The Best Holidays on the Islands of Scotland | Herald Scotland
This year we will be in Scotland more than ever for our summer vacation – and we are lucky because there is so much to discover. Fragile island communities have been off limits to visitors during Covid, and rightly so, but as restrictions loosen, our vacation planning can start cautiously.
A blustery CalMac ferry always means the start of some good times ahead, but for those who might be planning an island vacation for the first time, or looking to explore a new place this year, there’s no shortage of inspiration.
There are of course a few things to keep in mind. First of all, always book your ferries in advance to guarantee sailing times. Also, keep in mind that shops and gas stations can be few with limited opening hours, so don’t be surprised. Many islands use more cash than the mainland, so don’t just rely on bank cards.
Be prepared for unpredictable weather conditions, so don’t forget your raincoats, mosquito repellent and sunscreen for those âfour seasons in one dayâ. It’s also good to keep some flexibility in your plans – go to a ceilidh or Highland Games if the opportunity arises and follow local recommendations. Spontaneity is part of the fun.
If you love beaches, visit Tiree
In Gaelic, Tiree is called TÃ¬r bÃ rr fo thuin, which means “the land under the waves”. It is an island so clearly shaped by the sea and the wind with beautiful long white beaches stretching out into the sand dunes, while the sand blown inland creates the lush sand machair where the flowers bloom. wild flowers. As one of the sunniest and windiest places in Scotland, midges are less of a summer scourge here, and the perfect place for an active beach holiday. isleoftiree.com
Tiree also hosts the Tiree Wave Classic windsurfing competition each year in October – the oldest professional windsurfing event in the world. It’s not just for professionals – Tiree is the perfect place to try out a wide range of water sports regardless of your age or skill level. Learn to surf at Blackhouse Watersports, where friendly instructors will prepare you to ‘paddle and jump’ as you catch the waves at beautiful Balevullin Beach. blackhouse-watersports.co.uk/surf-tiree
The intrepid can try kite-surfing here too. Wild Diamond watersports is based on Loch Bhassapol where you can learn to windsurf and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) in the shallow freshwater loch – ideal for beginners. Wild Diamond also teaches windsurfing lessons and rents kayaks, sending instructors and equipment to any suitable beach on the island. wilddiamond.co.uk/activities/kayak
For a day ashore, take a coastal walk around the spectacular Ceann a ‘Mhara western promontory. Take time to visit An Iodhlann, the historic center of Tiree in Scarinish to learn about the fascinating history of the island and its people. aniodhlann.org.uk/exhibitions
To get a closer look at the iconic Skerryvore Lighthouse or a tour in search of whales, basking sharks and dolphins, book a tour with Tiree Sea Tours. tireeseatours.fr
For an active family holiday – visit Arran
If you’re unsure whether an island vacation will keep the family entertained, let Arran convince you. With beaches, rolling hills, great food, and plenty of outdoor activities, there’s something for everyone. Arran is an easy getaway from central Scotland and accessible by public transport as well, as trains from Glasgow join the boat at Ardrossan for the short trip to the cheerful harbor town of Brodick.
There is a wide range of accommodation for every family – from the luxury four-star Auchrannie Resort to welcoming B & Bs, small hotels and campsites. If you want to be right on the beach, Seal Shore Campground in Kildonan, on the photo on the left, is ideal. There are also plenty of vacation cabins out there, but they tend to be booked well in advance, with families returning year after year.
Pony trekking is available at North Sannox and the Cairnhouse Stables in Blackwaterfoot, where knowledgeable guides can take you into the hills or along the beach. A visit to the ancient stone circles of Machrie Moor is a must (and is a doable walk even for small legs). Older kids should manage the hike to Goat Fell if the weather is nice.
All golfers in the family have a choice of seven courses or you can purchase a pass to visit them all. golfonarran.com. Shiskine’s 12-hole course is one of the most scenic in the country and not to be missed – non-golfers can paddle the beautiful Blackwaterfoot Beach while you play. shiskigolf.com
Or why not head to Kildonan to spot seals sunbathing and spend a few happy hours rock pooling? If you’re lucky you might see otters here too.
With three cheese factories, a brewery and a distillery on the island, gourmets are also well received on this family-friendly island. Indeed, artisanal food production on Arran has a long heritage.
