The wonderful little island of Kerrera has over the centuries been habitually, and unjustly, labelled as merely a stepping stone between the splendours of Mull, and the bustling town of Oban. A walk round Kerrera takes only a few hours, and it is a fantastic place to take your time, and meander. As you alight the ferry you are greeted by a scattering of houses, but as you continue around to the west coast via the south of the island the landscape becomes wilder with only a few farms and cottages to convey any signs of human habitation.
Near to the ferry is Horseshoe Bay. It was here on the 8th of July 1249 that King Alexander II died. He was in position to mobilise his army in a massive land and sea initiative that he hoped would lead to the defeat of King Hakon, and the reclamation of the Western Isles from Norway. However before the battle commenced Alexander fell ill and died at Horseshoe Bay. The army was dispersed, and King Hakon remained in control of the Western Isles. However Alexander III did eventually succeed where his father had failed by defeating the Vikings at the Battle of Largs in 1263.
At the southern tip of Kerrera is Gylen Castle, which was built by the MacDougall’s in 1587. It had a fairly non-descript existence until it was besieged by Covenanters under the leadership of General Leslie in 1647 – but it is what the castle held within its walls that is of greatest interest. The Brooch of Lorne, which is said to be one of the most important items in Scottish history, is an esteemed MacDougall war trophy, which had been ripped from the breast of Robert the Bruce during the battle of Dalrigh in 1306. The brooch was then kept at Gylen Castle for safe keeping but ended up in the hands of the Campbells after General Leslie’s assault, and did not re-emerge until the 1820’s when General Duncan Campbell of Lochnell returned the brooch to the MacDougall clan.
At the north end of Kerrera stands the magnificent monument to David Hutcheson. He, along with his brother Alexander, ran a ferry service in the Inner and Outer Hebrides with another partner David MacBrayne. The company was eventually named Caledonian MacBrayne and today the ferries, instantly recogniseable by their red funnels, provide a vital link between Scotland’s west coast islands and the mainland.
During the 18th and 19th centuries (whether by accident or design) Kerrera became a major drove route, and this may explain the population reaching 100 in 1861. The island’s positioning between Mull and the mainland was perfect for cattle to land from Mull, Coll and Tiree. Sometimes as many as 2000 cattle travelled from these islands and landed on Kerrera at Barr nam Boc Bay. From here many of the cattle swam to the mainland, with the bay immediately to the south of Rhu Cruidh becoming known as Ardantrive, Point of the Swimming. They would then make their way to the major trysts at Falkirk, and Crieff via the Pass of Brander.
Kerrera’s highest point is Carn Breaugach and here you have a magnificent view across the Sound of Kerrera to Oban and beyond to the muscular flanks of Ben Cruachan.