This article has been written with the support of CalMac.
Four wee west coast Scottish isles you should definitely visit
- Deborah Martin
- 27 March 2019
Gylen Castle on the Isle of Kerrera / courtesy VisitScotland, credit Paul Tomkins
Skye, Mull and the like get enough attention, some of the west coast islands are just as majestic and should be on your radar
Deborah Martin profiles four wee islands that, despite their size, have a whole lot to offer and hold delights just waiting to be discovered
Nicknamed the 'jewel in the Firth of Lorne', Kerrera can be found just off the coast of Oban. The island's tiny population and the fact that you can't take cars there makes it a very peaceful spot for walkers, cyclists and pony trekkers. There's plenty wildlife to see while exploring, including sika deer, wild goats and otters, as well as seals relaxing on Cutter Rock. You may also spot the occasional dolphin, whale or basking shark.
The island has two main walking circuits, with the northern one leading to Hutcheson's Monument, an impressive obelisk guarding the entrance to Oban harbour. The southern circuit will take you to Gylen Castle, a ruggedly romantic ruin overlooking the rocky coastline and offering views towards Mull, Jura and Colonsay. Afterwards, you can head to the nearby Tea Garden for homemade scones or make your way to the Waypoint Restaurant & Bar at the marina, both of which are seasonal.
Aside from these two eating spots, there isn't much in the way of tourist infrastructure on Kerrera but that, of course, is a big part of its charm. You can get away from it all, wander the beaches and watch the goats grazing. If you fancy being spirited away into the past, this is where to head. Just remember to take anything you bring with you to the island back off with you.
Despite being just seven miles long by a mile wide, Gigha offers up plenty of charms beyond its silvery beaches. Take a stroll in one direction and you can spot dolphins playing by the pier, and in another, seals basking beside the natural blowhole of the 'Spouting Cave'. By night, the island transforms into a stargazer's paradise with the aurora borealis making an occasional cameo appearance.
Just a 20-minute ferry journey from Kintyre, Gigha is actually the most southerly of Hebridean islands with a warm climate that gets much less rainfall than the rest of Scotland. No wonder, then, that the Vikings named it 'The Good Isle'. Proudly owned by its population of circa 160, delicacies include Wee Isle Dairy produces, which you can buy in the local Ardminish Stores. Walkers and bikers will find much to explore, from rocky coves to heather-covered hills, with the subtropical Achamore Gardens and the ancient standing stones of Bodach and Cailleach must-sees.
Active types can head out on a kayak or paddleboard, while golfers can spend an afternoon on the panoramic nine-hole course. A hike to either the top of North Cairn or Creag Bhan will reward you with beautiful sunset views, while Mill Loch makes for a serene picnic spot on sunnier days.
From white beaches to green sea lochs and mauvish heather moors, Eriskay is known for its vivid Hebridean colours. The island is also famous for having had a couple of notable landings on its beaches, including Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and, two centuries later, the infamous 'Whisky galore' haul of around 24,000 bottles from the SS Politician.
Both sand strips feature on the Eriskay beach and hill circuit walk, where you can cross Prince's Beach with its pretty pink bindweed flowers (said to have been brought to the island by Charlie himself) then stop off at an abandoned village where salvaged
whisky was stashed beneath floorboards.
Other highlights include a sunset stroll up the hill to St Michael's Catholic Church followed by a drink at the nearby Am Politician bar. The Acarsaid Mhor walk is another pleasant ramble and takes you to a tucked away bay where you might spot seals or otters. For some of the best scenery, head up to the island's highest point of Beinn Sciathan, which offers views of neighbouring Barra. Wherever you wander, you're sure to bump into a few of the native Eriskay ponies at some point. Most are grey, although other colours may be seen. Foals can be black, bay or roan which fades to grey in adulthood.
With over 1000 historic sites to explore, Canna may be the smallest of the Small Isles but it packs plenty of punch. A well-planned hike could take you on a whistle-stop tour of the past 5000 years, from ancient forts to 7th-century Celtic crosses and abandoned 19th-century settlements.
This Inner Hebridean island is also a sanctuary to over 20,000 seabirds, while other wildlife picks include whales and porpoises. A popular walking route is Saturnino's Path, which will take you through bluebell woods up a rock so magnetic that it plays havoc with compasses. Alternatively, the Three Churches walking route offers a chance stop at St Columba's Chapel, while in spring and summer you can head to the island's puffin colony to watch hundreds of them gather on the rocks.
Uncannier charms are offered by the mysterious 2000-year-old underground chambers known at the Souterrains or the volcanic black sand beach of An Coroghon, while souvenir hunters can pick up brightly coloured yarn made from island sheep before dining on fresh-landed lobster at Café Canna.
A must-see is the atmospheric Canna House, which has a Marie Celeste air of recent abandonment and includes a walled garden with an orchard.