The story of Coillegillie

With our portfolio of over 450 unique cottages throughout Scotland, we often get to hear some interesting stories about the properties and their pasts.  One such history rich account caught my attention this week, it was the story of The Cottage by the Shore, let me share it with you-

The Cottage by the Shore is one of only two habitable dwellings in what at one time was a flourishing wee coastal settlement at the south end of the Applecross peninsula.  As its name suggests, the cottage stands close to the shore, with spectacular views across the Inner Sound and over towards the Isle of Skye.  This fantastic location can truly be described as an area of outstanding natural beauty and its remote setting has resulted the magnificence of its surroundings remaining largely unspoilt.

Once this cottage was among a number of traditional, stone-built properties that made up the secluded community at Coillegillie, where its inhabitants woke each morning to these stunning surroundings, but now only ruins remain as a haunting yet intriguing reminder of the families that resided here.  What made me curious about Coillegillie was the question as to why a hamlet in such a delightful location, once so full of life, was all but abandoned by its inhabitants?   Finding the answer to my ponderings required a little research and thankfully, the residents of the other property in Coillegillie were only too willing to oblige.

The original inhabitants of Coillegillie were varied in their occupations, there were weavers, fishermen, quarrymen and carpenters as well as those who worked as servants at Applecross House just under 5 miles up the coast.  Apparently in the late 19th century Coillegillie had as many as 28 inhabitants whose diet mainly consisted of fish and seafood (no wonder considering it proximity to the sea).

At this time apparently there were some quiet famous characters living in the community, for example, Kenneth MacLeod who was the last weaver in the district and was said to be the greatest walker in Scotland.  Apparently, he once walked from Dingwall to Coillegillie (over 71 miles) in the space of a day and then walked to Lonbain, North Applecross and back again (a total trip of over 100 miles)!  But it would seem you had to be a good walker to live in Coillegillie back then, the nearest vehicle access is still 1.2 miles away along a path which has its own extraordinary story.  It is one of the last unimproved stretches of ‘desolation road’ in the area – desolation roads (also known as hunger roads) were built during the Highland potato famine of 1846-1852 when the rural population were forced to labour on local roadways in order to receive poor relief – their own means of surviving.

It was the tuberculosis outbreak in the 1920’s which eventually led to the majority of homes in Coillegillie being abandoned and the houses stood empty and locked, just as the residents had left them, for almost 50 years.  Despite its unrivalled scenery, living in Coillegillie must have been fairly hard going all those years ago and now I know a little more about the community’s past it is understandable why the inhabitants choose to leave as they did (tuberculosis was little understood at the time).

Nowadays Coillegillie retains the same charm and allure as it did in centuries past – just without the disadvantages!  Still as tranquil and breathtakingly scenic, 12 years ago they installed electricity (bought in by helicopter) as well as a pumped water supply.  One of the original stone buildings, The Cottage by the Shore, has been beautifully and sympathetically restored over the last two years retaining many of its delightful, unique features.  Those wishing to holiday in this really amazing location can arrange to have their luggage etc. bought in by boat, making the abundance of surrounding beauty the only thing you need to focus on when you stroll along the ancient path to the magical Coillegillie.

8 thoughts on “The story of Coillegillie”

  1. Hi, I recently joined the facebook group.

    I’ve stayed in South Shore on Eilean Shona before (am going back this June!), so this sounds quite appealing! Although personally, I would have liked it without electricity just as much 😉

    Thanks for sourcing such wonderful places to stay.

    1. Great to hear from you – and so pleased to hear that you have enjoyed staying at one of our properties! I have to say I love it when we get to hear about another hidden treasure of a cottage which is about to be added to our books – I have a list as long as my arm of the places I intend to visit in the near future! Thanks for your comment.

  2. We stayed at Coilliegillie years ago when there was no electricty and we had to cut our own peat for heating. What a magical place! Our son recently visited it again and took some pictures for us, so happy memories. Who knows, we might be able to go there again one day.

  3. What an amazing place…….wildlife abounds and we were lucky enough to see a pine marten and red dear at very close quarters. The weather really isn’t an issue here as the changes of light just add to the dramatic scenery. The Carter’s Cottage (formerly the Cottage by the Shore) is warm, cosy, more than comfortable and extremely well equipped…….just take bare essentials including a change of clothes in case the rain catches you out. Nature lovers will NOT be disappointed!

  4. We stayed at Coillegillie in 1975 and 1976, contributing to facilities, cutting peat and casting a concrete cover for the pump at the dam for water supply to the red corrugated iron cottage owned then by Colin Henderson. The story was that the gunner on a patrolling navy ship was challenged – you couldn’t even hit one of those 3 abandoned cottages – but he did! – and the navy had to repair it. It has to be admitted it doesn’t have the charm of the restored stone cottage where we got to know the Carters, – teachers from Perth. He had built the most beautiful clinker rowing boat. We had 2 great holidays there, catching lovely mackerel for breakfast from Ning Po, the heavy fibreglass dinghy, in which we ventured once to Eilan na Ba!. We have memorable pictures showing the scenery, good catches, and ourselves on the sandy beach – in jerseys! The other house was just asking to have a roof and be restored, and evidently still is!
    We emigrated to New Zealand a few weeks later but we (parents) made a memorable visit in early July 04. We again came over the Pass of the Cattle, and walked again from the end of the road, recalling the 1st time with our 3 children, the youngest (4) completing it with her backpack with Tedddy sticking out!
    Much was the same but we remembered sandy beach, not boulders, less suited to the boats there, and the undergrowth seemed more extensive! We had never before walked to the nearby village; Coilliegillie is the most romantic memory!

    1. I helped Colin and his dad transport some basic furniture to the corrugated cottage in April 1967. Our family then spent 4 summer holidays there from 67-71 and our now grown children have made their own trips over to the Applecross peninsula on a number of occasions. My wife and i last walked over to the Henderson cottage about 17 years ago.

  5. We stayed here too in 1981 I think. I was 10. Dad carried in a new water pump and we fitted it while we were there. I loved cutting peat for the fire and getting all the Tilley lamps going in the evening. I discovered hundreds of National Geographics there, novels by Hammnd Innes (The Wreck of the Mary Deare) and an interesting game called ‘North Sea Oil’. The walks on the hills behind were best of all – exploring the burns and birches with my sister. My little brother was 6 months old, and rode in the rain in a back pack all the way down the path. It was my most memorable holiday ever.

  6. My father was born in the cottage that sits closest to the water in November 1921. His 3 older sisters died in the 20’s during the tuberculosis outbreak. I tried, several years ago to find out who now owns the property, but despite a lot of effort on my part, I was unfortunately unsuccessful. Had I managed to purchase the cottage and have it back in the Macleod family I would have possibly made it habitable once again

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