Arisaig /ˈærəsɪɡ/ (Scottish Gaelic: Àrasaig) is a village in Lochaber, Inverness-shire, on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, within the Rough Bounds. It is also the traditional name for part of the surrounding peninsula south of Loch Morar, extending as far east as Moidart. Etymologically, Arisaig means "the safe bay". It lies in the Scottish council area of Highland and has a population of about 300.[2]

Arisaig is located in Lochaber
Location within the Lochaber area
Population300 [1]
OS grid referenceNM661865
Council area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townARISAIG
Postcode districtPH39
Dialling code01687
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°54′36″N 5°50′35″W / 56.910°N 5.843°W / 56.910; -5.843Coordinates: 56°54′36″N 5°50′35″W / 56.910°N 5.843°W / 56.910; -5.843


Early historyEdit

The Arisaig coast

After raids by Vikings, Arisaig became part of the Kingdom of the Isles, a Norwegian dependency. In the late 11th century, however, Malcolm III of Scotland came to a written agreement with Magnus Barelegs, the Norwegian king, to move the border to the coast; Arisaig thus became Scottish.

In the early 12th century, Somerled, a Norse-Gael of uncertain origin, became owner of Arisaig and the surrounding region. No reliable record explains how this happened, but by some point in the 1140s, David I of Scotland's control of the region had been eroded.[3] In the middle of that century, Somerled launched a coup in the Kingdom of the Isles, which led to it joining his other possessions as a single state. On Somerled's death Norwegian authority was restored, but in practice it remained divided; the part containing Arisaig was known as Garmoran and ruled by the MacRory, a faction among Somerled's heirs.

After the 1266 Treaty of Perth, Garmoran became a Scottish crown dependency – the Lordship of Garmoran – still ruled by the MacRory, until the final MacRory heir was Amy of Garmoran. Most of the remainder of the Kingdom had become the Lordship of the Isles, ruled by the MacDonalds, whose leader, John of Islay, married Amy. After the birth of three sons, he divorced Amy and married the king's niece, in return for a substantial dowry. As part of the arrangement, John deprived his eldest son, Ranald, of the ability to inherit the Lordship of the Isles, in favour of a son by his new wife; as compensation, he made Ranald the Lord of Garmoran.

However, Ranald's sons were still children at the end of the 14th century, and his younger brother Godfrey seized the Lordship of Garmoran instead. Furthermore, the heirs of Ranald's other brother Murdoch now made their own claim. This led to much violent conflict involving Godfrey's family (the Siol Gorrie) and those of his brothers (which is not described in surviving records in much detail).

In 1427, frustrated with the general level of violence in the Highlands, together with the insurrection caused by his own cousin, King James I demanded that Highland magnates attend a meeting at Inverness. On arrival, many were seized and imprisoned. Alexander MacGorrie, son of Godfrey, was considered one of the two most reprehensible, and after a quick show trial immediately executed.[4] As Alexander had by now inherited Godfrey's de facto position as Lord of Garmoran, and in view of Ranald's heirs being no less responsible for the violence, King James declared the Lordship forfeit.

Lairdship grantsEdit

The plain of Mointeach Mhòr

In 1469, James' grandson (James III) granted Lairdship of the lands of Garmoran and Uist to John of Ross, the Lord of the Isles. In turn, John passed it to his own half-brother, Hugh of Sleat; the grant to Hugh was confirmed by the king in a 1493 charter. The violence that led to Alexander's execution had brought the Siol Gorrie to the brink of extinction, and after Alexander's death they played no further part in Arisaig's history.[4]

Ranald's heirs (Clan Ranald) disputed and fought against the charter. Following Hugh of Sleat's death, in 1498, and for reasons that are not remotely clear, his son John of Sleat immediately resigned, transferring all authority to the king. By this point, John of Ross's conspiratorial ambition had caused the Lordship of the Isles to be forfeited, but in 1501, his heir, Black Donald, launched an insurrection seeking to restore it. Ranald Bane, leader of Clan Ranald, was one of the few MacDonald-descended clan leaders to refuse to support Donald, so in 1505 (shortly before Donald was defeated) Ranald Bane was given the Lairdship of Arisaig and Eigg, as a reward.

