Scotland’s islands – a journey along the highlands& iceland’s

Scottish Islands

Scottish islands

Contents:

Follow me on a little journey. A trip along Scotland’s coast, starting in the north and going down into the southwest. We visit the many small and large islands that are part of Scotland. islands, each of which has its own character. Islands, with their own culture. Islands that have played a role in history. And islands that can enrich our future trips to Scotland – because they offer fantastic and special nature and sights that are not available on the "mainland".

Some of these islands are famous. Skye, Islay or the Orkneys are familiar to almost every Scotland tourist. But the "Highlands& Islands" offer more. For example islands where nobody lives anymore and which can only be visited by a day expedition. Or barren rocks in the middle of the sea, which used to be used as prisons.

The islands reflect the full range of Scottish cultural influences: from the Vikings in the North Isles to the Gaels in the Southwest. And also in terms of landscape, hardly any island is like the other one. Rugged mountains in the Inner Hebrides, fertile lands in the Orkneys and wonderful sandy beaches in the Outer Hebrides.

How many islands does Scotland have?

In total, Scotland has 790 islands, if you really count all the small islets. However, only about 130 Scottish islands are inhabited by people.

Don’t worry: we limit ourselves to the most important of them.

Oh, and by the way: Our tour does not take place in reality, of course; it is a journey of thought. From the north to the south we drive along the islands on the map. Along the way we will visit some old familiar islands, but also many lesser known ones like the Shiant Isles or Rona. In each case I give a short overview of important sights and stories about the island, mention size, location and number of inhabitants. At the end of our trip, I hope I have conveyed the diversity of the Scottish islands, highlighted their different characters, and perhaps whetted your appetite for a visit.

So: Let’s go all the way north.

Northern Isles: From Shetland to Faire Isle to Orkney

In Scotland’s north, above Sutherland and the Pentland Firth, a chain of islands stretches towards Norway: These are the Northern Isles – divided into the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Together they delimit the North Sea in the east from the Atlantic in the west.

Two things make the Northern Isles – or as it was called in Old Norse: Norðreyjar – special: first, its many imposing buildings from prehistoric times; second, the heritage of the Vikings and Norwegians.

In general, some of the residents feel closer to the countries in the north than to Scotland or even to the West Highlands. Finally Shetland and Orkney went to Scotland only in 1471, before that they belonged to Norway. Gaelic is therefore not spoken at all on the North Isles and has no tradition there, rather Old Norse is. But this has meanwhile completely given way to the English language.

Where the Vikings still celebrate: Shetlands

Mike Pennington [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mike Pennington [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Shetlands are already at the height of Norway’s city Bergen, which means long nights in winter and long days in summer. Shetland is divided into three larger islands: Yell up in the north, Unst below that, and finally Mainland, the main island, where the capital Lerwick is also located. The 2011 census comes to a total of 23.200 inhabitants on Shetland, of which 6 alone.958 live in Lerwick.

If you don’t want to take the long way by Northlink ferry, for example from Aberdeen (all night) or from the Orkneys (about eight hours), you can take the plane. Flybe offers direct connections to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness – but also to Bergen in Norway.

Two of the most important sights of Shetland are Jarlshof and Mousa Broch. The latter is the best preserved broch of all, with a height of over 13 meters. It is located southwest of Lerwick and can only be reached by a small ferry.

Shetland's

Shetlands

The Jarlshof is located on Sumburgh, the southern tip of Mainland. Among the rolling green hills you will find about 4.000 years of settlement history: from Neolithic houses to Viking longhouses and a nobleman’s farm in the 16th century. Century.

Once a year, always on the last Tuesday of January, the capital Lerwick belongs again completely to the Vikings. In helmet and armor they march through the streets, and at the end of the day they burn a Viking boat. This is the festival "Up Helly Aa". As much as it reminds of the old Norsemen, the tradition of Up Helly Aa dates back to the 19th century. Century, not from the ninth. Still an event worth seeing – some call it a "Viking carnival".

Between Sumburgh Head in the south of Shetland Mainland and Orkney’s most northerly island of North Ronaldsay, about halay down the coast, is the Fair Isle. It is famous for the knitted sweaters made here and for the arte n wealth of birds. There is also a bird observatory here with overnight accommodations.

The island is only about five kilometers long, half as wide and belongs to the National Trust of Scotland, a non-profit organization for the preservation of nature and historical sites. Visitors reach the Fair Isle three times a week with the ferry Good Shepherd IV from Sumburgh for about 30 pounds including car. A trip takes just under three hours. Alternatively, a plane leaves Lerwick four times a week – price about 80 pounds there and back.

If we take the ferry from Lerwick and drive about 6 hours further south, we finally reach the Orkneys.

