Drop bears, leprechauns, and... wallabies in the Scottish Highlands?

18 January 2022

In Australian faux-folklore, a drop bear is a carnivorous koala with a bad attitude.

According to locals, these nasty little creatures bide their time in trees all across Australia, waiting for the perfect moment to descend in fury onto unsuspecting tourists.

Even seasoned news reporters have been duped into thinking they may fall prey to attack from one. And just like the drop bear, the Irish Leprechaun snares an occasional victim.

For the most gullible, an encounter with a small buoyant, green-suited gentleman at the end of a rainbow seems virtually assured thanks to the advice of 'helpful' natives in online threads.

But what about bumping into wild wallabies on an island in the southern fringes of the Scottish Highlands?

Surely this too must be the work of pranksters, keen on adding their own piece of fake-folklore to the annals of wanderlust windups?

Well, here's the thing: there absolutely is a colony of wild wallabies living on an uninhabited island in the Scottish Highlands.

In a bizarre quirk of history, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park play home to one of the few viable colonies of wild wallabies anywhere outside of Australia.

To find out how this glitch in the matrix happened, let's hop on board the history train for a quick backstory.

A brief history of Inchconnachan – a.k.a Wallaby Island

Inchconnachan is a 103-acre, uninhabited island located in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It hasn't always been uninhabited, though.

Since the 14th-century, this place has been in the possession of the Colquhoun family, members of which have used it as a holiday destination.

Most relevant to our story is Fiona Bryde Gore, a.k.a Lady Colquhoun, Countess of Arran.

Eccentric by many accounts, Lady Colquhoun earned the moniker 'Powerboating Granny' thanks to her liking for making waves around Loch Lomond in her speedboat.

In 1980 she was crowned 'fastest woman on water' when she won the Segrave Trophy for a record speed of 102mph on Lake Windermere.

In that context, perhaps it's not surprising that cats and dogs weren't sufficient companions for Lady Colquhoun, who fancied something a bit more exotic to accompany her during trips to the island.

According to various accounts, she brought the wallabies to the island towards the end of World War II.

Since then, the wallabies have not only survived but thrived, thanks in large part to a lack of natural predators.

Not only that, but the ecological conditions on Inchconnachan closely resemble those of their native Tasmania.

As mentioned, the 60-strong population now represents one of the few viable colonies of wallabies anywhere outside of Australia. Fancy that!

Unsurprisingly, they draw tourists to the area in droves, hoping to spot one on a trip across. You'll need to be lucky, though!

Getting to Wallaby Island

You can take a boat from the town of Luss.

If you're adventurous like us, however, you might consider applying some elbow grease and rowing your way across from the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond to Wallaby Island.

We had our own kayak, but you can rent one from Luss.

If you do plump for a DIY sailing, just remember to wear a life jacket, respect the water, and row within your capabilities.


Exploring the island

Once docked, you'll immediately notice the old boating slip and pier.

Further inland, tucked behind some of the oak trees that populate the island, is the now-derelict bungalow built for the tea merchant Admiral Sullivan in the 1920s.

As you’ll see, the building is quite dilapidated, and you'll need to watch your footing. However, it's still a cool time capsule for (careful) 21st-century explorers.

After making your way through the main building, wander along a series of outhouses to discover even more relics of yore.

Sawblades and motors – long lost to rust and inactivity – remain as reminders of the island's former life.

Swaddled under an umbrella of trees, there's a real sense of seclusion around these old buildings, now semi-reclaimed by nature.

As we wandered around in zen-like tranquillity, only the hum of a passing boat reminded us we weren't actually deserted.


Where's wall(ab)y?

Hoping to spot a wallaby? Of course you are!

To give yourself the best chance of encountering one, you'll need to be on the island at dusk or dawn as that's when wallabies are most active.

And, thanks to Scotland's wild camping laws, the more adventurous among you might consider pitching a tent and go wandering at these optimal times.

Just remember, Wallaby Island is an area of special scientific interest.

Its conservation status – thanks to the wallabies and a precious native ecosystem – can sometimes conflict with a generous right to roam policy in Scotland.

So, if you do bed down on the island, take everything with you on departure and leave no trace.

We didn't find a wallaby on our visit to Inchcannachan. Or Drop Bears. Or Leprechauns for that matter.

But that's okay. Inchcannachan is a great place to visit even when the marsupials are hiding. Who knows, maybe you'll have better luck spotting one on your journey!