Isles Of Scotland: Best Scottish Islands To Visit

If you’re looking to visit the Isles Of Scotland but have no idea which of the 900 islands would be best for you, we have found some of the best Scottish Islands for you to visit whatever the season. From the Orkney Islands to the tiny, pedestrianised island of Iona, we will find the best island in Scotland for you. Here we list 54 Isles of Scotland that we think are great for hopping, exploring, relaxing on and even swimming!

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Isles Of Scotland Highland Cow
Isles Of Scotland Highland Cow

How Many Isles of Scotland Are There?

Scotland has 790 islands, which I’m sure will surprise you, and furthermore Scotland has more than 10% of Europe’s entire coastline. It is three-quarters surrounded by sea after all. Only 130 islands have permanent inhabitants and some form of transport to get you there – although others are accessible on day-trips.

The islands of Scotland are divided into five categories; The Outer Hebrides, The Inner Hebrides, Shetland Islands, Orkney Island, Firth of Forth and tidal islands.

The Inner Hebrides is made up of 35 inhabited islands as well as 44 uninhabited islands that stretch along Scotland’s western coast. The three largest islands with the highest populations are Skye, Mull, and Islay. The Inner Hebrides are best reached from Glasgow, via car, ferry or by air depending on which island you are visiting.

Also known as The Western Isles, or Na h-Eileanan an Iar in Gaelic, the Outer Hebrides consist of 15 inhabited islands with a total population of 26,830 and more than 50 uninhabited islands. The beaches of the Outer Hebrides are often confused with beaches of the Caribbean, with their powder-white sand and crystal-clear waters. The Isle of Lewis and Harris, Barra and South Uist are three of the main islands of the Outer Hebrides.

With UNESCO World Heritage Sites, white sandy beaches, and amazing wildlife, the Orkney Islands make an extremely popular holiday destination. There about 70 Orkney Islands, 20 of which are inhabited. Many travellers like to visit the Orkney Islands during the Autumn and Winter months for a greater chance of spotting the Northern Lights. Some of Orkney’s largest or most popular islands include Kirkwall, Hoy and Eday.

The Shetland Islands are located 130 miles north of the Scottish mainland and 190 miles west of Norway, making it the UK’s most northerly point. Around 100 islands fall under Shetland, with fewer than 20 of them inhabited. The three most populated islands of Shetland are Lerwick, the capital of the islands, Yell and Scalloway.

Map Of Scottish Islands

Map Of The Scottish Islands Listed Below

You can use this map from Google to locate all of the Isles of Scotland.

How Can You Get Around The Scottish Isles?

Although there are some airports, it isn’t a true adventure until you’ve hopped on a ferry and braved those Atlantic or Northern Seas – and in winter they can be rough!

Some of the ferries accommodate cars and camper vans although some, like the ferries to Iona and Muck, Eigg & Rum are passenger only. Some islands you’ll only be able to visit at low tide or by hiring a local fisherman and boat to take you.

I’ve never had a bad experience on a Scottish island and most locals are welcoming and friendly, so long as you don’t turn their island into an Instagrammable haven!


If you’re interested in touring the Isles of Scotland in a car or van, buy this book and take the slow road!

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Isles Of Scotland Uist
Isles Of Scotland North Uist

Which Island Should I Visit In Scotland?

With so many to chose from which Isle of Scotland should you visit?

The Isle of Skye, in the Inner Hebrides, is the most visited of all the islands in Scotland and whilst the Outer Hebrides are mostly moorland, peat bogs and lochs (with the exception of mountainous Harris) they have some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches you’ll likely ever see in the UK!

The Shetland Islands are the furthest away from the Scottish mainland and Fair Isle is an isolated island found between The Shetland and The Orkney Islands. North Rona is closer to the Faroe Islands than Scotland and the Slate Islands have a unique feel to them due to their slate mining history.

Stornoway on Lewis, Kirkwall in Orkney and Lerwick in Shetland are the Scottish islands’ largest towns. All three are the hub of activity on their respective islands but if you’re looking for a total get-away experience there are still some private islands that only have two inhabitants living on them.

The best islands for scuba-diving are Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, St Kilda & Mull where water temperatures range from 4°C  in April to 14°C in September. Wild camping in a tent is allowed all over Scotland on condition that you remember the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Whether you’re looking for adrenaline-filled adventures, beach holidays, long hikes or total relaxation and whisky tastings, we’ve listed 54 islands below so you can find your perfect Isle of Scotland holiday.


Want to know more about the Isles of Scotland? Buy this book on Scottish Islands before you travel there.

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Isles Of Scotland Isle of Coll
Isles Of Scotland Isle of Coll

Isles Of Scotland: Best Scottish Islands To Visit

Arran

The island of Arran is one of the most accessible Scottish islands and you can drive to Arran from Glasgow in just a couple of hours. Despite being so close to the mainland, Arran has a relaxed atmosphere coupled with dramatic scenery and eclectic wildlife of the Inner Hebrides.

The ferry route to Arran goes via the town of Ardrossdan on Scotland’s south-west coast. It takes around an hour to drive to the port from Glasgow, or you can also get the train to Ardrossan station which is right by the port. If you are only planning on visiting the island for a couple of days, I would recommend taking your car over.  Some of the main attractions are at opposite ends of the island so having your own vehicle means no waiting about for public transport.

What’s so special about the Isle of Arran is that it feels like a microcosm of Scotland all rolled into a tiny island. Stunning mountain glens, charming seaside towns and a rich history. If you’re short on time, it’s easy enough to see most of the top spots in a couple of days however, this gorgeous island is also the perfect destination for a longer, more laid-back island break in Scotland.

Much of the tourist accommodation is located around Brodick, the main settlement since there’s a lot to do within a short distance. If you’re planning to use public transport while you’re on Arran, there are plenty of public bus routes that leave from Brodick and take you right around the island. During the peak tourist season (roughly May-September), it’s also possible to secure a place on an organised tour group.

The island of Arran has plenty of hiking trails with a range of difficulties. The most challenging, but also the most rewarding, is the hike up to Goatfell. This pyramidal peak is the highest point on Arran, and a tough 5-hour climb will reward you with incredible views over the island. If you’re looking for some more gentle options, opt for the hiking trail to Glenashdale Falls and the Giant’s Graves. This circular walk is much easier but still gives you the chance to see some of Arran’s most beautiful scenery.

A large amount of produce is made on the island; from gin and whisky to ice cream and cheese, there are so many Isle of Arran products to try. Brodrick is a great spot to shop for all things Arran. If you want some souvenirs, visit Arran Aromatics to pick up some incredible home gifts inspired by the island.

Arran is a true Scottish Island gem that you’ll definitely not want to miss.

Written by Emma from The Hobby Traveller. See more from Emma on Instagram. 

Learn more about life on the Hebridean Islands by reading this autobiography set on the Isles of Scotland.

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Isle of arran. Isles Of Scotland
Isle of Arran. Isles Of Scotland

Barra

Barra is the most southerly occupied island in the Outer Hebrides archipelago and the most westerly island in the UK. It is truly special amongst Scotland’s glorious islands and a perfect place to visit when road tripping the beautiful UK.

You can get to Barra by car ferry from Oban to Castlebay, which takes around 4-5 hours. For a once in a lifetime experience, fly into Barra’s unique beach airstrip, airport at Cockle Strand in between the tides on Traigh Mor Beach.  After landing on the beach, head to the small airport terminal for one of the friendliest welcomes you’ll ever receive and to pick up your hire car.