Heritage of the Neolithic Age: Orkneys

Orkney, Ring of Brodgar

Islands-Orkney

Its prehistoric past characterizes this archipelago like hardly anything else. Even today, there are still new discoveries and archaeologists are working diligently to excavate settlements and Stone Age buildings.

The burial mound of Maes Howe, the stone circle Ring of Brodgar and the settlement Skara Brae together form the "Heart of neolithic Orkney. Together they belong to the UNESCO World Heritage. These monuments, of which there are many more to see on the archipelago, are well worth a visit. In addition, there are also dilapidated palaces, a cathedral and the impressive nature to marvel at.

The Orkney archipelago is relatively large, with 62 islands, the largest of which, like Shetland, is simply called Mainland. It is home to the capital Kirkwall with 7.045 inhabitants (census 2011) and the much smaller Stromness with 1.758 people. Other islands of interest include Hoy, with its famous Old Man of Hoy rock spire, and North Ronaldsay, famous for its Tang-eating sheep – the meat is said to taste quite special.

The Orkneys can be reached by the Northlink ferry from Aberdeen and Scrabster near Thurso or by the Pentland ferry from Gills Bay. Flybe also operates several routes from Kirkwall to the major cities of Scotland or to Bergen in Norway, as well as to Sumburgh in the Shetlands.

But leaving the northern islands now, we drive along Scotland’s north coast, where at first there is nothing except the tiny islets of Sule Skerry and Sule Stack, which offer just enough space for birds – and in the case of Sule Skerry, a lighthouse.

If we now follow these small islands westwards with our finger on the map, we come across the remotest foothills of the Outer Hebrides ..

Outer Hebrides: the chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean

Evening glow on Lewis

Evening glow on Lewis

Like a gigantic shield against the rough Atlantic, the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides stretch along the west coast of Scotland. Since the Gaelic heritage of Scotland is still most alive here, its official name even on official maps (O&S Maps) is actually "Na h-Eileanan Siar" and the administration is officially called "Comhairle nan Eilean Siar " – meaning Council or Board of the Western Isles.

The northernmost foothills of the Outer Hebrides are even at the level of the Orkneys, but no one lives there anymore. Nevertheless, these islands are steeped in history.

Remote satellites: North Rona and Sula Sgeir

Islands Rona & Sula Sgeir

Islands Rona& Sula Sgeir

About 70 kilometers northeast of Lewis lies North Rona. The island is two kilometers long and one and a half kilometers wide. But that was enough that a vital community once flourished there. There was a village with a chapel and blackhouses that numbered about 30 souls. But rats destroyed the harvest in 1680 and all inhabitants starved to death. After that there were still some shepherds living here and grazing their animals. They had to leave the island after North Rona changed hands in 1844. Afterwards mostly only sheep were kept here, an attempt of two shepherds to re-establish themselves there in 1884 ended with their death in 1885. Since then, no one has lived there for any length of time – apart from a lot of seals and birds.

Today, North Rona is home to an automated lighthouse and the remains of an old chapel, which was built from the 8. Could date back to the eighteenth century. Since it is very difficult to land here by boat, the only way to get to North Rona so far has been a longer trip over several days at Northernlight.

16 kilometers further west of North Rona lies the uninhabited Sula Sgeir. As with the more easterly Sule Skerry (see above), the names "Sgeir" and "Skerry" seem to refer to the concept of an archipelago island from Old Norse, while "Sula" and "Sule" refer to gannets.

And gannets, that’s just what the Sula Sgeir has to offer the world. On the rock, which is 830 meters long and 300 meters wide, there are about 5.000 gannet breeding pairs. Although Sula Sgeir forms a nature reserve together with North Rona, the so-called "Guga Hunter" are allowed once a year around 2.Kill 000 gannet juveniles and take them to the mainland, where the "guga" is considered a delicacy. Only selected people are allowed to go to the Guga hunt, because it is an honor and also very dangerous. On the rock the animals are hunted, killed, flamed and lowered on wooden slides to the landing place.

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The tradition of Guga hunting was taken up by Peter May in his novel Blackhouse and thus made it even more famous.

The big island: Isle of Lewis

Let’s join the Guga-Hunter on her way back from Sula Sgeir – the ship sails straight south and meets its home port Port Nis (English: Ness) a bit below the Butt of Lewis. Here begins the Isle of Lewis, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides. Actually Lewis is not an island of its own, but hangs together with Harris in the south, but because these two parts are separated by quite high mountains, two areas have formed with different names.