If you like history, visit Lewis
Windswept Lewis, constantly battered by the waves of the Atlantic, is a beautiful but unforgiving place to live and cultivate, but hardy souls have lived here for over 6,000 years, making it the perfect place for vacation steeped in history. Take the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway across the Minch and imagine what a treacherous crossing it must have been in the past.
The most famous historical site of the island is that of the Neolithic menhirs of Calanais. Carved from the ancient metamorphic Lewisian gneiss, the standing stones were erected around 5,000 years ago, before Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. In Calanais, four rows of menhirs radiate out from a central stone circle forming a cross, with at least 15 smaller stone circles nearby. This reveals the immense importance of Calanais in the past – even if the reason remains a secret to the ancients.
A newer construction, but still over 2,000 years old, Dun Carloway is one of Britain’s best-preserved brochs. Brochs are circular stone constructions from the Iron Age, most likely built as houses and defenses by powerful families. Evidence suggests that Dun Carloway may have been used for various purposes up to AD1000.
As you move through more recent centuries, learn about the life of small farmers at The Blackhouse in Arnol, where a peat fire still burns in the open hearth. Visit the nan Eilean Museum at Lews Castle for an interactive tour of Lewis’ history and culture, from prehistoric times to the modern era. You can also see six of the Lewis Chessmen – who inspired part of the plot in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – returned to the island after their long exile in the British Museum.
If you love food, visit Mull
For an island dining adventure, head to Mull, an island that takes its food seriously and where residents are justifiably proud of their exceptional produce. So, get a hearty appetite and get ready to eat your way around the island. mullandionafood.co.uk
With around 300 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that seafood is a specialty. Fresh fish is landed daily and can be enjoyed in many of the island’s cafes and restaurants. Try Cafe Fish or Hebridean Lodge in Tobermory, Am Birlinn in Dervaig or Ninth Wave in Fionnphort (reservations recommended for all). For casual dining, the small Creel Seafood Bar on Fionnphort Pier serves fish and chips, scallops and bowls from Cullen Skink, while the fish and chips at Fisherman’s Pier in Tobermory Harbor is also highly recommended.
It’s easy to find the best products here. Isle of Mull Oysters operates an honesty box system on Croig Pier, as does Inverlussa Mussels on the shores of Loch Spelve. The Ethical Shellfish Company sells delicious hand-dipped scallops that you can pick up at the Salen Pier (or have it delivered to your door with other Mull delicacies). Compagniedecoquillagesethiques.fr Tobermory Fish Company specializes in smoked fish.
Isle of Mull cheddar is made on the Sgriob-ruadh farm and is one of the few raw milk cheeses produced in Scotland. Visit his beautiful Glass Barn Cafe to try it out. sgriobruadh.co.uk/visit
For sugary treats, look for Island Bakery Cookies and Isle of Mull Ice Cream.
Mull is fertile ground for the cultivation of new and innovative products – Isle of Mull Seaweed makes award-winning chutneys from kelp. isleofmullseaweed.com The Mull and Iona Food Trail is a great resource to find producers and restaurants committed to showcasing local food. mullandionafood.co.uk
If you love wildlife – visit Rum
For a nature lover, the Isle of Rum, a national nature reserve, is a very special place. Home to seals, Highland ponies, otters, deer, Highland cows and more than 200 different bird species, it is a paradise for bird watchers and naturalists. Wildlife thrives in Rum due to the diversity of habitats and remote location, as well as the conservation and careful care of the island community and residents. nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves/rum-national-nature-reserve
Rum is not the easiest island to visit. Ferries depart from Mallaig on a complex seasonal schedule, so advance planning is absolutely necessary. Accommodation is limited, with a small guesthouse, dormitory, cabins and a campsite *. Rum has one of the largest colonies of Manx Shearwaters in the world with over 60,000 pairs nesting in the mountains. White-tailed eagles flourish here too after a successful reintroduction of the species in the 1970s. Golden eagles breed on the island.
From Kinloch Harbor there are three short trails, all of which offer great wildlife viewing potential – the Northside Nature Trail, the Otter Hide Trail, and the Chur Dubh Trail. Take your binoculars, take your time and enjoy it.
*see isleofrum.com/placestostay for up to date accommodation information as some restrictions will still be in place throughout 2021 to protect this small community