Scottish Fare on the Knoydart Peninsula

By Miche Genest          Photos by Cathie Archbould


A boy in yellow wellies rocketed down the street on his bike in front of the Old Forge Pub in the village of Inverie. His sister ran after him, yelling for her bike back. Laughter and smoke billowed from a shed on the lawn between the pub and the sea, and more laughter spilled into the street every time the pub door opened. Under the first stars in a twilit sky, the residents of the Knoydart Peninsula were celebrating: they’d bought the pub six months earlier, and tonight was the big party.  

If we travel to feel at home in unfamiliar places, then Knoydart was doing a bang-up job. It was the first time I had been overseas in three years, and already I was feeling if I’d gone to Knoydart first, I might never have come to the Yukon.

The Knoydart Peninsula is a wild and remote place on the west coast of Scotland, across the sea from the Isle of Skye. The only way to get there is by ferry from the town of Mallaig or by walking 22 km through rough country from the interior. The population is between 110 and 120, most of whom live in Inverie, a scattering of low, white-painted buildings lining Inverie Bay.

The place is a haven for walkers and birdwatchers, yachters, fans of wild country, Munro climbers, and anyone interested in how a small, independent community thrives in a wild and lonely place. Like the Yukon, it’s the kind of place people find their way to and never leave.

Cara Gray, our hostess at The Gathering bed and breakfast, visited in 1997, returned in 1999, and has operated her business there ever since. She stayed, she says, because she just needed to get out of where she was living. I was reminded of myself, 28 years ago, just needing to leave Toronto.

In 2018, Gray opened The Lookout, a restaurant specializing in local foods, like venison, mussels, and haddock. Her culinary modus operandi, she says, is to cook for everybody. “Here in Knoydart, you get … millionaires and people who are camping who have to share fish and chips. So, you have to cater for all pockets.”

We learned that, like the Yukon, there is hardship and injustice in Knoydart’s history—crop failure, famine, mass evictions during the Highland Clearances of the 1850s, and centuries of mistreatment at the hands of wealthy lairds. But there is fortitude and resistance, too. In 1853, 11 families refused to leave, though their houses were pulled down, crops destroyed, and cattle confiscated. In 1948, the revered Seven Men of Knoydart, veterans of the Second World War, raided the Knoydart Estate and laid claim to pieces of land, invoking the Land Settlement Act, which made provision for returning soldiers to farm underused land.

The Seven Men lost their court battle against the laird of the Knoydart Estate, but the fight for autonomy lived on. In 1997, the residents of Knoydart formed the Knoydart Foundation, and in 1999, with the help of several charitable foundations, raised the funds to buy the 17,200-acre Knoydart Estate from the last in a series of lairds.

Now the Knoydart Foundation administers the estate; owns and operates its own micro-hydro system, community garden, sawmill, campground, and tourist cabin; co-manages the forest and the deer with other foundations; and—as of March 2022—owns The Old Forge Pub.

My companions and I lived in a dream for four days, buffeted by winds smelling of brine and flowers and hiking the hills; watching stags rub velvet off their antlers; exploring ruins; listening to stonechats, buzzards, guillemots, and gulls; drinking half-pints in the pub; meeting friendly people and their dogs; and jumping into the hot tub every afternoon and then eating a beautiful dinner.

We didn’t manage to eat everything on The Lookout’s menu. I missed out on an appetizer of smoked venison with blue cheese because I needed to save room for the toffee sundae with caramel popcorn. As we were leaving, Gray popped a package of smoked venison into my hand luggage. “Here,” she said. “Enjoy this tonight with some mango chutney.” The boy in the yellow wellies and his sister boarded the ferry to Mallaig with us. Perhaps they had been on holiday, too.

The recipes here all take inspiration from Cara Gray’s lovely menu of wild and local food at The Lookout. Very Scottish and very Yukon-y.

Smoked Salmon and Whisky Cream Sauce over Pasta

  • 8 oz (225 g) hot-smoked salmon
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) juniper berries, crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups (350 ml) 35% cream
  • 1/4 cup Two Brewers Whisky, any release
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 8 oz (225 g) linguine or fettucine
  1. Start water boiling for the pasta. Separate the salmon into large flakes and set aside.
  2. Heat butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Once it’s sizzling, add onion and sauté until softened and translucent—5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add pasta to the boiling water.
  4. Add garlic and juniper berries to the frying pan and sauté for another 2 minutes. Stir in whisky and cook 1 minute. Stir in cream, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon—about 5 minutes.
  5. Drain pasta and arrange in bowls or on a serving platter. Scatter salmon over pasta. Pour cream sauce over and garnish with fresh herbs. If there’s any sauce left in the pan, pour into a jug and serve at the table, along with a bowl of grated parmesan for those who want it.

Makes 4 servings.