As I write this, I’m listening to Donald Shaw’s magical soundtrack to the BBC ‘Hebrides: Islands on the Edge’ TV series. The emotive sounds of piano, flute, pipes and fiddle stir up images from the ocean floor of my memory: birds in flight; a jagged, mountain-torn horizon; rocky cliffs gazing out to sea; the swell of waves; dark clouds that chase a sinking sun. In recent years, I’ve been charmed by Mull, enchanted by Iona (and its fascinating abbey) and wooed by Islay, and it is the memories of these trips that now swirl in my mind. The music never fails to ignite the ever-smouldering longing for another Scottish island adventure; grabbing at my heart and tugging at my sleeve like an insistent child.
If, like me, you’re now dreaming about a trip to Scotland’s isles, here are some top tips that we hope will inspire. (And remember that you still have time to enter VisitScotland’s free ferry ticket giveaway).
A local to the Isle of Islay told me about a real hidden gem (so hidden, in fact, it is best reached by boat). The beautiful Port an Eas beach (meaning “waterfall beach”) can also be reached by heading to the cemetery side of Kilnaughton, if you don’t have a boat to hand. Climb the hill towards the new houses until the road changes from tarmac to stone. Take the stone road to the left, through a cattle grid (about a 20 minute walk) and follow the sounds of the waterfall, which leads to a steep grassy embankment. Here you will find a path made by goats which you can follow to the beach. (But it’s so peaceful and beautiful you might just want to keep it a secret between you and the goats…).
Explore the beautiful house and grounds of Mount Stuart House near Rothesay on the Isle of Bute – said to be Britain’s most spectacular Victorian Gothic house. There are also picnic areas, a courtyard tearoom and visitor centre. ~ Elaine Daniels, Ardencraig House Self-Catering Apartments
Lip na Cloiche is an enchanting garden which is well worth a visit. About 40 minutes from Tobermory, the garden offers stunning views of Loch Tuath and the Isle of Ulva. The garden has been transformed from a bare hillside into an imaginatively shaped haven by Lucy Mackenzie, a plantswoman extraordinaire. ~ Carolyne Charrington, Treshnish & Haunn Cottages
Home to George Orwell for a time, the Isle of Jura offers stunning scenery into which you can sink (perhaps with a glass of the island’s fine whisky in hand). The grounds and walled garden of Jura House are is definitely worth a visit, with lovely views over to Islay. ~ Matthew Haggis, Craobh Haven Cottages
Stay near Kiloran Bay if you have children – Kiloran is one of the many sandy beaches perfect for swimming, picnicking and collecting mussels and shells. It’s also the best place to surf on the island (and recently won a TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Award).
Also, make sure you visit the famous Colonsay House Gardens, with their huge collection of rhododendrons (and enjoy freshly baked cakes in the café). Hire a bike, go on a guided walk, visit Oronsay, go seal and otter spotting, have a pint of Colonsay brewed ale in the hotel bar… there is plenty to see and do during your stay on Colonsay! And to really soak up the vistas, book a house with sea views. ~ Jane Howard, Colonsay Estate
Spring is a great time to visit the island with the Colonsay Book Festival from 26th – 27th April and the wonderful Festival of Spring, 28th April to 18th May. And to put a spring in your step, Colonsay Estate is offering 10% off all self-catering cottages in April and May if you mention this blog post.
And for many more tips on exploring the Isle of Bute, take a look at this month’s interview with Susanne Arbuckle of ‘Adventures around Scotland’.