Handa (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Shannda) is an island off the west coast of Sutherland, Highland, Scotland. It is 309 hectares (1.19 sq mi) and 123 metres (404 ft) at its highest point.
A small ferry sails to Handa from Tarbet on the mainland and boat trips operate to it from Fanagmore.
It is a Scottish Wildlife Trust nature reserve.
The island is composed of Torridonian red sandstoneand surrounded by cliffs covered with birds.
In the north is a hill with two peaks, with the south and east being lower lying. The north and west have 100 metres (328 ft) high cliffs, and there are beaches in the south and east. The Sound of Handa separates it from the mainland and smaller islands around Handa include Glas-Leac to the south, Eilean an Aigeach to the north east and Stac an t-Sealbhaig to the north.
Handa is part of the North-West Sutherland National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.[/tab]
The island’s name is of mixed Gaelic and Norse origin and means “island at the sandy river”.
Anciently the island was used as a burial place, and there are still the remains of a chapel in the south east, commemorated in the name Tràigh an Teampaill (Beach of the Temple).
It had a population of 65 in 1841, but in 1848 potato famine forced the inhabitants to emigrate. In some ways this is surprising, since it is recorded that the islanders had a fairly varied diet including oats, fish and seabirds, rather than depending heavily on a potato crop. The islanders had a parliament, similar to that of St Kilda, which met daily, and the oldest widow on the island was considered its “Queen”.
Wolves dug up graves so frequently that in the 19th century the inhabitants of Eddrachillis resorted to burying their dead on Handa.
Handa is noted for its birdlife, which includes puffins, razorbills and guillemots.
The island is an SSSI, and was leased to the RSPB originally for 25 years. However the Balfours did not renew the lease, because they wished a Scottish based body to run the island; as a result the Scottish Wildlife Trust took it over. Despite being a reserve, the island receives five thousand visitors per annum
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Small ferry boat operates from Tarbet. The service operates April – early September, Monday – Saturday from 9:30am.
On arrival to the Handa island visitors will be met by SWT staff/volunteers. There is a 6km circular path (we recommend stout footwear). Most visitors spend at least 2 1/2 – 3 hours on the island.
On Ederachillis’ shore
The grey wolf lies in wait,—
Woe to the broken door,
Woe to the loosened gate,
And the groping wretch whom sleety fogs
On the trackless moor belate.
Thus every grave we dug
The hungry wolf uptore,
And every morn the sod
Was strewn with bones and gore:
Our mother-earth had denied us rest
On Ederchaillis’ shore
—The Book of Highland Minstrelsy, 1846
The island is now part of the Scourie Estate, owned by Dr Jean Balfour and J.C. Balfour and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust with a population of just one warden during the summer months.