Herring Girls Stornoway

Herring Girls Stornoway

Lewis, Harris, Flannan, St Kilda and Shiant

Lewis, Harris, Flannan, St Kilda and Shiant

Lewis capital Stornoway is the largest settlement of the Western Isles: 5.714 people were counted there in the 2011 census. Stornoway has an airport offering flights to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and the neighboring island of Benbecula. In the harbor, the enlarged car ferry that connects Lewis with the town of Ullapool on the mainland lands at a new pier.

The landscape is dominated by peat bogs in the north, while the southwest becomes more and more mountainous. The coast is mostly rocky, but for example in Uig and surroundings nice sandy beaches have developed – and not only there.

Mysterious deaths in the lighthouse: Flannan Isles

Let’s take a little trip from Uig 33 kilometers west as the crow flies into the Atlantic Ocean. Here there is another small archipelago, the Flannan Isles. Eight small islands. The largest of them is called Eilean Mòr and has a – by now – automated lighthouse. The archipelago has been uninhabited since 1971, but before that there were still lighthouse keepers here.

These are the people around whom the great mystery of the islands revolves. For three keepers disappeared in unexplained circumstances without a trace from the island. Even today it is still puzzled how and where the men were lost. It is assumed that they were simply washed away by the sea.

In the middle of the Minch: Shiant Isles

Now let’s jump to the other side of the Isle of Lewis. About eight kilometers east in the strait between the mainland and the Isle of Lewis there are other remarkable islands that belong to the Outer Hebrides: the Shiant Isles, in Gaelic "Na h-Eileanan Seunta" – the enchanted islands. The three islets are privately owned and are no longer inhabited today. Seabirds and basalt cliffs actually make them worthwhile destinations for tourists as well.

Still, only the operator Seaharris currently allows charter trips starting at 500 pounds to the Shiant Isles.

Lewis’ little brother: Isle of Harris

North of the Isle of Harris

Back to Lewis and Harris. They are separated by Loch Sìophort (Seaforth) in the east and Loch Reasort in the west.

The north of Harris swings then first of all in the height: Up to 799 meters reaches for instance the mountain An Cliseam, at whose flank the pass road runs in the direction of the main place Tarbert. Tarbert is also the ferry port of the Isle of Harris to the east. The port of call is Uig on the Isle of Skye.

After the village of Tarbert, Harris splits into a rocky east with many small bays and a sandy west with dream beaches that could come from the South Seas – however, the temperatures of the Atlantic here are much less friendly than for example on the Fijis. Both sides are extremely worth seeing – the main road runs to the west, but you can also explore the east via the Golden Road.

The main road, on the other hand, ends in Leverburgh on the southern tip of Harris. Leverburgh is not only the departure point for the ferry to Berneray and the Uists, it is also the starting point for expeditions to a very special group of islands ..

Outpost in the Atlantic: St Kilda and Rockall

St Kilda view of Dun

St Kilda view of Dun

About 90 kilometers away from Harris lies the archipelago St Kilda. The main island of Hirta, or Hiort in Gaelic (pronounced something like "deer"), forms a picturesque bay that then rises to a high mountain and drops away again abruptly on some sides. Here are the remains of a village that was abandoned in the 1930s only on its own initiative. Now only some explorers and soldiers live here, together with goats and various birds. Then there are the neighboring islands of Boreray (Gaelic Boraraigh) and Soay (Gaelic Soaigh). On Boreray and the two rocky outcrops next to it, there are huge colonies of various species of seabirds. Hirta is therefore also a world natural and cultural heritage site.

An excursion to St Kilda takes most people only one day by speedboat and costs about 200 pounds per person. But this experience will certainly not be forgotten. Absolutely worthwhile for adventurers. Tip still: watch out for the skuas there.

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But St Kilda is not the westernmost island. It continues from there for about 310 kilometers, then you finally come to the westernmost outpost of Scotland: Rockall. An island that lives up to its name, because it is indeed nothing more than a rock in the surf. The vegetation consists of seaweed, large animals can only be found here in the form of seabirds. Although nobody can live here, Great Britain insists on the ownership of this island. Clearly: because this also gives a claim to the surrounding waters within a 200-mile radius, including fishing and oil drilling rights. Iceland, Ireland and Denmark quarrel with Great Britain about the possession of the islands. But the United Kingdom had already stationed a crew there and had an official plaque affixed.

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Rockall has visitors nevertheless: from amateur radio operators to Greenpeace there were always people on the island. The last time the adventurer Nick Hancock was brought to the island in a survival capsule and stayed there for 60 days – a new record!

But from this inhospitable place back to the beautiful islands of the Outer Hebrides: The Uists.

