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Soay, Skye

Soay is an island just off the coast of Skye, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.


Soay lies to the west of Loch Scavaig on the south-west coast of Skye, from which it is separated by Soay Sound. Unlike its neighbours Skye and Rùm, Soay is low-lying, reaching 141m (462 feet) at Beinn Bhreac. The dumb-bell shaped island is virtually cut in half by inlets that form Soay Harbour (N) and the main bay, Camas nan Gall (to the S). The main settlement, Mol-chlach is on the shore of Camas nan Gall. It is normally reached by boat from Elgol.


The name derives from Old Norse so-øy meaning Sheep Island. Camas nan Gall (G: Bay of Foreigners) is probably named after the Norse invaders, after whom the Hebrides (Na h-Innse Gall) are also named.

The population peaked at 158 in 1851, following eviction of crofters from Skye in the Highland Clearances.

In 1946, author Gavin Maxwell bought the island and established a factory to process shark oil from basking sharks. The enterprise was unsuccessful, lasting just three years. Maxwell wrote about it in his book Harpoon at a Venture. This led to a serious drop in the numbers of these animals in the surrounding seas, from which they have yet to recover.

Previously mainly Scottish Gaelic-speaking, most of the population was evacuated to Mull on 20 June 1953, since when the island has been sparsely populated.

The island had the first solar-powered telephone exchange in the world.


  • The Soay of our Forefathers Laurance Reed ISBN 1-84158-229-8

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