the heavens. There’s no light pollution. Then simply gaze at the stars.
Please note: This feature was written for my 2nd year Lifestyle assessment, in early 2019, as a magasine article so I have adapted it for digital. It was aimed at ‘Discover Britain’ in the style of ‘back page’. My visit to Knoydart was pre the ‘grumblings’, it would seem, between the locals and JP. The Old Forge now has a rival – https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/highlands/1746983/remotest-pub-in-scotland-now-has-a-rival-as-local-hostilities-erupt/ by and as in https://www.outsideonline.com/2406629/old-forge-pub-scotland-highlands-uk by Oliver Smith. I’d go back in a shot!