Sandy beaches and a special soil: Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay

Berneray-Harris ferry

Berneray-Harris ferry

The ferry from Leverburgh to Harris takes about an hour through the labyrinth of small rocks in Caolas na Hearadh, the Sound of Harris. In doing so, it hooks to the southwest, where it hits the island of Berneray (Beàrnaraigh) and spits the cars and passengers back ashore.

All following islands from Berneray to Eriskay are connected by stone dams, on which the main road leads along. The landscape is characterized by moor, again and again eaten by large and small freshwater lochs and by sea inlets in the east. While the east is rather rocky, long sandy beaches wind along the entire west coast and along them the rare machair, a special soil of these islands that allows wildflowers to bloom right by the sea.

Ferry in Lochmaddy

Ferry in Lochmaddy

At North Uist (Gaelic: Uibhist a Tuath) there is some evidence from Neolithic times such as the Barpa Langais barrow. There is also the Balranald bird sanctuary and the famous Teampall na Trianaid. Great palaces or castles, on the other hand, will be looked for in vain. In the east of the island is the main village Lochmaddy, which is the ferry connection to Uig on Skye.

Beach on Benbecula

Beach on Benbecula

One would think that after North Uist, South Uist should follow. But between the two Benbecula (Beinn na Faoghla) jammed. The island was a seat of the Clanranald, an important and once powerful clan, from which also the heroine Flora MacDonald was born. Although Milton on South Uist is repeatedly given as her birthplace, it is more likely that she was born and raised in Balivanich (Baile a’Mhanaich). In the same place there is also an airport, which connects the Uists with Glasgow, Inverness or Stornoway.

Finally we come to South Uist (Uibhist a Deas) at. The island has with the Beinn Mhòr even a real mountain of 620 meters height. Otherwise there are settlements from the Bronze Age with Cladh Hallan and remains of old churches at Tobha Mòr. South Uist’s "capital" is Lochboisdale, from where a ferry leaves for Oban. It takes almost six hours for a crossing over the so-called Minch.

A field full of marsh marigolds

The Uists and Barra

The Uists and Barra

But we are still heading further south, to the Eriskay. The small island is world famous for its pony breed. And of course for the fact that Bonnie Prince Charlie stepped here on the beach for the first time Scottish soil. Finally the islands became famous by the shipwreck of the "SS Politician", which had whisky on board. This inspired author Compton Mackenzie to write the novel Whisky Galore and a film adaptation of the same name. We Germans also have a connection to Eriskay: The bell in front of the church comes from an imperial battle cruiser of the first world war.

Before we leave the Uists and take the ferry to Barra, we make a short trip back up to North Uist. West of them, in fact, in the Atlantic there are still smaller satellites.

The Lady’s Prison: Monach Islands

The Monach Islands are also called Heisker. They are two large and several small islands, located 13 kilometers off the island of Baleshare (Baile Sear) near North Uist. In the past, it was probably possible to walk between Baleshare and the Monach Islands at low tide, but in the 17. In the nineteenth century, a large wave is said to have destroyed the land connection at low tide. At least this still works between the four islands.

The Monachs became famous as the prison of Lady Grange, who was imprisoned here in 1732 and later on St Kilda by her husband for fear that she would denounce him as a traitor and a Jacobite supporter.

Until 1942 the islands were also inhabited, in the 19. In the nineteenth century probably a hundred people lived here at times. Today, there is still an old and refurbished school there, which is a visitor center. The flora and fauna should be remarkable.

The southern foothills: Barra, Vatersay and many small islands

Kisimul Castel on Barra

Kisimul Castel on Barra

Back to Eriskay and there immediately on the car ferry to Barra. The island with its 1.174 inhabitants (as of 2011) offers a ring road of about 21 kilometers, which makes it ideal for a half marathon – which also takes place there every year. It is called Barrathon.

Of course there is more to see here: In the large village of Castlebay, there is the Kisimul Castle, which is enthroned on a rock in the bay. In the village itself there is a small museum and in the west of the island some very nice sandy beaches.

Barra is connected to the mainland in two ways: firstly by ferry from Castlebay to Oban and secondly by plane to Glasgow. Landing site: The big beach in the north – a sight worth seeing, to see a plane landing there.

A stone causeway connects Barra with the southernmost island of the Outer Hebrides, which is still inhabited: Vatersay. About 90 people still live here today. You will enjoy two beautiful sandy beaches, almost touching in the middle.

With the uninhabited islands Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and finally Berneray the Outer Hebrides finally swing out. 160 kilometers further south lies Northern Ireland.

But now we leave the Outer Hebrides and turn towards the east.

The realm of the island lords: Inner Hebrides

In the north, the so-called Little Minch separates the Inner Hebrides from the Outer Hebrides. We start with the largest island of this archipelago.