Although it is only 9 miles long, Barra is known for its stunning white sandy beaches, big skies and wild landscapes, the island of Barra is a place to visit and contemplate life, take long walks and enjoy the wonderful flora and fauna that is all around you. If you love the great outdoors, this is the Scottish island for you. With great hiking routes, roads safe to cycle on, sea kayaking, diving and even a golf course there is plenty to keep visitors occupied.

Barra also has a rich history, from the first settlers in 2500BC and the archaeological sites which tell their story to the fascinating and convoluted history of clan Macneil of Barra and Kisimul Castle, their rocky island stronghold in the waters of Castlebay. For an overview of the island’s past and culture, visit the island’s heritage centre, Dualchas, where you’ll find local history displays and art exhibitions, as well as cultural events.

View the Barra seals at Seal Bay or if you have wetsuits (you’ll need them) head for Halaman Bay for some swimming and even surfing but if you’re looking for a breathtaking challenge of rollercoaster inclines and dips, try cycling to the island of Vateersay which is connected to Barra via a short causeway. You can rent bikes in Castlebay and don’t forget to check out the deserted village of Eoradail.

For a unique experience on a Scottish Island try the Indian night at Kisimul Cafe.  Book in advance as it gets busy, as far as we know this is the only Indian food available on the Outer Hebrides!  Many of the local bars also have live traditional music at the weekends, enjoy rousing foot-tapping songs and dancing when you attend a Scottish cèilidh (social event).

If you’re looking for an adventurous day trip. Take a boat trip to three uninhabited southern islands with Islands of Adventure. Visit Flannan Isle, the Blue Lagoon on Pabay Island and see dolphins and porpoise on Little Bernera.

Written by Izzy from The Gap Decaders. See more from Izzy on Facebook. 

Buy you Uist & Barra guide here.

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Isle of Barra. Isles Of Scotland
Isle of Barra. Isles Of Scotland

Belnahua (Abandoned)

The Slate Islands are an island group in the Inner Hebrides situated off the Firth of Lorn. The main islands are Seil, Easdale, Luing, Shuna, Torsa and Belnahua.

Once Belnahua island was home to 200 people, a shop and a school but today it is abandoned and all that is left is a row of derelict, slate workers cottages and rusted, abandoned machinery.

Belnahua is known for its deserted slate quarries which were mined since prehistoric times and helped to roof the British Empire with a global industry connecting it to slate markets in England, Canada and even the West Indies.

This island was a place where little grew and food arrived by boat, along with water when the well ran dry. Life here came to an end during the First World War when the island’s men left to fight and women and children relocated to neighbouring islands which are bigger and have better infrastructure.

The centre of the island has been completely quarried out leaving a gaping hole.  The depth of the workings can be seen through the very clear water but in order to visit now you’ll need to kayak or book a private boat from a local fisherman on another island.

You may be able to book via the Heritage Centre on Easdale or from Luing.


Benbecula

The small island of Benbecula lies between North and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides and is frequently used as a stepping stone but take time for this little gem and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful nature and peace like no other.

Benbecula is another ancient island with links to Monastical life in the 6th century and the ruins of Columba’s Church can still be found here south of the main town. The island also has an unusual military history. The airfield built during World War II became the control centre for the Hebrides rocket range, established during the Cold War and is now Benbecula Airport. An army base was established in the 1950s and remains one of the main island employers as it is the headquarters for those who service the South Uist missile testing range.

You can tour the ruins of Borve Castle, a ruined 14th-century tower house, visit St Toranan’s ruined Temple to St Columba but the island is best known for its gorgeous beaches and backed sand dunes. The local marine life includes dolphins, seals, sharks and whales and from the Uist islands, you can book whale-watching expeditions. If you’d prefer to stay on land, try spotting owls and eagles on the East Side or head to the wild machair grasses that carpet the west coast in search of the elusive corncrake.

Walking and cycling are both popular pastimes as Benbecula is flat with many tidal bays and unspoilt moorland to explore. It’s one solitary hill, Rueval, is just 407 ft high. The path to the summit goes past the cave where Bonnie Prince Charlie is reputed to have hidden whilst waiting for Flora MacDonald to arrange his escape from the island.

However, if you’re looking for something more adventurous, book Tom from Benbecula Freedive for adventure waterbased activities.  Tom offers Adventure Snorkelling,  Freediving, Wreck diving, Spearfishing, Mountain Biking, Kayaking, Personal Training and Fitness classes.

Looking to move to the Hebridean Islands? Read more from Tamsin who chucked in a London career to renovate & manage a croft.


Bute

One of the most easily accessible islands, Bute is best known for its varied landscapes and wildlife. Lush, vibrant green, rolling hills of the island’s centre to the craggy, northern heather-covered moorlands and the delightful sandy beaches around the coastline.

The Isle of Bute is just 33 miles from Glasgow by car and there are two ferries.  Leaving from Wemyss Bay you’ll arrive into Rothesay on the east with a 35-minute crossing. The ferry from Colintraive terminal takes 5 minutes crossing to Rhubodach in the north.

Bute is possibly most famous though for its art-deco town of Rothesay where there’s a refurbished pavilion with its palm trees and promenade. Attractions include Rothesay Castle, the stately home at nearby Mount Stuart and some of the country’s best Victorian toilets. No joke!

Bute is relatively large and there’s something for everyone. Anyone interested in history? Visit the Iron Age fort, Rothesay Castle, the remains of the monastery of St Blane, Mount Stuart House and Bute Museum. For those interested in archaeology there are standing stones – most notably the Kingarth Stones.

You could visit the Bute Community Forest for some simple walks or hike around the West Island Way. Alternatively, hike from Kilchattan Bay to Langalbuinoch and watch the sun set from Stravannan beach and see Arran in the distance. Glen More to Ettrick Bay is another great walk and you can end in Port Bannatyne for a wonderful coffee at the Post Office and choose whether to hike onwards on the old Tramway route to Ettrick Bay.

Beaches St Ninian’s Bay or The Straad is a small bay on the west coast with a natural anchorage. The bay is protected by St Ninian’s Point, a spit of land that can become cut off with tides.  Scalpsie Bay is also on the west coast of the island. It is a beautiful and secluded bay with reddish coloured sand. Scalpsie was used for military purposes and the timber posts sunken into the sand are the remains of anti-glider defences.

Of course, no Scottish Island would be complete without alcohol! The Spirit of Bute Brewery is the only brewery on the island and the Isle of Bute Gin’s return Distillery are eagerly awaited. It had to move because it became too popular!

ButeFest is also held on the Isle of Bute, being held next to the beautiful beach at Ettrick Bay and the island even has its own Highland Games! Bute Highland Games is held in August every year and showcases some of the finest highland sportspeople and loads of pipe bands!

Get your Bute Island guide book here
 

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Isle of Bute. Isles Of Scotland
Isle of Bute. Isles Of Scotland

Canna

Eig, Rum, Muck & Canna form the Small Isles archipelago, in the Inner Hebrides and Canna is the westernmost of the islands. It is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday by a road and sandbanks at low tide. The island is just 4.3 miles long and 1 mile wide and is a car-free island.

You can get to The Small Isles by the CalMac ferry from Mallaig.  The ferry does not call at each island every day;  an island may have between three to five sailings per week.   Journey times to each island from Mallaig will vary as the ferry travels between the different islands. If you’re feeling brave enough you could hire an offshore RIB operating from Elgol on Skye to both Rum and Canna. Advance booking necessary, telephone 01471 866 244. Arisaig Marine runs cruises lasting 2-5 hours ashore Eigg, Muck and Rum. Operating from April until late September and departing Arisaig at 11am. You must pre-book, telephone: 01687 450224. The harbour office at Arisaig also contains a tea room, showers, toilets, shop and a laundrette.

