Soay, Inner Hebrides

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Scottish Gaelic nameSòdhaigh 
Old Norse name*Sauða-ey
Meaning of nameSheep Island
Soay is located in Isle of Skye
Soay shown within the Skye area
OS grid referenceNG443145
Coordinates57°09′N 6°14′W / 57.15°N 6.23°W / 57.15; -6.23
Physical geography
Island groupSkye
Area1,036 ha (4 sq mi)
Area rank49 [1]
Highest elevationBeinn Bhreac, 141 m (463 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaHighland
Population rank89= [1]
Population density0.1/km2 (0.26/sq mi)[3]
Largest settlementMol-chlach

Soay (Scottish Gaelic: Sòdhaigh, pronounced [ˈs̪ɔː.aj]) 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 141 metres (463 ft) at Beinn Bhreac. The dumb-bell shaped island is virtually cut in half by inlets that form Soay Harbour (north) and the main bay, Camas nan Gall (to the south). The main settlement, Mol-chlach, is on the shore of Camas nan Gall.[5] It is normally reached by boat from Elgol. The island is part of the Cuillin Hills National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.[6]


Former HQ of The Island of Soay Shark Fisheries Ltd, started – and finished – by Gavin Maxwell

The name derives from Old Norse Sauða-ey 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.[7]

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.[8] Maxwell wrote about it in his book Harpoon at a Venture.[9] After the failure of the business the island was sold on to Maxwell's business partner's wife (Jeanne Geddes), Tex Geddes. The island had the first solar-powered telephone exchange in the world.[5]

Previously mainly Scottish Gaelic-speaking, most of the population was evacuated, at their request, to Mull on 20 June 1953 due to the poor ferry schedule in the winter when it was frequently cancelled due to bad weather[why?], since when the island has been sparsely populated.[10] In 2001 the population was 7.[11] By 2003 this had dwindled to 2[3] and the usually resident population in 2011 were three people.[2]


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.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ a b National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland's Inhabited Islands" (PDF). Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland Release 1C (Part Two) (PDF) (Report). SG/2013/126. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 149.
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey. OS Maps Online (Map). 1:25,000. Leisure.
  5. ^ a b Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 151.
  6. ^ "National Scenic Areas" Archived 2017-03-11 at the Wayback Machine. SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
  7. ^ Perrott, David (1988). Guide to the Western Islands of Scotland. Edinburgh: Kittiwake. ISBN 0-7028-0886-5.
  8. ^ "Soay Overview". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 22 July 2007.
  9. ^ ISBN 1-899863-28-1
  10. ^ Haswell-Smith 2004, p. 150.
  11. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  12. ^ "Modern British Local Posts CD Catalogue, 2009 Edition". Phillips. 2003. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 8 December 2008.


Coordinates: 57°9′0″N 6°13′48″W / 57.15000°N 6.23000°W / 57.15000; -6.23000