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What changes there have been here. The pub was once the thing to see and do on Sanda Island, as well as the obvious walks and views. Where once there had been a community of maybe a hundred people, by 2010 there were just three — Charles and Wendy McVey and their toddler. They had came back to run the pub (and the restaurant, the holiday lets, the fire service, the post, and 300 sheep) for the new owners of the island, Michi Meier and Berna Civeleker. Charles and Wendy must have known what they were doing having done the same job for Dick Gannon, albeit at a time when they didn’t have to think about how to get their child to nursery across the Sound of Sanda. Previously the island had been owned by this Mr Gannon, an irascible Englishman by all accounts, but who commendably was responsible for restoring the old buildings by the pier (very nicely) and building the pub itself, although you wouldn't have thought it was 'new' to look at.
This pub must have outclassed the Old Forge on Knoydart as the most remote pub in the UK, there is not even a scheduled ferry service. It sort of reopened in June 2011 as the Sanda Island Hotel and Restaurant, an apparently up-market establishment, with four moorings. However, the website in 2013 made no mention of any hotel, ominously just that Sanda was "A tranquil private island". And guess what, in March 2014 the new owners tried to close it all off to the public which may well have been in their minds when they bought the island. But do not be put off, you have a legal right to roam in Scotland as long as you don't get too near the owner's residence. This means not using the pier which "is in front of the living room of the house" according to the owner and now adorned with a Strictly Private sign. So what, pull the dinghy up on the beach and go for a walk. Apparently the island's water supply has now been condemned by the local water authority, so what that means for anyone who plans to live here I know not.
By 2015 the whole place looked dead. There was no one to be seen anywhere on the island, the pub buildings were all closed up and deteriorating. Notwithstanding news reports that the island could be rented for £2000 a day!
The pub’s name was interesting — the Byron Darnton Tavern. This was the name of the Liberty ship which foundered off the island in 1946 while taking American servicemen and their families back to the US after the war. The ship’s name was derived from a renowned American war correspondent who had been accidentally killed by a bomb dropped by an American plane.
Along by the boathouse (conspic. and crucial for entry without a chartplotter) you will find St Ninian’s late medieval chapel (remains of) along with a very weathered slab and cross. This is where Charles and Wendy got married, certainly an original venue. The boathouse was once the base for the Sanda Island Bird Observatory, defunct since 2013, and by 2015 the building itself was reduced to a wreck, thanks to the uncaring island owners presumably. Incredible that we let foreigners buy beautiful Scottish islands to let them rot.
It is well worth the 20-30 minute walk across to the lighthouse, Stevenson again, 1850. It is set on a most spectacular outcrop right next to a natural arch, with the tide swirling all around and a bit of the Byron Darnton still visible at low water. The lighthouse cottages look derelict. Sad.
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Sanda Island lighthouse
Sanda Island lighthouse
The boathouse and St Ninian's Chapel by the anchorage — according to Cowper
in 1896, it is "a wild place, and I should be sorry to bide there long".
This photo was sent to me by Mike Craddock, the grandson of a former lighthouse keeper whose family all knew this as the 'elephant rock' for obvious reasons