In 1520, the excessive cruelty (not described in detail by surviving records) of Ranald Bane's son, Dougall, led to his assassination, and the exclusion of Ranald Bane's descendants from leadership of Clan Ranald. Instead, Ranald Bane's brother, Alexander, took over the leadership. In 1532, the king provided a charter confirming Alexander's son, John Moidartach, as Laird of Arisaig (and Eigg).

Later historyEdit

On 20 September 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie left Scotland for France from a place near the village following the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The site of his departure is marked by the Prince's Cairn, located at Loch nan Uamh to the east of Arisaig. A few decades later, much of the local population left as well, emigrating to Canada, where in 1785 they founded Arisaig, Nova Scotia.

Arisaig House

Arisaig House, the only Scottish country house designed by architect Philip Webb (1831–1915), was built in 1863 for Francis Dukinfield Palmer-Astley (1825–1868) on the south side of the A830 Lochailort-Morar Road, 3.5 km (2.2 miles) south-east of Arisaig, on the north shores of Loch Nan Uamh. The house was largely destroyed by fire in 1935 and remodelled in 1937 for Charlotte Gertrude Astley-Nicholson (died 1961).[5]

In World War II, Arisaig House became the headquarters for the Scottish section of the Special Operations Executive, who ran paramilitary training courses in the surrounding area, to prepare agents for missions in Occupied Europe; the remoteness of the rough bounds made it ideal.[6] On 11 November 2009 a memorial to Czechoslovak soldiers who had trained as SOE agents in 1943–1945, was unveiled in Arisaig.[7]

Famous residentEdit

Amenities and attractionsEdit

The Land, Sea and Island Centre

Arisaig has a post office, general store, restaurant, cafe, hotel with bar, and marina. Tourism is the main industry in the area.

The Land, Sea and Islands Centre[8] holds a display on the connection between the SOE and Arisaig,.[9] See above.


Arisaig lies on the A830 to Mallaig to the north and Fort William to the east. It is also known as the Road to the Isles. Work on widening it into a double-lane road was completed in 2008. The village is also connected to Mallaig and Fort William by the West Highland Line. Arisaig railway station is the most westerly on the British mainland.

A small passenger ferry sails from Arisaig to the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck and Rùm. The main CalMac service to the Small Isles operates from Mallaig.

Cultural referencesEdit

Several areas of England have Arisaig as a street name, such as Ouston, County Durham. A fictionalized Ardnish peninsula and Arisaig provide the setting for most of the "Ian and Sovra" series of children's novels by Elinor Lyon.[10]


  1. ^ Census, 2011
  2. ^ Ach na skia Croft site Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  3. ^ MacDonald, IG (2013). Clerics and Clansmen: The Diocese of Argyll between the Twelfth and Sixteenth Centuries. The Northern World: North Europe and the Baltic c. 400–1700 AD. Peoples, Economics and Cultures (series vol. 61). Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-18547-0. ISSN 1569-1462., p. 37; Woolf, A (2004). "The Age of Sea-Kings, 900–1300". In Omand, D (ed.). The Argyll Book. Edinburgh: Birlinn. pp. 94–109. ISBN 1-84158-253-0., p. 102.
  4. ^ a b Gregory, Donald, History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland, from A.D. 1493 to A.D. 1625, with a brief introductory sketch, from A.D. 80 to A.D. 1493, Edinburgh, W. Tait, retrieved 11 May 2012, p. 65
  5. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "ARISAIG HOUSE (GDL00027)". Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  6. ^ Commando Country, Stuart Allan, National Museums Scotland 2007, ISBN 978-1-905267-14-9
  7. ^ "Memorial to Czechoslovak soldiers unveiled in Arisaig, Scotland". The Czech Embassy in London. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  8. ^ Land, Sea and Islands Centre Archived 14 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Special Operations Executive: Para-Military Training in Scotland during World War 2, David M Harrison, Land Sea and Islands Centre, Arisaig
  10. ^ Obituary in The Telegraph, 22 July 2008 Retrieved 23 March 2017.

External linksEdit