Over the sea to …: Skye, Raasay, Rona and Scalpay

Portree Bay and Raasay

Portree Bay and Raasay

About the Isle of Skye with its magnificent mountains and the wonderful wild life, I already tell a lot here. From my point of view this island belongs to the most worth seeing landscapes of Scotland. But around it there are more, less known islands.

There stretches to the east, separated by a quarter-hour ferry crossing from Sconser on Skye, the island of Raasay over 20 kilometers in length. It is only about four kilometers wide. 164 people live here. The island was too small for Bonnie Prince Charlie to hide on in 1746, so he soon left it again. During the Second World War, prisoners of war were kept here to work in the ore mines there. Today, Raasay House Hotel is trying to attract tourists with outdoor activities.

Over Raasay still lies Rona, an island where you can retire to a cottage – great for all the stressed people of this world. And below Raasay there are still Scalpay, an island in private hands, inhabited by four people.

Around Skye there are of course other islands, like Soay or Wiay, both uninhabited. But they play only a minor role on our journey along the Scottish islands.

The "Small Isles": Canna, Rùm, Eigg and Muck

Isle of Eigg on the horizon

Isle of Eigg on the horizon

Let’s leave there, where Bonnie Prince Charlie once left the Isle of Skye: From Elgol. A good 25 kilometers we drive west with a small turn to the south. Then we meet Canna, the westernmost island of the "Small Isles. And Canna is indeed small: about 7.5 kilometers long and one kilometer wide. Highest "mountain" at 211 meters. Canna has another small neighbor called Sanday, actually an island of its own, but connected by a foot-bridge – if it was not, as recently, torn away by a wave. Canna is said to have barely 15 inhabitants at the moment – a few centuries ago there were around 300. Canna is considered the "Garden of the Hebrides" and offers a nesting place for many seabirds. The island is maintained by the National Trust of Scotland.

Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles

Skye, Raasay and the Small Isles

From the eastern tip of Canna lies the west coast of the Nacha Island Rùm – pronounced "Ruum" and not "Ramm" – less than four kilometers away. It is the largest of the Small Isles and almost circular with a diameter of up to eleven kilometers. And yes: On Rùm there are mountains, the Rùm Cuillins. Mount Askival rises to 812 meters, its neighbor Ainshval to 778 meters. On the flanks of these mountains you can see one thing above all: Red deer. The island is known and also protected for its wildlife. There are sea eagles, otters, goats and seals there. Only one species has become rare: Man. As is so often the case, the story of the largest of the "Small Isles" resembles that which has taken place throughout Scotland. The once 450 inhabitants of Rùm were expelled in 1827 in the course of the Highland Clearances, the place was needed for sheep breeding. Today, perhaps twenty people still live here permanently.

At least Rùm also has a castle, i.e. a manor house. It dates from 1900 when the then owner had red sandstone brought here and had a manor built with a ballroom, wine cellar and much more. In 1957 the heirs of the estate left the island and gave it to Scottish Natural Heritage. Today Rùm is a very good place for hiking and wildlife watching. More info about Rùm.

Scottish island with four letters? Often appears in crossword puzzles. The solution is usually either Eigg or Muck. Eigg is located about seven kilometers southeast of Rùm and is seven kilometers long and 5.5 kilometers wide. The Sgurr, a bare rock cone rising almost 400 meters, dominates the island. At its base is a cave where the island’s cruelest chapter took place: A group of MacLeods landed here seeking revenge on the population for a previous offense. The people of Eigg then retreated to the cave at An Sgurr and hid successfully. Nevertheless, the MacLeods soon came upon the hideout and unceremoniously set a fire in front of it until everyone in the cave was dead.

Today, Eigg is a more civilized place, owned by the Eigg Heritage Trust, which includes the residents, the Highland Council and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. More info about Eigg on the official website.

And finally, the smallest and southernmost of the Small Isles: the little Muck. But at the same time it is considered to be the most fertile island of the group and there are about 40 people living here. Muck measures about 4 x 2 kilometers and rises to a maximum of 138 meters. Worth seeing there is the beach "Shell Bay", the remains of a prehistoric fortress and a renovated Crofter house. The website of Muck can be found here.

All four of the Small Isles can be reached by Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from the coastal town of Mallaig, or from Arisaig by MV Sheerwater.

The sunny side of the islands: Coll and Tiree

Coll, Tiree, Mull and Iona

Coll, Tiree, Mull and Iona

In the south the sea between the mainland is no longer called The Minch but Sea of the Hebrides. Here we first encounter the islands Coll and Tiree to the west. Coll is about 20 kilometers long and about 5,5 kilometers wide. 195 people live on this place – that’s more than on the Small Isles together (according to the census there are only 153 people on the Small Isles).