Known as ‘the garden of the Hebrides’, Canna has beautiful green meadows and 248 native, wild flowering plants. White sandy beaches and spectacular scenery are all easily accessible on foot from Canna’s sheltered harbour.  With over 20,000 breeding seabirds, 176 different species, on Canna’s cliffs, there are also plenty of opportunities to spot kittiwakes, razorbills, crossbills and puffins.  From the island, you may also spot Minke Whales, Dolphins, Porpoise, Basking Sharks, Otters, Shearwaters and more. Fortunate visitors have also seen Killer Whales, Sea and Golden Eagles, although these are less common.

Things to do on Canna include visiting the Canna community shop, the Canna Tearoom, the Old Dairy exhibits everyday objects and old island photographs, visit the three churches, the Presbyterian ‘Rhu Church’, St Columba’s Chapel and Edward’s Chapel and stop by the historical Canna House and its spectacular garden.  Find out how John Lorne Campbell came to buy the island, how he strove to record and save Gaelic songs, poetry and stories that had previously only been passed down by word of mouth and how he built up the most important archive of Gaelic in the world.

The current curator of Canna House is Fiona Mackenzie who has recently published the first book of Margaret Fay Shaw’s heritage photography, entitled Eilean. Using images from Thom collections (1881-1938) giving an unfiltered historical view of Canna. A film festival is planned for spring 2021.

Canna is perfect for long walks and hikes along its steep cliffs. Don’t miss the Souterrains and ‘King of Norway’s Grave’ and the Puffin Stacks. If you’re looking for a 10k the island even has its own race.  Black Beach and Sanday Beach are beautiful beaches and if you can, canoe the island’s waters and discover the caves.

Learn more about Canna with these photos from the island during the 1800s

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Isle of Canna
Isle of Canna, Scottish Isles

Colonsay

If you’re looking for a moderately sized island (10 miles long) with a lot of festivals, head to Colonsay. The Isle of Colonsay has more festivals than any other island; the Book Festival in April, the Festival of Spring in May, the Folk Festival in September and the Autumn Food and Drink Festival in October.

This Inner Hebridean island is a two-hour ferry ride from Oban and Colonsay is most famous for its folk music festival, its jaw-dropping, white sand beaches and as a birdwatchers’ paradise.

With a tiny population of 135 people, there’s just one charming hotel on the island although there are plenty of B&Bs and cottages for rent and of course, in true island fashion, there’s a brewery! On a weekly basis, the hotel offers a quiz night on Thursdays, live local music on Friday nights and a kids DVD night on Tuesdays. During the summer months, there is a ceilidh in the village hall on Saturday nights.

Colonsay’s beaches are some of the most picturesque in Europe and you could spend all week just visiting the beaches of Kiloran, Balnahard, Machrins, Cable Bay, Garvard, Oransay and South East corner. Like many places in Scotland, Colonsay is a marine kindergarten for seal pups and there are at least seven distinct habitats around the island.

Traffic is not heavy on Colonsay and bikes can be rented from the hotel (Tel 01951 200316) and from ‘Jen & Matt’ (Tel 07572180552) and there are also plenty of walks to do including the ancient priory on the neighbouring island of Oronsay.

Other things not to miss are the Colonsay House gardens, the micro-brewery (the most remote brewery in Scotland) as well as two gin distilleries; Colonsay gin made by Wild Thyme Spirits located at Kilchattan and Wild Island Gin made by Colonsay Brewery next to the Village hall.

The caves at the north end of Kiloran Bay although the New Cave to the south requires a bit more planning. There are other caves at Uragaig, to the south-west of Kiloran where you might be able to see otters, bats, pigeons and spiders.

Buy some of Colonsay’s famous gin 

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 Isles Of Scotland. Colonsay Island
Isles Of Scotland. Colonsay Island

Coll

Coll is a super famous island as it’s the birthplace of the Katie Morag series which pretty much every UK kid has read or watched.  In the books, Coll is known by the fictional name of the Isle of Struay. In real life, Coll is located six miles west of the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides and the car ferry runs from Oban to Coll every day throughout the year. During the summer there are two ferries on a Saturday.  Hebridean Air also runs flights from Oban to Coll on four days week during the summer.

13 miles long by 3 miles at its widest point, the island has seen Mesolithic hunter-gathers, Neolithic farmers, the Gaels, Vikings settlers and plenty of clan battles. Like many Scottish Islands, during the Highland Clearances, the population drastically declined and today there are only around 150 permanent residents left.

The island has plenty of accommodation and campsites but can only accommodate FOUR motorhomes so you must book before if you’re going by van, although you are allowed to wild camp on Coll. There’s also no public transport and biking is a popular way to get around.

There is something very special about Coll. Maybe because it has spectacular sandy beaches (over thirty) and has the longest sunshine hours recorded in the UK. The winter days are followed by dark starry nights that will take your breath away and with no street lights, Coll is one of the best places in the UK for stargazing. In fact, Coll is the first official Dark Sky island in Scotland and one of only two in the UK.  The best time to visit the Dark Sky Park on Coll is from October to March.

If you’re looking for Caribbean-style islands, Coll tops them all. It has thirty, white-sand beaches where you can stroll, surf, kayak, windsurf or just relax and take in the peace and tranquillity. It also hosts an enormous range of wildlife including dolphins, seals, otters, whales and basking sharks. If you want to take a boat trip or guided kayak tour book with IsleGO – Hebridean Boat Tours. If you wish to sea spot, head to Cliadh Beach however there is also an RSPB Nature Reserve on western Coll and the RSPB offer guided walks during June.

Favourite beaches include the horseshoe bay of Crossapol, the machair covered dunes of Torastan, the never-ending Feall bay and the rocky Hyne. Although there are twenty-six others to explore!

Pop into the Island Cafe for home-cooked classics, the Post Office for all your gifts and island bike hire and support the island further by buying Ross Of Coll clothing brand. There’s the An Cridhe Community Centre which runs local events and a local craft market which sells locally produced goods and also not one but two castles.

Learn more about the Scottish Clearances and the impact it’s had on Scotland since.

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 Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Coll
Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Coll

Cramond (Tidal Island)

Another unique Scottish island and the easiest to visit if you’re in Edinburgh is Cramond Island.

If you’re looking for a day trip from Edinburgh, that’s just a short and easy bus ride away, this Isle of Scotland can only be visited at certain times, as twice a day, Cramond Island is cut off from the mainland by the tide.

One of the most important Roman statues found in Britain, the ‘Cramond Lioness’ was discovered here. The island is best seen during the summer months when the days are longer.

There are three areas on Eigg which are established as wildlife reserves. The first is the ridge of the Sgurr, a massive rock formation and the moorland between it and the north-west coast. Atlantic gales prune the vegetation here.

The second reserve comprises the slopes below the cliffs edging the Beinne Bhuide plateau, which are largely covered with hazel scrub, a type of woodland that has existed on Eigg for thousands of years.

The third and smallest reserve includes willow and hazel scrub, and the largest extent of raised bog on the island, in lower Gleann Charadil.

