Soay, Skye

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Gaelic: Sòdhaigh


Main settlement: Mol-chlach
Location: 57°8’60"N, 6°13’48"W
Grid reference: NG443145
Area: 2,560 acres
Highest point: Beinn Bhreac, 463 ft
Population: 1[1]

Soay is an island just off the coast of Skye, in Inverness-shire.


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 463 ft at Beinn Bhreac. The dumb-bell shaped island is virtually cut in half by inlets that form Soay Harbour (to the north) and the main bay, Camas nan Gall (to the south). The main settlement, Mol-chlach, is on the shore of Camas nan Gall.[2] It is normally reached by boat from Elgol. The island is part of the Cuillin Hills National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.[3]


The name derives from Old Norse Sauða-ey meaning "Sheep Island". Camas nan Gall (Gaelic for "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.[4]

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.[5] Maxwell wrote about it in his book Harpoon at a Venture.[6] After the failure of the business the island was sold on to Maxwell's business partner, Tex Geddes. The island had the first solar-powered telephone exchange in the world.[2]

Previously mainly Gaelic-speaking, most of the population was evacuated to Mull on 20 June 1953, since when the island has been sparsely populated.[7] In 2001 the population was 7.[8] By 2003 this had dwindled to 2 and the usually resident population in 2011 was a single individual.[1]


Local stamps were issued for Soay between 1965 and 1967, all on the Europa theme, some being overprinted to commemorate Sir Winston Churchill. As the stamps were produced without the owner's permission, they are regarded as bogus.[9]


  1. 1.0 1.1 National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 151
  3. "National Scenic Areas". SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
  4. Perrott, David (1988). Guide to the Western Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh: Kittiwake. ISBN 0-7028-0886-5. 
  5. "Soay Overview". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  6. ISBN 1-899863-28-1
  7. Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 150
  8. General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  9. "Modern British Local Posts CD Catalogue, 2009 Edition". Phillips. 2003. Retrieved 2008-12-08. 


  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 1841954543. 
  • Laurance Reed. The Soay of our Forefathers. ISBN 1-84158-229-8.