"THIS is Scotland in a nutshell, the Highlands of the Highlands,” says Knoydart ranger Finlay Greig, as we admire a cinema-esque wildscape of rugged mountain, plunging glen and shimmering Atlantic; herds of deer peppering the slopes towards the patches of ancient forest and whitewashed village of Inverie.

Exploring the long ridge of 2612ft-high Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, we’re both elated, but the landscape is too one of great tragedy; centuries of darkness finally brightened by 1999’s community buyout.

No roads nor rail reach Knoydart. You have to hike 15 miles from Kinloch Hourn or catch the ferry from Mallaig. I often hear Knoydart described as a “last great wilderness”. It’s not – Knoydart is a manmade wilderness. A crucial distinction. As we survey that “idyllic” landscape, we know how to read it all too well – the abandoned lazy beds, the guddle of empty blackhouses huddled around a life-giving burn. This is a land that was torn asunder by the baleful Highland Clearances.

Knoydart is problematic for anyone looking to airbrush the Clearances, to somehow wish them away as part of inevitable agricultural reform. Taking away duthchas – which included the inalienable right to land – post-Culloden as the clan system was dismantled – had direct and devastating results.

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Knoydart suffered a century of Clearances, culminating in 1853 when the handful of families that hadn’t sailed to Nova Scotia were not only driven from the only homes they knew, their attempts to construct even basic shelters afterwards were repeatedly crushed. The result? Immediate trauma with miscarriages and deaths, and on to population decline as Knoydart plunged from more than 2000 people to just over 50.

The fightback started in 1948 when the “Seven Men of Knoydart” took on landowner – and Nazi sympathiser – Lord Brocket in an audacious land raid. Ultimately, they were defeated in the courts. But they’d made a stand, and Brocket sold up soon afterwards.

That spirit blossomed further in 1999 when the community worked tirelessly to buy out the ailing Knoydart Estate and run it through the Knoydart Foundation. The result has been spectacular. Today, more than 120 souls thrive on the peninsula, and there is demand for more homes – the school roll is set to double to eight in August. The community has set up standalone hydroelectric and forestry operations. Tourism is fuelling a range of businesses.

The National: the village of Inveriethe village of Inverie

The most famous community-run business is the Old Forge. Much touted as the British mainland’s most remote pub, it really is so much more, as Davie Newton, a director of the Knoydart Foundation, tells me over a pint by the guitars and piano that are evidence that the good days are back. “We did a survey and people come to Knoydart for mountains, community and the pub. This is the heart of the community,” he says proudly.

Stephanie Harris, who was born in Knoydart and now does business development for the Old Forge, joins us and adds: “It’s great that this year – with help from people from all over the world – we’ve got the pub back and open all year round again. Knoydart’s community stretches beyond the peninsula. We’re on board with the new SCOTO (Scottish Community Tourism) initiative that seeks to treat visitors as ‘temporary locals’.”

I spend four days wrapped between the lochs of heaven (Nevis) and hell (Hourn) and feel welcome. It’s like being embraced by a cheerier version of Camberwick Green or Balamory, with everyone having clearly defined roles in the community –multiple ones at that.

The National: Knoydart - Robin McKelvie.

INDEED, the rose-tinted view you get on short visits forgets almost that the Knoydart people are real. “People sometimes forget we are really people working hard in our jobs. We don’t just sit around all day celebrating the buyout,” Harris stresses.

I literally buy into Knoydart by staying at the new community-owned Wee Hooses. These compact wooden hideaways use local wood and are a great base for my family, with a wee kitchen, deck and woodburning stove. I snare Knoydart venison loin from the community-owned shop and forage chantarelles from the woods behind, with that delight followed by Knoydart rhubarb crumble.

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I eat very well too at the Knoydart Pottery and Tea Room, run by lovely sisters Isla and Rhona Miller. Peering over Loch Nevis from their waterfront terrace. I savour Knoydart venison kofta and Knoydart Coffee, brewed down the road in Doune.

Isla sees clear benefits in the community buyout: “We’ve had the tearoom for 14 years and have watched as Knoydart has gained the confidence to make its own decisions and do what the people believe in. It’s a very welcoming community where you’re rewarded for the efforts you put in. Together we’ve made the buyout work.”

On my last full day, I rejoin Finlay on his daily Knoydart in a Nutshell tours (£20 for two hours; kids £10). He reveals the fascinating flora and fauna, rare temperate rainforest and roe deer. “What people want to hear about most is the community and how it works. I used to live in Glasgow, and I can say it all works so well here. It’s been a privilege and lesson for me being welcomed and accepted into this community,” smiles Finlay.

I leave Knoydart, heart and soul stirring at this place of great tragedy that now offers lessons for what the Highlands – and perhaps Scotland – can achieve when the people who live in it decide their own present and, indeed, future.

Knoydart Foundation – knoydart.org Knoydart ferry – westernislescruises.co.uk More info – visitscotland.com