Watch Paul Murton on a grand tour of Scotland
 

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 Isles Of Scotland. Cramond Island
Isles Of Scotland. Cramond Island

Eigg

Eigg is one of the Small Isles, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It lies to the south of the Isle of Skye and is 5 by 3 miles. It is the second largest of the Small Isles after Rùm and also Britain’s most eco-friendly island. You may recognise it from the iconic, high Sgurr of Eigg ridge that dominates the otherwise relatively flat skyline.

You can catch two ferries here. One from Mallaig and the other from Arisaig but you cannot take your own car. Instead, you can hire bikes and kayaks from Eigg Adventures although it should only take ninety minutes to cross the island on foot. Arisaig Marine runs cruises lasting 2-5 hours ashore Eigg, Muck and Rum. Operating from April until late September and departing Arisaig at 11am. YOu must pre-book, telephone: 01687 450224. The harbour office at Arisaig also contains a tea room, showers, toilets, shop and a laundrette.

The weird and largest UK pitchstone Sgurr Ridge (An Sgurr) is 1292 feet and if you can hike up, gives wonderful views of fellow islands Muck and Rum.  Eight other hikes are mentioned here on WalkHighlands. The Massacre Cave (frequent rockfalls) is a reminder of the island’s darkest hour but the Cathedral Cave shows that persecution continued.  Walk along Laig Bay, a large white beach which faces the Cuillins of Rum and gives a distinct and memorable view of the west coast of Scotland or make the sand sing at the Singing Sands, a quartz beach surrounded by geological formations.

Eigg is the busiest of all the Small Isles of Scotland and there are lots of places to find great food. The Galmisdale Bay Cafe, Bar and Restaurant by Eigg pier has scrumptious food and regular music sessions, Lageorna Restaurant and Rest And Be Thankful in Cleadale whilst the Isle of Eigg Shop stocks a wide range of local produce and fresh foods and you can even buy Organic veg from Eigg Organics and Eiggy Bread’s heat-up ready meals.

Eigg is home to a vast array of musicians, craft workers, writers, film-makers and photographers.  It has its own record label and artist residency, craft shop co-operative, an annual Fèis, the Howlin Fling Festival and a regular programme of concerts, ceilidhs, plays, workshops and films. If you’re looking to get creative have a go at basket making with All About Willow, take a dance lesson with Donna the Piper or learn how to make felt with Libby Galli.

Focusing on travelling to 99 islands which have transport links and another 54 with limited transport, this is a great book for those wanting to Island Bag!


Easdale

Easdale Island is the smallest permanently-inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides, off Scotland’s west coast. Known as being part of the Slate Islands or ‘the islands that roofed the world’ they produced over 9 million roofing slates per year and they were all carved by hand.

Although the slate industry is long since gone, there are plenty of reminders from this industry; the wooden pier, the crane in the square in Ellenabeich, the flooded quarries and there’s still slate everywhere. The first written record of slating on Easdale is from the 17th century. As well as being exported globally, the slate from these islands was also used on some iconic Scottish buildings, such as Ardmaddy Castle, Castle Stalker, Cawdor Castle and Glasgow Cathedral.

To get here you’ll need to drive over to Seil and then catch the ferry from Ellenabeich. Leave your car in the Ellenabeich Car Park as Easdale is a car-free island. Don’t worry though, it’ll only take you about an hour to walk around the island on foot. In order to summon the ferry, you’ll need to push the button in the wooden hut and small boat will arrive shortly into the harbour to fetch you. How’s that! A private ferry to a tiny island and it only takes 5 minutes too.

Your first sight will be the rows of brightly coloured wheelbarrows. These are not for drunken escapades but for transporting your stuff around the island which consists of quaint stone cottages, a picturesque harbour and several flooded quarries. Most were flooded by the big storm in the 1800s which led to the general decline of the islands but are now used as swimming pools.

The Easdale Folk Museum is a community-run museum which gives insight into the history of the small islands through video and photos from Victorian times.  There’s a small craft shop at the back of the museum which is stocked by a local knitter.

Easdale has a peculiar championship and that’s the World Stone Skimming Championships. Every year, hundreds of people come to the island in September to compete. Last year there were over 300 contestants. In September there’s also an arts festival (with music and theatre) in the community hall and at the heart of the island is the award-winning Puffer Bar and Tearoom.

If you go beachcombing, look out for wildlife sightings too. Seals and dolphins can frequently be seen, occasionally sea otters, basking shark and minke whales too. Many species of birds can be sighted from the island including shags, buzzards, golden eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, kestrels, ravens and many different gulls. Seafari Adventures make several boat trips per day from Ellenabeich out to the famous Corrywreckan Whirlpool where whales, seals, dolphins and sea eagles are regularly spotted.

Learn more about the Slate Islands with this guidebook

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 Isles Of Scotland. Easdale Island
Isles Of Scotland. Easdale Island

Eilean Shona

Eilean Shona is snuggled tightly into the entrance of Loch Moidart in the Inner Hebrides. The island is between three and four hours drive from both Glasgow and Inverness although the island itself is a car-free zone.

The island is privately owned by Vanessa Branson (Richard Branson’s sister) who bought it in 1994 for a cool £1.3million and this Isle of Scotland consists of over two thousand acres of land with eight cottages and an eleven bedroomed main house. Yet, this is not the only claim to fame this island boasts. In 1923 JM Barrie visited and wrote the 1924 film adaptations of Peter Pan here!

Vanessa wrote a book about her journey on Eilean Shona which is a compelling blend of memoir and family history, lifting the veil on how the other half live in detail.

Accommodation is booked directly through the Eilean Shona website. If you wish to stay here, your days will be filled with cooking lessons, drinking around campfires, crabbing, wild swimming and jumping off the jetty, painting, reading, hiking on the forest trails, picnicking, kayaking, nature watching and photography. 

It sounds blissful!

Read Vanessa Branson’s account of Eilean Shona island life.


Eriska

Sandwiched snuggly in between the mainland and the island of Lismore at the entrance to Loch Creran, Eriska is a flat tidal island which is privately owned and run as a hotel.

Located a mere 20 minutes north of Oban, the only hotel on the island, the Isle of Eriska Hotel is separated from the mainland by a wooden bridge. It is surrounded by 300 acres of land, deer roaming around and, occasionally, there are sightings of a local golden eagle.

The hotel offers a gym, indoor and outdoor sports halls, a swimming pool, tennis, squash & badminton courts, bowling and football as well as sea kayaking, boat trips, archery and axe throwing.

Read about the story of Eriska Island and admire the beautiful photos



Booking.com


Fair Isle

Officially the most remote, inhabited Isle of Scotland in the UK, this hilly and barren island lies halfway between the Shetland and Orkney archipelagos. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland it is known for its 200m high cliffs on the west coast.

Fair Isle is just three miles long by one and a half miles wide and the island is home to just sixty people. In order to get to this small Scottish isle, you’ll need to first travel to Shetland and then either go by the Islander Plane (an 8 seater plane) or take the 2.5-hour ferry from Grutness Pier to Fair Isle. Travel can be disrupted by the weather though! During the summer months, Loganair offers flights from Kirkwall (Orkney) to Fair Isle twice a week.

This Scottish Island is home to a remarkable range of wildlife (in particular rare birds), historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, as well as the distinctive Fair Isle knitwear. To learn more about birds here, you can visit the Bird Observatory and hear about the island’s resident puffin colony, as well as 300-plus other bird species that nest in the steep coastal cliffs. Some of these include fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots and black guillemots. Birdwatchers can also visit the George Waterson Memorial Centre and Museum, dedicated to the observatory’s founder. The museum contains a large array of artefacts, telling the story of the island’s past. It’s a great place to visit.

