An island guide to Tiree, Scotland's 'Hawaii of the North'

An island guide to Tiree

Photo: James Morrison

The hebridean paradise is home to the Tiree Music Festival, featuring Skerryvore, Breabach and more

This island in the inner Hebrides is nicknamed the ‘Hawaii of the North’, because of both the amount of sunshine it gets (it’s one of the sunniest spots in the British isles) and the number of surf spots along its coastline. It sits a little to the left of Mull, just down from Coll, and can be accessed via ferry or airplane.

This weekend it’ll host the Tiree Music Festival – set up in 2010 by local boy Daniel Gillespie – a member of the folk-rock band Skerryvore, who decided that he wanted to share his ridiculously picturesque, white-sanded island with the rest of the world.

If you’re headed over for the festival (and if you are, hopefully you already have a ticket as it’s sold out, for the fourth year in a row), we have a few recommendations for things to do while you’re there:

Arrive by plane
If possible, going over by plane is a pretty excellent experience in itself. The CalMac ferry takes around four hours from Oban, but there are also budget flights from Glasgow, in low-flying airplanes so small the stewards don’t even need to raise their voice for the safety demonstration. The views out over the Treshnish Isles and Mull are quite stunning during daylight, with Thai-looking bays and turquoise waters skimming into sight under the mini wings of the plane.

Try out SUP
… That’s stand-up paddleboarding, for the uninitiated. Or a less labour-intensive alternative to windsurfing, for the uncoordinated. Islander Willy Maclean grew up on the island, so knows the waters well. He set up a windsurfing school in 1998, and has since branched out into surfing, kitesurfing and sandyachting. Perfect as a beginner’s paddling pool, Maclean uses a very shallow, calm loch near his Wild Diamond HQ for SUP lessons, where pupils can use the flat waters to practise standing, kneeling, pivoting and paddling for the first time, before upgrading to more difficult sea waves. And in the current heatwave, braver pupils should be able to get in the water comfortably without a wetsuit.

Beginners SUP lessons from £20 for a half-day, including kit hire.

Spot a seal
There are plenty out there, and their nosy natures will usually bring them closer to shore when they hear voices. Try looking off the rocks on the west coast between Hough Bay and Sandaig, or hire a kayak from Gott Bay on the east coast to get even closer. Look carefully and there are dolphins, basking sharks and sea otters in the waters too.

Watch a sunset
Tiree is the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides, so it does a very good sunset. Fill a hipflask (the Co-op at Scarinish is one of the few shops on the island, so stock up on supplies there if need be) and head to one of the sand dune-flanked beaches on the west of the island for pastel-pink and stonewash-grey skies.

Hire two, or four wheels
Bikes are a good way to get around Tiree, as the majority of the island is pancake-flat, with wide meadows full of buttercups and machair giving way to even wider beaches of white sand. Towards the west at Sandaig there’s a row of thatched crofter’s cottages that now serves as the Island Life Museum, and if you head north, the roads get steeper towards the big swells of the surf spot, Balevullin beach.

Head south for Hynish which has an old lighthouse museum or Balemartine across on the east coast, which is a beautiful stretch of single-track road, often shared with cows and sheep who stoat about freely between the hedge-less fields down onto the beach.

Alternatively if you want to rent a car, there’s a local rental company that’ll leave a car waiting up at the tiny airport for you, and leave the keys in the ignition.

Tiree Fitness in Sandaig rents bikes – including kids bikes and tandems from £15 per day.
Maclennan Motors just by the CalMac terminal in Scarinish rents cars from £45 per day.

Useful information
Tiree Music Festival, featuring Capercaillie, Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire, Skerryvore, Breabach, Brown Bear & the Bandits, Washington Irving and others, plus Sunday sessions, bagpipe workshops, local craft stalls, a children’s tent and bouncy castle and more, Sat 20-Sun 21 Jul, SOLD OUT.

Self-catering accommodation is available on the island, Joyce MacInnes offers a self-catering Croft House which sleeps 4, and prices are £400 per week during July and August, £300 per week at other times. Call 01879 220479 to check availability or visit the Croft House website.

Camping, hostel, hotel & B&B options are also available in Tiree, but spaces are very limited over the Tiree Music Festival weekend. See the festival's website for details.

For food, the Scarinish Hotel serves excellent local seafood options and bar meals, with views out over the port.

An island guide to Tiree, Scotland's 'Hawaii of the North'

Tiree Music Festival

With its picture-perfect white sands and world-famous surf, Tiree Music Festival has been described as one of the most stunning festival locations in the world. For 2020 the festival's tagline is 'Where music meets the ocean'.

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