Old man of Hoy - Orkney islands

Hoy Orkney – Old man on Hoy

On a previous trip to Orkney, I had visited Hoy, but only stayed around the Lyness area and had spent most of my time on the island in the Scapa Flow Visitors Museum

Graemsay - Ferry from Graemsay

Scottish Islands tour 2015

In a few weeks’ time, I will be making another pilgrimage to the Scottish islands. Although nothing can beat the thrill of visiting the islands, I really enjoy planning the trip and working out the route I am going to take. This year, I am going to be focusing on visiting some of the Orkney Islands that I have yet to visit and returning to some that I have.

I will be visiting the islands for 2 weeks.  After an overnight stay at Helensburgh, I will be driving past Loch Lomond (although I am tempted to take the trip to the isle of Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond – time permitting) and around Lochgilphead to take me to the Slate islands. Firstly, I will traverse the famous ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ and then move on via a short Ferry journey to the Isle of Easdale. If time allows, I may try and fit in a quick jaunt to one of my favourite islands, Luing. From here, I will undertake a tour to see the Corryvreckan Whirlpool (the 3rd largest in the world) at its wildest and then stay on the isle of Seil (with a chance of a quick ale or two at the Oyster Bar at Ellanbeich) or possibly drive up to Oban.

Early in the next morning, I will be completing the three island tour from Oban, which involves visiting Mull, Iona and Staffa. The early bird option looks like the best bet as due the early start, there are less people there. I have visited all of these islands before, but I am travelling with a friend (for 4 days) who has never visited any Scottish islands before. Therefore, what better way to introduce him to the wonders of the islands, than by a trip to three of the best of them.

Once back in Oban, we will then drive up to Fort William and stay the night there. In the morning I have a choice of travelling to the Isle of Skye via road (and probably Eilean Donan Castle) or taking the Ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. Either way is fine with me and once we get to Skye, I will be completing a trip that I have always wanted to do. The trip is from Elgol and takes you to the magnificent natural environment of Loch Coruisk, which is inaccessible by road.

The next day, I will say goodbye to my companion and I will move on up to the Summer Isles and take a trip to the largest of them, Tanera Mor. I have been past the Summer isles on the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool, but as of yet, I have not visited, so I am really looking forward to this trip. From here, it will be onwards and upwards to the crossing for Orkney.


Egilsay - gateway to Manse Beach

Egilsay – gateway to Manse Beach


I am hoping to spend around a week on Orkney. I am focusing on some of the smaller islands such as Egilsay, Wyre, Flotta and Graemsay. I am also hoping to find the time to visit other islands such as Stronsay, Sanday or Eday. I will probably not be able to fit them all in, as some of the islands, such as Graemsay, are difficult to visit due to the Ferry times.

There are tours available on Eday and on Sanday, so I may well book these tours as I believe that Local Guides are the best way to visit islands when time is restricted. I will probably take the car over to Stronsay as there are currently no tours available there.

I often find that some of the smaller islands are much more interesting than many of the larger islands that attract lots of tourists.  Islands such as Little Cumbrae, Muck, Grimsay, Berneray, Fair Isle and Papa Westray have a uniqueness that lingers in the memory, long after your visit has ended.

After my time on Orkney, I am tempted to drive down the east coast of Scotland and visit islands near Edinburgh such as the Isle of May and Bass Rock, as well as the grandeur of Inchcolm (know as the ‘Iona of the north’. This could even lead to a trip out to the Farne Islands in Northumbria (islands with a fascinating history).

I will be taking copious amounts of photos and video and will be sharing some of these on social media. I will also be writing notes to complete Blog posts for when I return.  To say I cannot wait is an understatement!



Papa Westray - St Boniface Kirk

Papa Westray – Island Ranger

Jonathan, the new Papa Westray Ranger, will soon be taking tourists around the remote island of Papa Westray on the Peedie Island tour.  The island is affectionately known as Papay by the locals and is one of the most northerly of the Orkney islands.  The Papay Ranger has a Facebook Page and the Peedie Island tour is available to book through the Tours page on the Papa Westray website.  Reading about the Papay Ranger reminded me of a tour I had around Papa Westray in 2011.

I stayed on Westray for 3 days at the excellent Pierowall Hotel.  On the second day of my visit, I had booked a seat on the worlds shortest scheduled flight, from Westray to Papa Westray on a tiny 8-seater plane.  The flight lasts a dizzying 2 minutes.  Once I had landed, I received a certificate and a small bottle of Highland Park whisky to commemorate my journey.  A present for each minute!

Papa Westray - Flight from Westray

Papa Westray – Flight from Westray

I had booked a half-day tour on the Papa Westray website and was met by a local guide called Jimmy.  Jimmy explained that today was a special day, as there was an auction in the afternoon at Holland Farm.  He said that normally we would not be allowed in the Farm House, but as today was auction day, we were free to roam around and look at the auction items available in each room.