Local craftspeople are happy to show visitors their work if they pre-book. There are a number of knitwear shops: Exclusively fair isle with Elizabeth,  Fair Isle Knitwear with Mati and Fair Isle Textiles with Kathy and local artist Tommy’s Art Gallery.

Due to its size, Fair Isle is the perfect place to explore on foot and there are many stunning coastal walks here. There are island maps available from the shop or the bird observatory. You could also visit the North Haven and North Lighthouse and the South Lighthouse. Tours of the lighthouse can be arranged with the Fair Isle Lighthouse Society.

There is only one shop on the island; Stackhoull Stores which also doubles as the local post office. The shop is open every day except Thursday and Sunday in the summer, with reduced opening hours during the winter months. All accommodation needs to be booked through Fair Isle’s website. 

Paul Murton’s book on The Hebrides where he documents a six-thousand-mile coastline and eighty islands.

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Fair isle
Fair isle, Isle of Scotland

Gigha

The Scottish Isle of Gigha which is pronounced “Gee-a” with a hard “g” is another small island at only seven miles by one mile but it is another fabulous example of a successful community-owned and run establishment. There is a population of roughly 200 people and it’s growing! On the 15th March every year, the day the island was purchased by the community, is a chance to celebrate Gigha Day.

This little island does accept cars and campervans but not caravans.  The car ferry to Gigha departs from Tayinloan on the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula with the crossing taking approximately 20 minutes. There is only one main road running through the island so don’t worry about getting lost! Due it’s size however the island is much better to discover by bike, (bike hire is available locally) or on foot.

The most southerly of the Inner Hebrides, Gigha was originally named Gudey by the Norse King Hakon.  The name meaning Good Isle or God’s Isle was later adjusted by the Gaels to Gigha. The island is most known for it’s famous and rare rhododendrons which thrive in Gigha’s sunny microclimate at Achamore House which is open to the public all year round.

Gigha has several, stunning sandy beaches and its east coast is particularly sheltered from the wild Atlantic weather by the island of Islay. The most well known are Twin Beaches which are separated by a small peninsula. Bagh Rubha Ruaidh is south facing and Bagh na Doirlinne is north facing. Gaelic is not an easy language to pronounce! Other beaches are the wild, Palm Tree beach which actually has palm trees

Other things to do on Gigha are to visit the ruined Kilchatten Church (13th century), see the large, standing Ogham Stone which has a Pictish inscription, hike the miniature hilltop summit (Creag Bhan) and admire the superb views over to Islay.

Where can you eat on the island of Gigha? The Boathouse Restaurant, the bar in the Gigha Hotel, Gigha Gallery before the ferry and the island shop, Ardminish Stores and Wee Isle Dairy which makes ice-cream.

Hear more from Gigha with this book about stories from the island.


Great Cumbrae

Roughly four miles long and two miles wide, Great Cumbrae is just a short ferry trip from Largs,  an eight-minute sailing to be precise and the ferry takes cars and campervans. However, the medal of honour goes to those people who cycle the quiet 10-mile road around its circumference. Cycle hire is available from the main town of Millport

The island has only one town, Millport, which has a Victorian promenade which curves around the bay. It is home to Britan’s smallest cathedral, the Cathedral of the Isles, which was completed in 1851.  Garrison House is home to the Museum of the Cumbraes and here you can learn about the history of Millport, 18th-century smuggling tales and gain an insight into island life during World War II at the Robertson Museum & Aquarium, you can see local marine life that is found on the island.

When you get out and explore, you’ll see randomly decorated rocks, handprinted to depict faces and creatures. Look out for the crocodile that sits at the beach in Millport. Exploring on bike or on foot is the best way to see the local wildlife, which includes seals, owls, polecats, kestrels and the occasional sea eagle and basking sharks. One way to make it even more fun is to do a Treasure Trail around Great Cumbrae, you can download it and print yourself or get them to send you a hard copy.

Cumbrae is a must-visit island for anybody who likes outdoor adventure.  Home to the Sportscotland National Centre for Watersports you can try yachting, dinghy sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, kayaking, open canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding. It has a number of beautiful bays and beaches which make watersports a joy; Ballochmartin Bay, Butter Lump, Kames Bay & Fintray Bay.

If you want to visit during Cumbrae’s annual Millport Country Festival. you should visit in September. The music festival has been running since 1995.

More lovely photos from Great Cumbrae’s shipping past

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 Isles Of Scotland. Great Cumbrae
Isles Of Scotland. Great Cumbrae

Grimsay

The Isle of Grimsay is smothered in the loving bosom of its neighbours North Uist and Benbecula and is connected by a causeway that links North & South Uist. The island is four miles long and two miles wide and holds a sheltered position in the Outer Hebrides.

The Uists are a chain of more than 100 rocky islands and around 27,000 people are scattered across 15 inhabited islands with 5,000 on the Uists. The Uists comprise of Eriskay, South Uist, Wiay, Benbecula, Ceallan, Ronay, Grimsay, Baleshare, Kirkbost, Oronsay, Vallay, North Uist & Berneray and most are connected through the causeway.

A flight from Glasgow to Benbecula Airport takes less than an hour. There are multiple car ferries: Uig (Skye) to North Uist (1hr 45), Uig to Lochmaddy (Benbecula), Castlebay (Barra) to Oban, Mallaig & Oban (mainland) to Lochboisdale (South Uist) and inter-island ferries like Leverburgh (Harris) to Berneray (North Uist) and  Eriskay (South Uist) with Ardmhor (Barra).

Grimsay is a small rocky island and there isn’t a huge amount to do on it but it is connected to other, larger islands which are close by. There is a public bus service but buses can be irregular.

Visit the site of the Bagh nam Feadg Grimsay Wheelhouse – an iron age structure with a central chamber and surrounding cells or take in the busy harbour of Kallin which was built in 1985.  The Kallin Canteen in the Old School building serves hot drinks and hosts cultural events. The Grimsay Boatshed is also open to visitors with regular exhibitions and events, centred around the everyday work of the traditional Grimsay style boatbuilding and repair.  Also visit Hebridean Candles on the other side of the island.

There are no sandy beaches on Grimsay, like there are on other Uist islands, but there are lots of rock pools for you to discover. Keep an eye out too for the mobile cinema which tours around the islands.

Listen to some Western Isle of Scotland Music


Handa (Abandoned)

Located off the north-west tip of Scotland’s mainland, Handa Island is no longer populated. At the height of the population, 65 people lived here in 11 blackhouses which can still be seen off the main footpath. A small chapel was built on one of the beaches to the south-east, the beach was later named ‘beach of the temple’. The inhabitants of Handa reared livestock, grew produce, shore fishing and also harvested birds and eggs from the cliffs as a food source. Despite their varying food sources, a potato famine in 1848 led to the population decline and by 1851 the majority had immigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada.

In spring, the cliff tops of Handa Island is a sanctuary for birds; Guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and Arctic terns nest alongside the puffins and, by summer, the island reverberates with the sound of 100,000 breeding seabirds, one of north-west Europe’s largest colonies. There are around 250 breeding pairs of Atlantic Puffins on Handa Island and the cliffs reach a stagger 115 meters (328 ft) in height.

In the warmer months, a small passenger ferry runs daily from Tarbet across the Sound of Handa to the glorious beaches of Port an Eilean and Traigh an Teampaill on the island’s east. Keep an eye out for Grey Seals, Common Seal, Harbor Porpoise, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Killer Whale (Orca), Basking Shark, Eurasian Otter and Minke Whale.

