The island has been uninhabited for the last 20 years, but it has a colourful history which BILL HEANEY once wrote about in his NOTEBOOK column
Would you want to swap city life for remote living? A secluded island situated off the western shore of southern Loch Lomond has just gone on the market for £500,000.
Inchconnachan is home to some of the best and rarest wildlife in Scotland.
While it has been owned by the Colquhoun family since the 14th century, the island has been uninhabited by humans for the last 20 years.
However, some of its residents – a flock of capercaillie and a small herd of wallabys – have received a considerable amount of publicity from time to time.
The island is both an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges, including Ben Lomond.
While there is not much human life on the island, it provides plenty for owners to enjoy, including wake-boarding, sailing, mountain-biking, kayaking, angling and hill walking.
And Loch Lomondside has much to commend it, including an annual Highland Games and clan gathering.
Luss Highland Games – a red letter day on Loch Lomondside with the Colquhoun family and crowds of visitors to Luss. Pictures by Bill Heaney
Not long ago, the Colquhoun family, who own of four of Loch Lomond’s islands, urged the Loch Lomond Park Authority to look again at extending wild camping restrictions following news that the loch’s capercaillie population is no longer viable.
Despite intensive efforts by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority, the RSPB and landowners, there are only a few of the birds left.
SNH announced it would now focus its efforts on protecting more stable populations elsewhere.
But Luss Estates Company, which owns Inchconnachan, Inchtavannach, Inchmoan and Inchlonaig, asked for urgent action to protect other endangered species on the islands including osprey.
Chief executive of Luss Estates, Simon Miller, said: “We are disappointed Loch Lomond’s capercaillie are effectively being resigned to history before realistic efforts to minimise the human disturbance caused by wild camping is fully addressed.”
Director of operations for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Gordon Watson, said: “The Loch Lomond islands remain heavily protected because of the important woodlands and other habitats that are home to key species including ospreys and otters.
“Working alongside Police Scotland through Operation Ironworks, our rangers will continue to patrol the islands and speak to visitors to ensure responsible behaviour.
“We remain committed to producing an overall visitor management plan for the islands.”
Lovely Loch Lomond is forever changing. The Bonnie Banks are more beautiful than ever and the loch’s many islands are a delight.
So, it wasn’t a hard decision to take when I was invited by an incorrigible angler to join him on a fishing trip from Balmaha.
I am no fisherman, but he lured me with the promise of a dram and a day out in his sturdy dinghy and a picnic lunch on the shingle shore at Ross Point.
There was also the prospect of a visit to Inchconnachan, the island sanctuary for wallabies and badgers created by Fiona Colquhoun, the Countess of Arran, who died in May this year aged 94, and was reckoned to be the “fastest granny on water”.
Those of us who say noise and nature are not happy bedfellows should maybe think again in light of Lady Arran’s achievements as a racer of speedboats and a wildlife conservationist.
Remarkably in 1980, she reached 103mph in a rocket-like craft called Skean-Dhu and, at the age of 53, following in the wake of her hero Donald Campbell, raced her speedboat Highland Fling in a hailstorm to lift the Class 1 record to 85.63mph.
Described by Prime MInister Harold Macmillan as the prettiest girl he had ever seen, she had married Sir Arthur ‘Boofy’ Gore in 1937. In 1958 he succeeded his brother to become the 8th Earl of Arran and became an active member of the House of Lords.
Lady Arran was an extremely interesting woman then, and I was keen to see the house and gardens she had created on Inchconnachan.
It was an imposing sight, I was told – a luxury timber bungalow with many bedrooms and all mod cons set in a garden of manicured lawns and luxuriant rhododendron bushes.
Imagine my disappointment when we stepped ashore to find a vandalised ramshackle house, an overgrown garden and a rotten Nissen hut from which Lady Arran had once launched her power-boats into the loch.
She must have done it to get peace from her eccentric journalist husband who became best known in the 1960s for his weekly column in a London newspaper which ran until he suffered a stroke, a misfortune he blamed on his daily intake of a half-bottle of champagne before lunch.
Lady Arran invariably arrived on any maritime scene wearing a Colquhoun tartan cap set at a jaunty angle.
She would have had great difficulty keeping it on her head on Loch Lomond on Friday when my hat blew off twice and my fisherman friend’s once.
Both hats were ‘rescued’ from the loch using what must be the largest landing net on the loch.
After that excitement we sought shelter from the wind and waves on Inchconnachan, where Lady Arran once kept a sizeable menagerie.
Wallabies are said to have bounced around the pinewoods, while pot-bellied pigs, llamas and alpacas, caged birds (including a macaw which volunteered rude comments on proceedings, and others that uttered further expletives), horses, a fox and assorted dogs completed a bustling scene.
The family are said to have worn wellingtons in the house to fend off their brood of ankle-nipping badgers.
Drawn frequently to Loch Lomond from London, she kept this house where the badgers are said to have lived beneath the veranda, chasing people hurrying to the jetty.
Sadly, there is no sign of that jetty today and the wildlife we saw consisted of one, albeit magnificent heron, and families of mallard ducks which scooted around the bay.
Lady Arran, who won many competitions including the Round Britain offshore race and often disembarked black and blue, after she and her navigator had been flung around like dice in a cup.
We know how she feels having been tossed around in the high winds on Friday.
She would be dismayed were she to return to the island today.
She was also a painter and her pictures were said to be rich in atmosphere and feeling.
I wonder if she was the person who painted the colourful map of Loch Lomond on the wall of the main room at the Inchconnachan house or the leaves and branches on the walls of a nursery room there.
The fact that Lady Arran made a late comeback on water, helping to design and construct a silent, revolutionary craft underscores the fact that power-boat people – and maybe even jet-skiers? – can be interested in the environment.
Fiona Colquhoun was born on July 20, 1918, the daughter of Sir Iain Colquhoun, 7th Bt of Luss, a war hero and explorer and her mother, Dinah Tennant, was a champion golfer.
She was quite a girl. Once, she was aboard her husband’s Mercedes when it achieved 100mph down Oxford Street (“That was rather fun!”).
And when a policeman stopped her on the M1, she said: “Fast? Get in, officer, and I’ll show you what fast is.”
She had a boat named Badger I. The name was significant. With her husband, Lady Arran had campaigned for the protection of badgers, and eventually helped to pilot the Badger Protection Bill through both Houses of Parliament.
They even had a badger motif attached to the radiator of their Rolls-Royce.
I wonder what she would have thought of us locals as we puttered at 3mph back from her beloved Inchconnachan to Balmaha.
The colourful map of Loch Lomond on the wall of Lady Arran’s island home of Inchconnachan.