Before going to Holland Farm, Jimmy took me to St Boniface Kirk, an important ecclesiastic site dating back to the 8th century.  From here we went to the Knap of Howar, which are the earliest North European dwellings, dating back to around 3800 years BC.  They are very close to the sea and may be lost to erosion in the next few decades.

Papa Westray - St Boniface Kirk

Papa Westray – St Boniface Kirk

We toured the length and breadth of this fascinating island and then we alighted at Holland Farm and had a good look around at the items on display.  Jimmy said I could stay and watch the auction, but I decided to walk down to the Hostel to relax and make myself a cup of coffee (and devour a couple of homemade biscuits – paid for by an honesty box). On the way, I spent some time in the quaint Bothy Museum, which had some excellent artefacts, interesting information and pictures of the islands history. When I returned, I bid Jimmy farewell and thanked him for an excellent tour.

 As I have said in another Blog Post – Local Guides, the best way of seeing an island, when you have a short amount of time, is through hiring a local guide. Papa Westray is an enthralling island.  I really felt like I was on the edge of the world.  There is lots to see and do and the community are incredibly friendly.  Well worth a visit.

Scottish Island Museums

There are many excellent Scottish Island Museums.  Whenever I visit the islands, I always head for the nearest Museum to find out about the history of the island. Here are just a small selection of my favourites:


Easdale Folk Museum – located on the tiny island of Easdale, one of the Slate islands, near Oban on the west coast of Scotland.  This is my favourite Museum, although it is probably the smallest Museum I have visited.  It may be small in stature, but it more than makes up for it with the artefacts on display and the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. There are some excellent relics from slate quarrying and some fascinating stories and information detailing this dangerous occupation. This Museum is especially good if you bring the kids as there is a Treasure Hunt for them to complete. My kids loved it!


Easdale Folk Museum

Easdale Folk Museum


Fetlar Interpretive Centre – again quite a small Museum, the Interpretive Centre is in the village of Houbie on the beautiful Shetland island of Fetlar. The Museum includes a Steatite Bowl found during a Time Team dig in 2002. It is the largest single object ever excavated by the Time Team, and probably the largest bowl of its kind in the country. Also, there is video footage from nearby Brough Lodge.  I sat and watched these videos for quite a while as I had just visited Brough Lodge, before visiting the Museum. There is also interesting information on Sir William Watson Cheyne who lived at nearby Leogarth House.

Fetlar Interpretive Centre

Fetlar Interpretive Centre


Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum – this is possibly the largest Museum I have visited. The Visitors Centre tells the story of Scapa Flow and Lyness (mainly through the First and Second World Wars). There are excellent exhibits (such as mines and torpedoes as well as informative information boards) and a short film outlining the major role of Scapa Flow in both World Wars. I found the Museum to be fascinating and incredibly it was FREE! It´s a definite ´must see`on any visit to Orkney and Hoy in particular.


Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum


Gearrannan Blackhouse Village – located on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The Village was occupied until the early 1970s when the last few elderly residents moved to new accommodation. It is interesting to see how the people here once lived and also to watch traditional activities such as weaving Harris Tweed.  It is also possible to stay in the Village.  There is a wide range of accommodation, ranging from 2 star group accommodation sleeping 16, to 4 star family cottages.


Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village


Museum of Island Life – this Museum is very close to the northern-most coast of the Isle of Skye. It is located a few miles from the village of Uig, which is the main port on Skye for the Outer Hebrides. The Museum is in a very exposed position overlooking the Minch and was opened way back in 1965.  This Museum gives you an amazing insight into life on Skye and across the highlands in the 19th century. The Museum has seven thatched cottages, of which four are furnished and equipped as they would have been originally.


Skye - Museum of Island Life


Gaelic Heritage Centre – on the Isle of Lismore.  Slightly different to the other Museums I have visited. This ecologically friendly building was opened in 2007 and houses a Museum charting island life throughout the ages. There is also a special Genealogy section, where you can trace any relatives from Lismore. Although the Museum is quite small, there are some very interesting photo’s and documents that chart Lismore throughout the ages.  Next to the Heritage Centre is a fully restored 19th century ‘Cottars’ Cottage. There is also a fantastic cafe with fantastic views.


Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre

Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre


These Museums are my personal favourites, but there are many other Museums that I have visited over the years that deserve a mention.

