The forgotten, barely inhabited Scottish island with a new lease of life

Cadzo Family in Luing, Scotland
The Cadzow family is on a mission to bring tourism to the isle of Luing

With numb feet, I picked a path across the smooth slate and waded into dark, glassy water. Seaweed caressed my legs with knobbly, caramel-coloured fingers. As I sliced through the still, salty bay, a scruffy black cormorant circled overhead. Floating on my back, I returned its gaze, then spotted a buzzard who was also keeping watch from a rocky outcrop nearby.

Just swimming where otters and seals are commonly found felt as though it might disturb the natural balance on Luing (pronounced “Ling”), a barely inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides. The largest of the Slate Islands prospered in the late 19th century, when 15 quarries produced hand-cut slate that roofed buildings all over the world. But the industry failed after the Second World War, when slate production on the mainland became speedier and cheaper, and the quarries flooded.

The island’s population of more than 600 people trickled away and now only about 167 people live on Luing. Not only is there no pub but there has not been one for a century. The small village store keeps unorthodox hours. The wildlife, meanwhile – common and grey seals, red and fallow deer, otters and birdlife – is thriving.

Luing is somewhere to visit if you want to switch off, reconnect with nature and live in absolute, soul-enhancing peace. The Cadzows, owners of most of the island, are among the few locals to to remain. During lockdown, seeking new opportunities, the younger generation decided it was time to make a few changes.

This year, youngest son Jack Cadzow designed and built WildLuing, the island’s first luxury guest accommodation. The appealing collection of suites makes it possible for visitors to catch the five-car Cuan Ferry from near Oban and discover Luing for themselves. Eight larch-clad suites afford sweeping views across a riddle of hills and tidal bays. Each has a kitchenette stocked with eggs, fruit, cereal and fresh bread, and you can watch the sun rise above the picturesque isle of Torsa from your bed.

WildLuing accommodation in Luing, Scotland
WildLuing is the island’s first luxury guest accommodation

Guests can be collected from the ferry in four-wheel drives, or you can bring a car. Don’t forget to fill up in Oban if you do though, as there is, of course, no petrol station here. Around the headland from WildLuing, Cullipool is one of the island’s two villages. Alongside the flooded quarries is a conservation area, where a few white cottages with slate roofs shelter beneath craggy cliffs. One current resident had left a simple sign in her window reading “coal please”. In winter, you wouldn’t want to miss the coal man’s rounds.

As children, the Cadzows lived in a farmhouse near a small slate beach, at Blackmill Bay. “Mum used to ring a bell to call us in,” Jack told me, as his spaniel bounced through the bog and a labrador crunched crab claws behind a jetty. The only other sound was the whirring of a cottage’s small wind turbine.

The silence here is powerful. Tucked up in my suite, with no TV or radio, I kept opening the door to check Luing was still there. One morning, I decamped to a slate slab by the water’s edge and sat squinting in the pale sunlight at splashes that could have been an otter, but were more likely a cormorant. Time ticked on, untroubled.

Natalie Paris in Luing, Scotland
Natalie (left) enjoyed sustainable activities such as hiking

I eventually spotted an otter paddling belly up in the Observatory before dinner. The open-plan Observatory is WildLuing’s focal point. Step inside and the candles, laughter and delicious smells are a big, sensory hug after the island’s all-encompassing quiet. Windows around the dining table overlook Torsa bay, with a high-spec kitchen stretching to one side and a large, comfortable lounge to the other.

In the evenings, Jack handed around tumblers of Lussa gin or Jura whisky while the amiable WildLuing team cooked up incredible suppers. First I tried slithers of well-marbled Luing beef; the next night I feasted on oysters fresh from the bay, local langoustine and sweet, squat lobster.

Jack Cadzow’s grandfather was the first to breed the fluffy and docile Luing cattle that roam the island, establishing the breed by crossing beef shorthorn with Highland cattle. New projects on Luing include rewilding, with a new loch and wildlife corridors under way. Jack’s brother is involved in bringing shooting parties to stay at WildLuing in season. Plans are also afoot for the return of Luing’s heritage slate industry – though on a much smaller scale.

Natalie Paris in Luing, Scotland
Guests can take a boat across to the nearby island of Scarba, also owned by the Cadzows

Sustainable activities include walking, cycling, guided kayaking and sea safaris. The island is dotted with ruins and has plausible Viking graffiti. A covered Rib can take guests across to Scarba, another enigmatic island also owned by the Cadzows, for a short walk and lunch in a bothy.

On the way, I spied a sea eagle’s nest and came close to the choppy waters of the legendary Corryvreckan whirlpool, which forms above an underwater pinnacle of rock. On Scarba, I hiked an easy trail past trees clad in lichen. Heather-covered slopes plunged down into the sea, their ridges often crowned by stags, their antlers in silhouette.

Just as the rain set in, the valley opened up to reveal a ramshackle bothy below. Inside, the plasterboard was crumbling from the walls but a fire was lit and WildLuing’s chef, Iain, whipped out a tablecloth and a spread of frittata, spicy red pepper soup and homemade venison rolls.

WildLuing accommodation in Luing, Scotland
WildLuing's eight larch-clad suites afford sweeping views across a riddle of hills and tidal bays

On the return journey, a playful grey seal kept popping its head out of the water. Further up, at a small, rocky bay backed by steep hills, I was struck by the lonely figure of a stag staring out to sea. “Stags come down to this beach when they realise they are no longer king of the hills”, Jack’s wife, Emily, told me. As sheets of rain charged up the valley, the magnificent animal stood contemplating the Atlantic, as others had done before him. Some things on the Slate Islands haven’t changed in a long time. On Luing, some have – for the better.


Natalie Paris travelled as a guest of WildLuing (07765 870111;, which offers suites (sleeping two) from £200, with group bookings and exclusive use possible. British Airways ( flies to Glasgow from London from £76 return; the Cuan Ferry to Luing ( is a 2.5-hour drive further north