Not far from the landing site, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s visitor centre is a good starting point for a circular walk around the island.

If you’re wanting to Scottish Island Bag, get this book to log your thoughts and discoveries of 155 islands.

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 Isles Of Scotland. Handa Island
Isles Of Scotland. Handa Island

Hirta (Abandoned) (St Kilda)

An island in the St Kilda archipelago in the Outer Hebrides, Hirta is the westernmost group of islands about 41 miles from its nearest neighbour, the Isle of Harris. Hirta is uninhabited but you can still visit.

This Scottish island has 9.3 miles of coastline and is less than 2.5 square miles in land size but is the largest of the St Kilda islands. Due to the island’s distant location, it’s known as the island on the edge of the world. The island was populated until 1930 when they left, however, the British Navy set up a base on the island. Although there are still no permanent residents, the military defence base remains and is permanently manned.

Hirta has been named a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the history of human life and the globally significant colonies of more than 100,000 seabirds. It is a harsh place to visit so make sure you wrap up warm and pack multiple layers if you’re visiting here and don’t forget to take your own food to.

Hirta only receives 2500 visitors a year.  Things to do and see include visiting the blackhouses and crofts, take time in the museum to learn about St Kildans, walk up Conachair Hill, check out the vertical sea stacks nearby which St Kildans used to climb for eggs!

Most trips last four hours but you can stay longer. The National Trust run a campsite but you must bring absolutely everything you’ll need as it’s pretty basic

If you want to visit, you can take a boat from Oban on the mainland, Uig on the Isle of Skye, or Leverburgh and Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, book a tour or The National Trust for Scotland also runs a multi-day cruise.

The island runs regular programs for researchers. This researcher documented his trip to Hirta to care for Soay Sheep. 

Learn more about this harsh and deserted island by reading the Island of Wings, set on the island of Hirta.

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Hirta St Kilda
Hirta St Kilda

Inchcolm

The tiny island of Inchcolm is just a short distance from Braefoot Bay, Fife. It lies in the Firth of Forth estuary between Edinburgh and Fife. It is in fact 1 of 10 islands situated off the east coast here.

It is currently managed by Historic Scotland and although you can buy tickets for a boat trip if you want to go ashore you must purchase a separate landing pass. If you have a membership with Historic Scotland or an Explorer Pass, landing at the island is free.

Inchcolm was an important religious isle and has a history of thousands of years. Inchcolm means ‘Island of St Columba’ in Gaelic due to the Irish Saint visiting the island in around 567 AD.

The island has an incredibly well-preserved monastery, which was founded in 1123 by Alexander I. You can climb the narrow spiral staircase inside the Bell Tower for views out over the island. The monastery was rebuilt in the Middle Ages and was used as a mortuary in the seventeenth century. Don’t forget to visit Hermit’s Cave too and the little chapel.
There are ruins of various military structures around the island and war shelters still exist which were used by the soldiers during WWII to stay under protected cover.

To get here you can book tours with Edinburgh Boat Charters, Maid of the Forth and Forth Boat Tours.


Inchkeith

The island on Inchkeith lies in the Firth of Forth estuary off the coast of Edinburgh. The island is believed to have been used by people for at least 400 hundred years. Its most recent use was during the World Wars when the island acted as a defence against visiting ships sailing up the Firth of Forth. The majority of buildings left on the island are left-overs from Military Occupation.

The island also served as a quarantine zone on several occasions. In 1497 sufferers from the contagious disease ‘grandgore’ were sent to Inchkeith Hospital. Plague victims were also dispatched to the island in 1580 and 1609 while in 1799 Russian sailors were buried on the island after dying from an unknown disease.

IN 1549 Inchkeith was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots, the day after a combined force of French and Scottish soldiers recaptured the island from Italian mercenaries. Mary landed and saw ‘three and four hundred of her dead foes still unburied’. A castle was then built to house the Queen’s French troops but was later turned into a prison and then finally a lighthouse in 1808.

You can privately sail or canoe to INckeith or book a tour with Forth Sea Safaris. Edinburgh Boat Charters, 

Things to see on the island include the harbour looking towards the Forth Bridges and Edinburgh, many gun emplacements, a west fort with underground tunnels, a lighthouse, old houses in varying degree of rot, a helicopter pad and spectacular views over the Firth of Forth and the North Sea.


Inchmickery

About 2 miles north of Edinburgh, a short distance from Crammond Tidal Island is another island situated in the Firth of Forth. This is the island of Inchmickery which is now an RSPB reserve. Inchmickery is only 100 metres by 200 metres in size. Its name comes from the Scottish Gaelic, Innis nam Biocaire, meaning Isle of the Vicars, implying that there may have been an old ecclesiastical or Culdee settlement there.

The island of Inchkeith has a bizarre and cruel history that starts in 1493 with a tale of King James IV removing a deaf and non-communicative woman to the island with her two infants. He thought that when the children would start to speak, it would reveal their original language, the language of the gods. We don’t know what happened to this woman and her children but by 1555 there was a joke that Inchkeith should be renamed ‘Island of the women’ because there were so many there. Other names for the island have been ‘Island of horses’ and ‘Island of god’ due to the many horses and women maintaining a fortress intended to defend the Forth with artillery.

The small island resembles a warship due to the number of small buildings on it from the World Wars when the Firth of Forth was deemed to be an area prone to attack by the German Navy. The buildings housed guns to defend the Forth in the event of an attack which fortunately never occurred.

The island of Inchmickery was fortified in 1915 and specifically to cover the anti-submarine boom that ran from Burntisland Sands to Cramond Island. The guns of Inchcolm and Inchmickery were first manned on 16 March 1915 and remained in place until after WWII.

To get here you can take a tour with Edinburgh Boat Charters, Forth Tours, Seafari Edinburgh and Maid of the Forth.

Listen to music written about Inchmickery


Iona

I have incredibly fond memories of this island as we used to visit regularly when I was a child. Iona is a small island, 3 miles long, nestled into the arm of larger island, Mull in the Inner Hebrides.

To get here, you’ll need to catch a small passenger ferry from Fionnphort, Mull which takes about 10 minutes. No tourist cars are allowed on the island so be prepared to call the island’s one taxi or walk to your accommodation. Iona is home to a population of around 125 full-time residents, two hotels and a scattering of shops.

A series of recent discoveries show that this sacred Scottish isle was not abandoned following the brutal Viking raids of the early 9th Century with monastery life instead continuing and a centre for metalwork being established.

Iona is known as the spiritual home of Scotland’s Christian community due to St. Columba (an Irish monk who brought Christianity to Scotland), who landed here in 563 AD and founded a monastery. His cloisters have become renowned for learning, as monks began Ireland’s treasured Book of Kells here before taking it over to Kells in 807 CE.  If you’re interested in history, visit the Heritage Centre, the Abbey & nunnery, the 12th century St. Oran’s Cemetary to see the graves of 60 Scottish Kings such as Macbeth and St Columba’s Bay.

The island is a haven for artists and there’s a number of shops and galleries you can visit here: Iona Craft Shop, Historic Scotland Shop, Iona Gallery & Pottery, Aosdana, Iona pebbles arts and crafts and Oran Creative Crafts.

The island is small enough to walk around, I did this from as young as 5 years old and the beaches here are a true paradise. Some of my favourites are Port Ban, North End and Bay at the back of the Ocean.  The highest point of the island (100 metres) is Dun I (pronounced Dun Ee) meaning ‘hill of Iona’ and the view from the top is splendid on a clear day.  There is also an old marble quarry which was abandoned in 1918. The huge marble blocks that are left are good for a picnic or hot drink and a small gunpowder house is still standing too.

Iona’s sparse population means that wildlife thrives on Iona. Sighting on seals, otters, peregrine falcons, Minke whales, pilot whales, humpback whales and basking sharks have all been spotted here. Bring your canoes and paddleboards as the eastern side of the island is sheltered and there’s a number of small white sand bays you’ll want to explore.

If you’re looking for day trips whilst here, the uninhabited island of Staffa and the prehistoric Fingal’s Cave is a short boat ride away or take a slightly longer trip out to the Treshnish Isles.

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 Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Iona
Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Iona

Islay

Islay (pronounced Eye-luh) in the Inner Hebrides is world-famous for one thing above everything else and that’s its whiskey with its distinct smoky, peaty taste.

The best way to reach the island is by car ferry from Kennacraig (Kintyre) to Port Ellen (2 hours 20) or Port Askaig (1 hour 55).  On a cloud-free day, the views over Jura are simply astounding. 

When you arrive into Port Ellen, you immediately notice large warehouses which are the former Port Ellen distillery. Port Ellen was established as a malt mill in 1825 and then developed as a distillery from 1833 to 1892. These listed buildings give you a glimpse at one of the most important economical branches of Islay and whilst you’re here, you should definitely not miss a tour of a distillery. 

Eight distilleries are still active today where you can take a tour of the buildings and experience how the Scottish “water of life” is made. The distilleries of Laphroaig (which holds Prince Charles’ warrant), Lagavulin and Ardbeg can be easily reached on foot from the ferry in southern Port Ellen and are located a few kilometres away. In the northeast of the island near Port Askaig, you will find the distilleries of Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, in the west Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman. Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay, founded over two centuries ago in 1779.

Besides the distilleries, Islay island is a good place for nature lovers and the tourist association has created over twenty hiking trails. Anglers, bird watchers and cyclists also get their money’s worth here as the island has 130 miles of coastline and surprises with great, fine sand, beaches and the chances are you will be the only visitor. 

The island’s historical sights include the early Christian cross of Kilnave, the chapel of the same name, as well as the ruins of Finlaggan Castle, a former mansion and an important scene of Scottish history. Visit during May’s annual Fèis Ìle, or the Festival of Malt and Music ad you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of true Scottish island life. 

Is there any possibility to island-hop? Absolutely! From Islay, you can do a cruise around the Hebrides and visit other islands in the region. One special destination is Jura, another island famous for Whisky. Only around 180 people live there and the island is only accessible from Islay by ferry. 

Written by Phil from Journication. See more from Phil on Facebook. 

Want to learn more about Islay? Buy this book called ‘Whisky Island’ which is a portrait of Islay.

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 Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Islay
Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Islay

Isle of Scalpay (Outer Hebrides)

The Isle of Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides is not to be confused with the Scalpay (Skye) in the Inner Hebrides! If you’re researching Scalpay, please make sure you choose the right island otherwise you might be disappointed! This is the island where Bonnie Prince Charlie was given refuge during his flight to Stornoway and over to France after his defeat at Culloden in 1746.

The Isle of Scalpay is located in the Outer Hebrides, nestled into the south-east corner of Lewis & Harris. It is connected to the island of Lewis & Harris by the Sclapay Bridge. The island used to be privately owned by was gifted to the residents by its owner, Fred Taylor, in 2012. Scalpay is around 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) long and rises to a height of 104 metres (341 feet) at Beinn Scorabhaig. The main settlement on the island is at the north, near the Scalpay Bridge, clustered around the North Harbour (An Acairseid a Tuath).

The population is slowly declining and is roughly 250 and there is just one community shop Buth Scalpaigh and one cafe Island Dainties. However, the award-winning North Harbour Bistro is not just another cafe. They do nothing vegan but their menu can be found on Facebook. 

The iconic, red and white striped lighthouse of Scalpay, Eilean Glas is one of the earliest lighthouses in Scotland. It used to be lit using whale oil and whales were hunted from this point. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to and from here you will have views over the Minch and Little Minch (which separates the Outer Hebrides from the Isle of Skye)  and on clear days you can see the Shiant Islands which are home to huge numbers of nesting seabirds.  From here, keep a lookout for dolphins, porpoise, Minke whales and basking sharks.

There’s plenty of self-catering accommodation on Scalpay and also the Scalpay Bothie for campers which overlooks the lighthouse. One thing to note is that the island is ridiculously religious and everything shuts on a Sunday, including the kids’ playpark to observe the sabbath.

Buy this brilliant book on 50 hiking routes within The Hebrides

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Isle of Scalpay
Isle of Scalpay

Jura

Islay’s nearest neighbour is a spectacular wilderness and rugged beauty where the wintery snow-capped Paps of Jura loom over the landscape. There’s just one small hamlet with its famous whisky distillery and now the island has a Gin distillery too.

Jura is a long and relatively large island; 30 miles long and 7 miles wide. At its peak in the 18th century, the island was home to around 2,000 people, however, these numbers dropped dramatically and now there’s just short of 200 inhabitants.

The island’s only town is Craighouse where you’ll find a distillery and a hotel that overlooks a picturesque beach and to get here you can catch the council-run car ferry from Islay.  You can join a distillery tour when you visit Jura but you must book ahead at  Lussa Gin and Jura Whisky Distillery.  In the town, there’s a community-owned cafe, Antlers,  that has a craft shop and displays on Jura heritage. 

Some of you may know that George Orwell lived on the island for 6 months in 1946 when he wrote 1984. The house he stayed in, Barnhill Farmhouse is located in the north and can be rented. It’s so remote you’ll need a 4×4 to get there though.

Jura is full of wildlife a visit here will guarantee you sightings of herds of red deer because they outweigh people 25-1. It’s estimated there may be above 5000 red deer on Jura. It’s also a hot spot for white-tailed eagles. The island also has a church with an array of black & white photos and the Jura Music Festival is held in September.

At the very northern tip of Jura, you will find the noisy Corryvreckan whirlpool. The whirlpool is a natural phenomenon caused by tidal flows between the islands of Jura and Scarba. I is the 3rd-largest in the world.

Will you hike the famous three Paps of Jura? Or maybe you’ll fell race and run over the three of them.  The tallest pap is Beinn an Oir which stands at a 2,576 feet.

Buy the Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands & Islands. 


Kerrera

One of the Lorne Islands, alongside Lismore, Kerrera is a small island 400m off the Oban coast. The island is around 7 km (4 miles) long by 2 km wide and is separated from the mainland by the Sound of Kerrera. The north and south of Kerrera island are not connected by road, just footpath.  For this reason, the rugged terrain on Kerrera makes it suitable for only mountain bikes and hybrid bikes.

The island is somewhat of a success story and has been able to grow its population by 100% in the last four years. The island has a full-time resident population of 68 which swells during holiday time.  The community were also able to purchase the old primary school building in the centre of the island and plan to turn it into a multi-purpose community centre.

A foot passenger ferry is available from Gallanach on the mainland onto the island. It is a small ferry and limited to 12 passengers at a time. The first ferry is at 8:40 am and the last ferry is at 6 pm.

Things to do on the island include hiking to the island highest point Carn Breugach at 189 m (620 ft), watching otters on Slatrach Bay, hiking to the ruined castle of Gylen (Built in 1582 by the Clan McDougall), visiting Horseshoe Bay where King Alexander II died in 1249 and climbing on the shipwreck.