Shetland – Tangwick Haa on mainland Shetland, Heritage Centre on Bressay, Unst Boat Haven and Unst Heritage Centre, Whalsay Heritage and Community Centre

Orkney – Orkney Museum and Skaill House on mainland Orkney, The Heritage Centre on Shapinsay, Holland House on Papa Westray and the Heritage Centre on Rousay

Outer Hebrides – Blackhouse Museum and Calanais Visitors Centre both on the Isle of Lewis

Inner Hebrides – Museum of Islay Life on Islay, Mull Museum on Mull, Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum on Tiree and The Boat House on Ulva

Skye and around – Dairy Shed Heritage Centre on Canna, Visitor Centre on Rum, Community Centre on Muck, Dunvegan Castle and the Aros Experience on Skye


Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum - Tiree
Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum - Tiree
Boat Haven - Unst
Boat Haven - Unst
Hanseatic Bod - Whalsay
Hanseatic Bod - Whalsay
Tangwick Haa - Mainland Shetland
Tangwick Haa - Mainland Shetland
Shapinsay Heritage Centre (The Smiddy) - Shapinsay
Shapinsay Heritage Centre (The Smiddy) - Shapinsay
Heritage Centre - Rousay
Heritage Centre - Rousay
Holland Farm and Bothy museum - Papa Westray
Holland Farm and Bothy museum - Papa Westray
Dunvegan Castle - Skye
Dunvegan Castle - Skye


Of course, there are many more Museums that I have yet to visit and some big one’s at that.  I still need to visit the New Shetland Museum and Archive and also I turned up an hour early for the Kildonan Museum on South Uist, so I still need to visit there as well.  Also, for some reason, I haven’t visited any Museums on Arran, Bute or Cumbrae, so I aim to remedy that in the near future. 

I always try to visit any Museums or Heritage Centre’s when I visit the islands.  They give a fascinating insight into the past (and sometimes the present) on the island.   I shall definitely keep on visiting as many Scottish Island Museum’s as I can, which gives me another reason to visit the beautiful islands of Scotland.  Not that I need another reason …

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Religious sites on Scottish Islands

There are many different religious sites on Scottish Islands. Below, I will detail five of the most interesting sites with religious significance:



The island with the most religious significance is the island of Iona, which is part of the Inner Hebrides. St Columba brought Christianity to Scotland in the sixth century, when he moved to Iona from Ireland. Iona Abbey has been on the same site since Columba lived on Iona, when the first places of worship were built on the island. The Abbey was made significantly larger around the 12th century and has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The Abbey fell into disrepair in the late medieval period, but new life was given to the Abbey when restoration was begun in the early 20th century under the Iona Cathedral Trust and continued by the Iona Community.


Religious sites on Scottish Islands - Inside Iona Abbey

Religious sites on Scottish Islands – Inside Iona Abbey



Another island with religious significance is the Isle of Bute, which has the remains of St Blane’s Church, located at the southern tip of the island. The Church is a12th-century Romanesque chapel set within an early Christian monastery and is set in stunning scenery. The Church overlooks the Scottish mainland and is reached by a tiny car park at the end of a 2 mile single track road. In 1863 a hoard of 12th century gold coins was found about 350 metres from the church. With the coins were several gold ornaments of the same period.


Religious sites on Scottish Islands - Bute - St Blane's Chapel

Religious sites on Scottish Islands – St Blane’s Chapel



Another famous religious site is St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, on mainland Orkney. The Cathedral was built around the 12th century and has been extensively rebuilt since then. It is situated in the heart of Kirkwall and is built out of red sandstone, quarried from the nearby island of Eday. The Cathedral is the northern-most Cathedral in the United Kingdom and is a must see on any trip to the Orkney Islands. Also, it is the only cathedral in the British Isles with a dungeon.


Religious sites on Scottish Islands - St Magnus Cathedral

Religious sites on Scottish Islands – St Magnus Cathedral



Bowmore is the administrative capital of the isle of Islay and it has has one of the most unique churches in the UK. Known simply as ‘the round church’, Kilarrow Parish Church was built in 1767 as part of the planned village of Bowmore. It has been suggested that the circular design was intended to ensure that there were no corners in which the devil could hide.   The unusual design of the church, makes it the only complete circular church in Scotland.


Religious sites on Scottish Islands - Round Church at Bowmore, Islay

Religious sites on Scottish Islands – Round Church at Bowmore, Islay


There are many other sites of religious on the Scottish islands, such as the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae, Church Cave, a natural cavern on the eastern side of Rona, 12th century St Boniface Church on Papa Westray, Lunna Kirk on mainland Shetland and even Holy Isle and Papa Stronsay, which have both been bought by religious communities to use as retreats.  There are other religious sites that have been used for thousands of years, such as the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Callanish Standing Stones. There are also a lot of Scottish islands called Pabbay, or have the prefix Papa (Papay), which means “island of the papar” (i.e. monks).  The best part about these sites is that they are all open to the public.  I have visited them all and they well worth a visit.  Most of them are set in peaceful locations and it is easy to just sit back and relax in the wonderful surroundings.


Religious sites on Scottish Islands - St Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray

Religious sites on Scottish Islands – St Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray