I have recently returned from 4 days spent visiting the Scottish Islands.
I had originally planned to visit the Orkney Islands again, but this has now had to be pushed back to May next year to accommodate a new arrival in the family.
For this trip, I had the pleasure of my friend Patrick, for company. Patrick had never previously visited Scotland (apart from a quick visit to climb Ben Nevis, as part of the 3 peaks challenge), so I decided to visit easily accessible islands as a gentle introduction to the delights of the Scottish islands. And maybe sample the odd beer or two.
DAY 1 – FRIDAY
After meeting at Helensburgh the night before, Friday morning commenced with a misty view of Loch Lomond and then a long, winding journey through to Tayvallich on the west coast. I had stayed near Tayvallich before and had always wanted to go back. We sat outside drinking our speciality coffee’s (still in ‘Town’ mode) and surveyed a gorgeous view of sailing boats on calm, glass-like water. From Tayvallich we gently sauntered to our scheduled tour of the Corryvreckan at 6pm.
On the way we took several opportunitys to take photographs on the islands of Seil and Easdale. Eventually we parked at Ellenbeich on Seil and got changed into our waterproof clothing, ready to tackle anything that mother nature could throw at us. Patrick had specifically asked to visit the whirlpool, as he had read about in an article about ‘things to see in Scotland before you die’. When booking the trip, I realised that the date co-incided with a ‘Whirlpool Special’, where the Whirlpool is at its most spectacular. So, I booked this and passed the good news onto Patrick.
After donning the orange Life Jackets we set sail on the fast R.I.B. The weather took a turn for the worse, as we slalomed out past the uninhabited island of Belnahua and close to Scarba. Once at the Corryvreckan, the boat was allowed to drift into the whirlpool and created what I can only describe as a ‘washing machine effect’, where the boat span around in a circular motion. Our expert guides then did this several more times as i tried to get a good view, while the spray kicked up to drench our faces, the only part not covered by the warm waterproofs. At the end of the trip, we sailed back to Ellenbeich, dried ourselves off and headed into Oban as day slowly filtered into night.
DAY 2 – SATURDAY
The day started with the customary low mist and a hint of drizzle. That was as good as it got! We parked on the Free Car Park (near Tesco) on the outskirts of Oban Town centre and headed down to the CalMac office on the Harbour front.
From here, we boarded the CalMac ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The crossing was calm (although I couldn’t see much through my blurry, water-stained glasses). Once at Craignure, we boarded the west Coast Motors coach and set off on our journey to Fionnphort, at the extreme south-west of Mull. Even in descending mist and driving rain, Mull is a magnificent island. The hills and lochs were foreboding, but occasionally a shaft of sunlight would break through and illumunate the sky like a scene from a biblical movie.
Once at Fionnphort, we climbed onto the white Staffa Tours boat and set sail for Staffa. After a short but rocky journey, we stopped next to the Pontoon and made our way onto the slipway. From here and with mild trepidation, we climbed up some vertical metal stairs and made it to the top of the island. From the top of the island, we were able to gaze out upon majestic views back to Mull, Ulva, Gometra, Iona and the Treshnish Isles.
After spending around half an hour marvelling at the views, we descended the staircase and folowed the black guide rope to make our way towards Fingal Cave. The guide rope takes you right into the mouth of the cave. On my last trip to Staffa, there was a violinist playing part of the Hebridean Overture at the back of Finglas cave. Surely a job can be created so that other tourists can hear this uplifting music that was created after Mendellsohn’s visit to Staffa? Unfortunately, there was no such luck this time. However, the cave was as imperious as ever. After taking the obligatory scenic photos, we then got back on the boat and headed to our next destination, the mystical island of Iona.
I have visited Iona on many occasions and it never ceases to amaze me with it’s serenity and peacefulness. We walked towards the Abbey and looked around the many ecclesiastical buildings and the new Interpretive Centre in the north west corner of the Abbey grounds. Historic Scotland have done an excellent job with the Centre and it is well worth an exploration. From here, we decided to climb Dun I, the highest point on Iona. Once we had reached the summit, there were excellent views to the south of the island and the neighbouring islands. We spent a good few hours on Iona and then waited in the Cafe by the Ferry Slipway for the boat back to Mull and eventually the trip back to Oban. Once we arrived in Oban, we headed along the A828 and drove for about an hour to get to our Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Fort William. We then sampled some of the fine local Hostelries and iscussed our day. For those with a short amount of time, the Three Isles tour is well worth the effort and gives you a small snapshot of the Scottish islands.
DAY 3 – SUNDAY
Sunday morning started with an early morning dew and a slight chill in the air. We set off from Fort William at around 9.30am and headed for the long road to Skye. The A87 from Invergarry to the Skye Bridge is one of the most scenic and picturesque in the whole of Scotland. Every time we turned a corner, another awe-insiring view would unfold before us. After a pretty amazing drive, we crossed the Skye Bridge. Our accommodation was in Broadford, but after a short conversation, we decided to contunue on to Portree, the largest town on the Isle of Skye. The day had been mixed with heavy showers and flurries of brilliant sunlight. However, as we approached Portree, the bad weather lifted and bathed us in warm sun that stayed with us until we left Portree. This made me feel that there was something magical about Portree. The pretty coloured cottages and fantastic views made me wish that I could have styed longer. We had lunch and as our mood had improved considerably, we decided to push on tho visit the Museum of Island Life on the northern peninsula of Skye.
After a lovely drive of around 30 minutes, we finally reached the open air Museum. Only to find that it was closed. (Note to self – check Museum opening times before setting off on a 50 mile round journey). We took a few pictures and were joined by the ubiquitous Japanese tourists on a minibus tour. Instead of going back we decided to carry on and complete the circular route back to Portree.
Patrick wanted to see the Kilt Rock waterfall, so we made a quick detour to visit this natural delight. From here we headed south and took the circuitous route up to the Quirang. I only passed my driving test last year, so this was quite a challenge for me. We parked at a small car park and carefully walked towards the Quirang to try and get a better view. Even though the day had returned to the moodiness previously displayed, we were still able to get a great view of the Quirang. As many visitors have said, it does remind me of a fantasy landscape and left an indellible image on my mind. I hope to return again and walk further to get a true perspective of this stunning landscape.
We carried on to see views of the Old Man of Storr and then eventually we ended back where we had started , in Portree. the road from Uig to Portree has to be the most beautiful road I have ever driven (or travelled on). It truly was magnificent. After Portree, we headed south to our bed and breakfast at Broadford. On Monday, I said goodbye to Patrick and he headed home to the north east. The one consolation being that he would be able to drive on the road from Skye to Invergarry. I carried on and visited the islands of Handa, Inchmahome and Inchcailloch (which I will describe in a later blog post). Hopefully, this will just be the start of Patrick’s adventures in Scotland and he has already talked about visiting 12 Scottish Islands next year. Looks like another satisfied customer …