On Coll there is finally a real castle again with the Breachacha Castle, which has been built since the 14th century. Century, thus since the Lords of the Isles, here stands. Even before that there were fortifications here, as Dùn Amhlaidh proves, which is attributed to a Viking leader. In the past the dragon ships sailed here, but today it is rather the windsurfers who find ideal conditions thanks to the beautiful beaches and the rough wind. More about Coll on the official website.

If one simply thinks the narrow coll further with a short interruption, one has Tiree. The flat island stretches for 17 kilometers before forming a thicker lump seven kilometers wide at the end. The population on this small spot is astonishing: the 2011 census counted 653 inhabitants. And even Tiree has an airport connecting the island with Glasgow.

Tiree is the westernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. it is famous for its sandy beaches, its nature and for the twelve well-preserved thatched houses of old construction. There are so many in such a small space nowhere else. Especially since they also have a special construction: The roof does not close with the outer masonry, but is offset inward, resulting in a wide ledge on the house. The houses are all whitewashed.

Info can be found on the Tiree website.

By the way: Coll and Tiree both have a very mild climate and are the places with the most hours of sunshine in Great Britain. No wonder: they are so flat that the rain usually passes over them and only gets caught on the mainland. Both islands are regularly served by Calmac ferries from the town of Oban on the mainland.

Mull, Ulva, Iona and the Treshnish Isles

But now on to Mull, the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides behind Skye. The main town Tobermory with its colorful house facades accommodates 954 of the 2.819 islanders. Mull has something that many other islands lack: forests. And this again helps that many animals feel at home here. Mull is for example known for its golden and white-tailed eagles. In autumn you can also hear the roaring of rutting deer through the glens in the evening.

Directions to Mull

Approach to Mull

To the west of Mull there are some more small islands, the Treshnish IslesLunga is very famous for its puffins, which you can visit there. The animals don’t mind the proximity of humans, because they know that visitors don’t want to harm them – quite the opposite: humans keep their enemies away. Usually a visit to the Treshnishs is combined with a visit to the island Staffa linked. It is famous for its basalt columns and the cave that inspired Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy to write his overture "The Hebrides". You can visit the islands for example with Staffatours or Turus Mara from Tobermory.

Staffa and the Fingals Cave

Between the Treshnish Isles and Mull there are two larger islets: Gometra and Ulva. The latter is a popular destination for hiking, afterwards the visitor can treat himself to something to eat in the "Boathouse. The 200 meters across to Mull is done by a small passenger ferry. More info about Ulva here.

Much smaller, but infinitely more important, is another island at the southwestern tip of Mull: Iona. It is only five kilometers long and about two kilometers wide, but from here St. Columba once Christianized the whole of Scotland. So it is a holy island. It can be visited with a Calmac ferry, which also supplies the 177 inhabitants with the most necessary things.

Isle of Iona with sailing ship

Isle of Iona with sailing ship

Mull is also connected to the mainland by Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. Either via the short crossing of Ardnamurchan from Kilchoan to Tobermory, or via the connection Oban to Craignure on Mull, which however already takes about one and a half hours. There is also a short crossing from Lochaline in Morvern to Fishnish on Mull.

By the way, from Oban we can immediately take the ferry to our next island.

Colonsay, Oronsay, Islay& Jura, Gigha

In Scalasaig we leave the ferry from Oban again and set foot on Colonsay. The island with its 132 human inhabitants is also home to some very industrious creatures: bees. The Apis mellifera mellifera, the dark European bee, has found a protected home here, no other bee species is allowed to be imported. Of course they also produce honey, which they get from the blossoms of the Machair. Besides bees, Colonsay is also home to oysters and flowers. The latter in the Colonsay House Gardens.

Directly below Colonsay lies Oronsay. It can be reached on foot at low tide. Oronsay is a bird sanctuary of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), accordingly you can observe all kinds of feathered creatures here. There are also the remains of a small monastery from the 14th century. The two islands are linked by a beautiful stone cross. Information about a tour has been collected by Armin Grewe on his website. You have to be careful to get back across the beach to Colonsay in time at low tide.

From Colonsay we now switch over to the big neighbor Islay. This we could do either by Caledonian MacBryane ferry from Scalasaig, which goes to Port Askaig in the east of Islay. Mentally, however, we take the Hebridean Air plane to Islay Airport near Glenegedale on the west coast.

Paps of Jura

The Paps of Jura from Islay from

Islay (Gaelic "Ìle") was once the center of the Western Isles. For from Finlaggan ruled the Lords of the Isles, who were actually subject to the Scottish Crown, but whose power was at least as great. Maneuverable ships brought them quickly from here to every corner of the realm, whereas the mainland Scots had to deal with high mountains.

