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This piece was published in Escape America magazine and by Private Islands later the same year.

Sanda: Wild And Woolly – And All Yours?


The west coast of Scotland can be wild: wild weather, few roads, plenty of wildlife – and much of that is woolly.  It wouldn’t suit everyone.  But it has a charm that outshines the disadvantages; a charm that will have you longing “always to be there”.  It is a place of islands, of hidden corners, friendly folk and very individual whisky distilleries.  You can imagine pirates, smugglers and Vikings around every headland.

And now three islands off that coast could be all yours for the small outlay of £3.25 million (approximately $6m, with the exchange rate heading in the dollar’s favour right now).  Sanda Island, Sheep Island and Glunimore lie 13 miles south east of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, and 20 miles from Ballycastle in Northern Ireland.  The owner also has the title of Laird of Sanda.

The property includes 358 acres of land, plus the Barony Title (seashore between the high- and low-water marks), a five-bedroom farmhouse, a boathouse, and six cottages which have been restored to 3-star holiday-let standard, three by the lighthouse and the others by the pier.  The farmhouse currently provides B&B accommodation.

There is also a pub, the Byron Darnton, popular with Northern Irish boaters, which opens on demand.  This award-winning building is named after the largest ship to be wrecked on Sanda, in 1946 (all 54 passengers were saved).  The original Byron Darnton was a war correspondent from New York who was killed in action during WW2.  The pub serves freshly-caught and locally-grown food and is popular for weddings and boat-meets; it has also served as a fringe venue for the Mull of Kintyre Music Festival.

The ruins of medieval St. Ninian’s Chapel reflect early ownership of the islands by the monks of Whithorn in Galloway.  There are ancient stones in the graveyard which it is considered unlucky to cross.  The monks left Sanda in 1493.  From then until 1929 the islands were held by the MacDonalds of Sanda; one of their tenant farmers had the schoolhouse built for his children and their schoolmaster (or “dominie”).

The lighthouse dates from 1850 and was built by Alan Stevenson, one of the “Lighthouse Stevensons”.  The author Robert Louis Stevenson was a member of the same family, though his talents lay in other directions.  The nearby Patterson’s Rock wrecked several boats, creating a demand for a light on this island where ships turn into the Clyde after passing through the north Channel between Scotland and Ireland.  The lighthouse, the only one of its kind in Scotland, climbs the cliff in three steps on Ship Island, an outcrop of Sanda; the light is now automatic.

Other attractions on Sanda include a campsite overlooking the cliffs, and a bird observatory.  Sanda also produces its own postage stamps – a true rarity, of great interest to collectors.

Sheep Island is used for extra grazing for Sanda’s sheep.  It was once put to a much tougher use: the possibly-cholera-infected crew of a ship were stripped of their clothes and quarantined there for 40 days.  Not a pleasant thought!

Former owners include Jack Bruce, bass player with Cream, while Britain’s Princess Anne once moored here to buy eggs: the island’s chickens wander on the shore, and their eggs are uniquely tasty.

Livestock include sheep and hogs, seals and puffins – but no other people.  This is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all hideaway.  The only drawback is that for some of the year the weather can make the islands difficult to get away from. The present owners move to the mainland over the winter and employ people to look after the place; the advertisement includes the words “…duck when the wind blows”.  The mail-boat calls once a week, weather permitting, and the ferry from Campbeltown takes just under an hour – though it only runs in summer.  Campbeltown is easily accessible by air or bus from Glasgow, Scotland’s most vibrant city and best shopping centre.

John Coleman, of estate agents Knight Frank, comments, “This is the only island in the area to come on the market in five years.  There is not much available in these waters”.  You don’t need your own yacht to live here, but there is room – and shelter – to moor one in the bay, and total peace.  The present owner says, “It is the complete peacefulness of the island that makes it so beautiful.  No picture can do it justice”.

This part of Scotland benefits from the warming Gulf Stream, but there’s not much between you and North America to stop the wind.  That makes it a wonderful area for sailing, with sea lochs and 350 miles of Scotland’s western isles to explore.  Iona, island of St. Columba; Staffa, with its famous basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, which draws thousands of tourists annually; Skye, with its Jacobite history and Cuillin mountain range; Islay with four very distinctive and unpronounceable distilleries; and all the rest of the inner and outer Hebrides wait for you.  For climbers, there are Munros a-plenty to “bag”.  Wonderful sub-tropical gardens abound in Argyll, with its soft weather.

In Northern Ireland there’s the Giant’s Causeway, plus the newly revived (and now safe) Belfast to visit.  Further down the coast Dublin beckons, with its great night-life and fine Georgian architecture or, on the west coast, Donegal, Galway and the Aran Islands – still quite wild country, stunningly beautiful and unspoilt.  “Next parish: America”!

Or, if you’re after the quiet life, you can simply sit on your island and gaze at the cloudscapes, constantly changing under the scurrying wind.

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