They have lived in the shadow of the crofters of Assynt and the islanders of Eigg and Gigha, but in Inverie this morning local residents will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the buyout of the Knoydart estate.

A programme of events that will run until October will mark the remarkable progress made by the most remote community on the British mainland since the locals took over from a pair of fraudsters.

Crucially, in the past decade they have managed to reverse a centuries-old trend by increasing Knoydart's population, and by almost 60%.

There are more pupils in the tiny school than for generations, more jobs, more businesses, more houses, more locally produced renewable power, more investment and more hope than anyone can remember. And this against the backcloth of the saddest of histories.

You can only get to Knoydart by hiking the 18 miles from Kinloch Hourn or by taking the regular ferry service from Mallaig. Most choose the latter, but few take the time to look to the north-east as their boat enters the mouth of Loch Nevis and ponder the words of Donald Ross, describing the view that met him from that point in 1853: "As far as the eye could see, the face of the strath had its black spots, where the houses of the crofters were either levelled or burnt, the blackened rafters lying scattered across the grass, the couple trees cut through the middle and thrown far away, the walls broken down, the thatch and cabers mixed together, the voice of man was gone."

Ross, a journalist and lawyer, had travelled to Loch Nevis to report on the clearance of Knoydart by Josephine MacDonnell, the widow of the 16th chief of Glengarry, who had been left with serious debt and a young son. She resolved to clear and sell Knoydart so it could be turned over to sheep and deer. Most of the 1500-strong community had already gone to Canada, but between 400 and 500 remained. At the end of August 1853 the evictions began.

Parties of men with axes, crowbars and hammers visited each township, forcing the people out and destroying their houses. Many had to be dragged down to the boats to be ferried across to the Sillery. Sixteen families took to the hills rather than leave, and when the Sillery finally sailed they came back down to the shore. During the succeeding weeks they built shelters for themselves, only to have them pulled down by men from the estate.

It was just one of many dark chapters in Knoydart's story. A century earlier even greater violence had been visited upon Knoydart when it suffered unspeakable cruelty in the aftermath of Culloden.

Even in the 20th century Knoydart was attended by despair, not least when the estate was owned by the Nazi sympathiser Lord Brocket. His stewardship was woeful and during the war the estate was requisitioned. He got the land back from the post-war government, although more and more land-starved local people were leaving.

In 1985, Surrey property dealer Philip Rhodes bought 58,000 acres of what had once been the 80,000-acre Knoydart Estate for £1.2m. He proceeded to sell it off in parcels and in 1993 sold the last 17,000 acres to jute company Titaghur and its chairman Reg Brealey for £1.7m.

Mr Brealey's plan was to establish a "Back to Basics" adventure training school for the deprived of Britain's inner cities. It was bitterly opposed by most in the 70-strong community and was refused planning permission. Titaghur's global financial problems were all too apparent in Knoydart, where the estate boat the Spanish John was arrested regularly by creditors.

In 1997 the community-led Knoydart Foundation was established to buy the estate, but Mr Brealey decided that it should be entrusted to businessmen Stephen Hinchliffe and Christopher Harrison. Their respective roles as chairman and finance director of the Facia retailing empire, which collapsed in 1996 with debts of more than £100m, were being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office and the DTI.

Harrison ended up in prison in Germany for fraud involving German shoe companies. In October 1998, Knoydart Peninsula Ltd, the company that owned the estate went, into receivership with debts of £1.4m. The following month Mr Hinchliffe was banned by the DTI from holding a company directorship for seven years and was subsequently sent to prison for conspiracy to defraud.

The following March the Knoydart Foundation (by then comprising Knoydart Community, the Highland Council, the Chris Brasher Trust, the John Muir Trust and Kilchoan Estate) finally bought the estate for £850,000.

The buyout was financed through £250,000 from the John Muir Trust; £200,000 from the Chris Brasher Trust; £75,000 from the Highland Council; £75,000 from Cameron Mackintosh's foundation; £75,000 from Highlands and Islands Enterprise's community land unit and £100,000 from an anonymous benefactor.

It has not been easy, but according to Davie Newton, a joiner who works for the local construction company and chairs the foundation, others should get the chance.

"For the last 10 years many of the choices made for this community have been made by this community," he said.

"We have had to learn, and are still learning, that the mistakes, responsibilities, discussions and difficulties are all ours.

"Sometimes that all seems like too much hard work, other times it's as if every obstacle is in the way, but occasionally it feels just right. And for those occasions and the self respect, we can only think that all communities should have the opportunity we have had."