Colonsay, Islay, Jura and Gigha

Colonsay, Islay, Jura and Gigha

Of course, not much of the former power is left today. Today, Islay is famous for something else: the water of life – Uisge beatha. Whisky. There are currently eight active distilleries on the island: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhainn, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroig. Another one – Gartbreck – is under construction. Islay’s whisky varieties usually stand for relatively smoky-peaty notes with the exception of Bruichladdich perhaps.

Islay is relatively large, about 40 x 23 kilometers measures the land mass. There are some mountains in the east – the highest is Beinn Bheigier with 491 meters – but overall Islay remains rather flat. 3.228 people live on Islay, the majority of which are distributed between the towns of Bowmore (784) and Port Ellen (846). From Port Ellen you can leave the island by ferry to the mainland, it docks there in Kennacraig. Another possibility offers in the east of the island Port Askaig. Also here the ferry docks from Kennagraig. In addition, a boat goes from Port Askaig across to the neighboring island of Jura. It is only a few hundred meters to the other side, but the crossing in the Sound of Islay is often very rough.

More about Islay, its sights and of course the distilleries can be found here.

Jura Ferry

Jura – or in Gaelic Diùra – has three well-known assets: First, the Paps of Jura, the mountains in the middle of the island, which rise to a height of 785 meters, after all. Secondly, the whisky "Jura" and thirdly, in the north, the Corryvreckan, a great malt straw.

The name Jura probably comes from the old Norse and refers to the red deer population of the island – so "Stag Island", so to speak. Jura is only sparsely populated, 196 inhabitants share the 44 x 12 kilometer island, a large part lives in the east, where also the only road runs along.

To get back down from Jura, we first have to get back on the ferry to Port Askaig. There we take the Calmac boat and reach Kennacraig in a little less than two hours. From there we drive south and Mull of Kintyre until we reach the village Tayinloan. Here we board the ferry to the last and southernmost of the Inner Hebrides.

Barely 20 minutes, then the ferry docks again. Gigha is the name of the small isle, or Giogha in Gaelic. Gigha with its 163 inhabitants is about 9.5 kilometers long and 2.5 kilometers wide. This is a good number! Although there were here in the 18. There were up to 600 inhabitants here in the 18th century, but as usual the Highland Clearances and rural exodus have done a good job. At times there were less than a hundred left. The turnaround came when in 2002 the municipality bought the island from the owner and has since managed it collectively.

View over Gigha

Gigha has a mild climate and many hours of sunshine. That’s why one of the big sights here is Achamore House with its gardens, where among other things over 600 orchids of 50 different genera are planted.

Let’s leave the Inner Hebrides for good with Gigha and drive the short way across the Kintyre Peninsula to Claonaig, where the next ferry is waiting.

Firth of Clyde Islands: Arran, Bute and Great Cumbrae

Arran, Cumbrae and Bute

Arran, Cumbrae and Bute

East of the long spur of Kintyre lies the Firth of Clyde, a sea inlet into which the River Clyde pours. Here are some more islands.

Place of pilgrimage for geologists: Arran

From Claonaig we cross over to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran within half an hour. 32 kilometers long and half as wide, Arran has made itself comfortable between the Kintyre Peninsula in the west and the mainland with Glasgow in the east.

Apart from being a beautiful island that combines many typical Scottish landscapes, Arran is also the cradle of modern geology. James Hutton examined rock strata in Lochranza in 1787 and came to the revolutionary (and at that time dangerous) conclusion that the earth must be considerably older than the Bible indicates. In addition, the foothills of the Highland Boundary Fault, the geological borderline between the Highlands and Lowlands, run through Arran.

Arran offers its 4.660 inhabitants so daily an amazing landscape with mountains, like the Goatfell, which is 874 meters high. A popular destination for experienced hikers, who can enjoy a magnificent view at the top – as long as clouds aren’t hanging over the summit.

Goat fur from the bay near Brodick

The island is surrounded by a ring road, which is cut off in the middle by another road. Up in the north we find the beautiful Lochranza Castle, which dates back to the 13th century. century. In the east of the island the largest settlement, Brodick, has formed. And from here you can also leave the island again by ferry. The drive to Ardrossan, which is only about 40 kilometers from Glasgow as the crow flies, takes about an hour.

Island of curling stones: Ailsa Craig

About 20 kilometers south of the Isle of Arran and 16 kilometers east of the Scottish mainland lies Ailsa Craig. The island is about 1.200 meters long, 1.100 meters wide and rises to 338 meters. No one lives there except a large colony of seabirds, the lighthouse on the island has been on automatic since the 1970s. Before that there were about 30 people mining granite or maintaining the lighthouse during the summer months.