There are not many places to eat on this small island but in the north of the island is the Oban Marina with Waypoint Restaurant and Ardentive Farm selling island produce. In the south, you can visit the Kerrera Tea Garden near the castle.

Near Oban is the Puffin Dive Centre where you can hire gear and book dives.

Learn more about Kerrera Island with this book


Lewis & Harris

The Isle of Lewis and Isle of Harris is the main island in the Outer Hebrides. They may sound like two separate islands, but Lewis and Harris are two parts of  one island. The boundary
between Lewis and Harris runs for about 6 miles (9.7 km), where the island narrows between Loch Resort and Loch Seaforth. You will find on the island sandy beaches, cliffs on the wild coastline, ancient standing stones, and fantastic Gaelic culture.  The largest town is Stornoway on the east coast.

You can get to Stornoway by daily car ferries from Ullapool on the mainland. The port of Tarbert on Harris is linked to Uig on the Isle of Skye by daily ferries so, it’s a perfect idea to combine a road trip between both islands. It’s also possible to get to Lewis and Harries by plane. The island’s airport lies just a few miles from the Stornoway with regular flights arriving and departing from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, and Benbecula.

Lewis and Harris Island is a perfect destination for a weekend trip. But you will find activities even for a more extended stay. If you go there on the weekend, it is essential to know that
most shops and businesses are closed on Sunday.

The best way to get around the island is by car or motorhome. The roads are of good quality but narrow. Many of them are single track, with plenty of passing places. It is also bus service between Mondays and Saturday, connecting Stornoway with many of the island’s other settlements.  Stornoway is the largest town in the Hebrides with a population of around 8000 people. You will find there also the largest selection of accommodation on the island.

Lewis and Harris island has the most beautiful, wildest beaches in Europe. Soft sand flows between your fingers, and clear turquoise waters resemble a tropical paradise. Only stronger gusts of wind make you realize that this is Scotland coastline after all. You can stroll on deserted beaches for hours.

Calanais Standing Stones are older than the Pyramids and also predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument.  Located on the west coast of Lewis, the 5000-year-old Callanish Stones are famous all over the world. They were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2000 years. It is still a mystery why the standing stones at Calanais were erected. Probably it was a kind of
astronomical observatory. The Calanais Standing Stones are an extraordinary cross-shaped setting of stones. They are consist of a stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith near the middle. When you walk between these Neolithic standing stones, you feel the energy of the secret place.

Apart from hidden sandy beaches, the island offers steep cliffs. The Butt of Lewis has cliffs stretching up to 80 feet high. Violent waves bounce off the jagged coast. The roar of the water often drowns out thoughts. But be careful and don’t go to close to the edge, the area gets winds of up to 100 mph. The Guinness Book of Records named it Britain’s windiest spot.

There are several lighthouses on the island worth seeing. Short routes lead to them. One of the most impressive is Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, famous for red bricks. It is close to the village Poertof Nes. The other one fabulous is the quiet Tiumpan Head Lighthouse at the Eye Peninsula. It is perfect for sunset.

Written by Agnes from The Van Escape. See more from Agnes on Facebook.

Alastair McIntosh returns to the islands of his childhood and explores the meaning of the islands and their mysterious wonders.

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 Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Lewis & Harris.
Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Lewis & Harris.

Lismore

Lismore or Lios Mòr in Gaelic means the ‘Great Garden’ and is a reference to the damp climate (166cm of annual rain) and fertile ground that amasses here (estimated that there are nearly 300 different types of plants here). Lismore is a 12-mile Inner Hebridean island near Oban.  A protected island situated at the mouth of Loche Linnhe, Lismore once supported a population of 1,400 but now only 160 remain.

The island has three spectacular ruins of its own: Castle Coeffin (13th-century hall-house), Achanduin Castle (13th-century castle) and Tirefour Broch (the best-preserved galleried Pictish brochs in the country) and the island has been inhabited since at least 3,500 BC. A stone axe-head was found here and dated & is now in the Edinburgh Museum. There are a number of duns, forts and cairns on the island.

The Lismore Historical Society opened the Gaelic Heritage Museum showing an exhibition of island life and a cafe with a balcony.  Adjacent is Tigh Iseabal Dhaidh, a traditional 19th-century cottage. To see the Bronze Age cairns and Iron Age duns visit Balnagown Croft.

To get to Lismore you can catch either a car or passenger ferry. The car ferry from Oban to Achnacroish takes 50 minutes and there are two crossings daily. The passenger ferry takes just 6 minutes and crosses from Point to Port Appin every house.

The Parish Church on Lismore is built from the island’s original cathedral which was burnt down during Reformation. The churchyard has Medieval tombstones and is said to be the burial place of Saint Moluag who came from Ireland in 561AD and created a monastic centre.

Other things to do and see on Lismore include the abandoned kilns, cottages and limestone quarry of An Sailein, Lady’s rock near the lighthouse was the place where Maclean of Duart marooned his wife in 1527. Thankfully she was rescued by local fisherman.

The highest hill on Lismore is Barr Mor (127 metres/400 ft) offering stunning views of Ben Nevis, Port Appin and Loch Etive. Lismore is thus ideal for lazy cyclists and walkers. There are two main towns on Lismore, Achnacroish and Port Ramsay with only scattered residential buildings elsewhere. You can hire bikes here: Lismore Bike Hire

Walking, and cycling, on Lismore offers good opportunities to spot wildlife. The island has an impressive list of birds, around 130 species, and include birds of prey such as owls, hen harriers and buzzards and gulls, shags, guillemots, terns and other sea birds and waders.

Walk Grade Distance Time
Port Ramsay Circuit (Lismore) grade 4.75km 1.5 hours
Achnacroish and Salen circuit (Lismore) grade 9.5km 2.5 – 3.5 hours
Achadun Castle, from Achnacroish grade 13km 3.5 – 4 hours
Tirefour Broch and Castle Coeffin from Achnacroish gradegrade 11km 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Castle Coeffin and Tirefour Broch from Point gradegrade 15km 4 – 4.5 hours

Read about Lismore’s rich heritage with this book

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 Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Lismore
Isles Of Scotland. Isle of Lismore

Luing

Luing is part of the Slate Islands and it lies 15 miles south of Oban and a short ferry trip across the Cuan Sound from neighbouring Seil Island. Luing is 6 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, has two picturesque villages and stunning views over to Belnahua, Scarba and the Garvellachs. It is an ideal location for cycling and has a diverse variety of wildlife, including otters, hares, seals, porpoise and dolphins. There are also regular chances to see buzzards, peregrines, hen harriers and eagles.

The island is dominated with sandy beaches in all shapes and sizes. Traigh Lingeigh is one of the longest beaches with white sand and clear waters. If you’re brave enough you can swim and snorkel here! Another good sandy beach is Clachan Sands whilst Hosta is pretty rugged with its crashing waves. Both Traigh Udal and Traigh Iar are gorgeous.

Due to the number of lochs on Uist, otters are prevalent and it’s highly likely you’ll be able to see them. The Uists are also home to the largest breeding colony of Grey Seals in Europe and they produce over 9,000 pups every year. If you’re looking to see them swimming, head to Balranald Bay or out on one of the many wildlife watching boat trips around the Uists.  Take a boat trip with Nick from Lady Anne Boat Trips or take a longer trip over to Hirta, St Kilda.  Keep an eye out for dolphins, sea eagles, whales and even deer as they cross to neighbouring islands.

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