Ailsa Craig looks like a floating champagne cork, in principle it is also something like that. Namely the plug of a former volcano. Ailsa Craig is best known for the granite called Ailsite, from which curling stones were made. At least half of these ice sports equipment come from the small island. The others come from a quarry in Wales.

Pladda and Ailsa Craig islands

Pladda and Ailsa Craig islands (left background)

Ailsa Craig has been for sale since 2012, most recently sums of around 1.5 million pounds were being discussed – but no one wants to pay that at the moment either.

Small, big island: Great Cumbrae

But first we drive the west coast a bit northwards. In Largs a ferry takes us in a few minutes across to the Great Cumbrae Island. It is just six kilometers long and 2.7 kilometers wide. On the small surface however nevertheless 1.376 inhabitants. On Cumbrae stands the smallest cathedral in Europe. Below Great Cumbrae is the sister island Little Cumbrae, which is uninhabited.

The cultivated: Isle of Bute

Let’s go back to the mainland for our last destination. A bit further along the west coast to the north is Wemyss Bay. From here, a ferry takes us in about half an hour across to Rothesay, the largest settlement of the Isle of Bute. Thanks to its proximity to Glasgow, the 24 kilometer long and 8 kilometer wide island counts 6.498 inhabitants.

Bute has a castle with Rothesay Castle, a beautiful manor house with Mount Stuart House and the remains of a chapel from the 12th century. Century. In addition there is the beach of Ettrick Bay.

Ettrick Bay

The ferry from Rhubodach to Colintraive brings us in a few minutes now also down from our last island.

All information about the Isle of Bute can be found here.

Where? There are still some mentions of islands "honorary" ..

Islands with special history: Gruinard and Bass Rock

There are some islands that are small but have achieved fame. We are going to visit them now.

Anthrax Island: Gruinard Island

Bass Rock and Gruinard Island

Bass Rock and Gruinard Island

On the west coast of Scotland, just below Ullapool, lies Gruinard Bay and the island of the same name. It would be nothing special in itself, if the British military had not chosen it during the Second World War as a venue for tests with anthrax. 80 sheep were "successfully" killed by the bio-bombs. Stupidly, it wasn’t until after the test that it was discovered that the anthrax had penetrated the soil and permanently contaminated it. And this is how Gruinard Island became a restricted zone.

It was not until 1986 that it was realized that the problem was not going to go away by itself, and so the island began to be decontaminated with a mixture of formaldehyde and seawater.

Since 1990 Gruinard is no longer considered a temptation – nevertheless nobody likes to live on the one kilometer wide and 2 kilometer long island.

The island of the birds in the east: Bass Rock

The sight is "uplifting" even from a distance – because in the middle of the sea off the east coast of Scotland rises a 107 meter high bare rock. The famous Bass Rock – or sometimes simply called "the Bass.

It is famous for the mass of gannets that nest on it. 150.000, about ten percent of the stock in the North Atlantic. In former times the young birds – as in the case of Sula Sgeir – were considered a delicacy. They were hunted and sold on land.

On the other hand, Bass Rock is known for the fact that a former castle there was converted into a prison. The castle existed already in the 14. Century. And already in 16. In the 19th century, political enemies were often "stored" there. In the 17. In the 19th century – after the invasion of Chromwell’s New Model Army – the Bass actually became a notorious prison camp.

Bass Rock

Today it is a refuge for birds and a magnet for tourists, who are driven there by the Scottish Seabird Centre, for example.

Here, near the capital city of Edinburgh, ends our little journey to Scotland’s many islands. Have I forgotten an important island? No problem: The comments to the article are open. Just write me what is on your heart.

Fictional islands

Since I see again and again in search queries that strange island names appear, I take up here fictitious islands. Islands that appear in movies or books but don’t exist in reality.

Island of Mure: The Island of Summer Seaside Kitchen

This island does not exist – or only in the head. In her humorous novel "The Summer Seaside Kitchen," author Jenny Colgan describes the life of Flora, who has turned her back on her homeland and moved to London. This home is the Isle of Mure. However, she has to return to the island for business reasons. There her past life catches up with her again. The book won the 2018 Romantic Comedy Novel Award.

16 Comments on" Scotland’s islands – a journey along the Highlands& Islands"

I am always happy about this website. It was an inspiration for our visit to Lewis. For me it is worth mentioning that we always attended the church services on the islands and the mainland. The visitors are very open, friendly and we have learned many interesting things, received one or the other tip. This was not the reason for the Godi visit, but during the cup of tea afterwards, the talks were always etc. just good.

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