The Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland are remote and wild. Explore their history and the natural beauty of the landscape by boat, then retreat to warm, dry comfort until the next port of call
Duration: 5-7 nights
Iona Abbey: www.isle-of-iona.com
Operators include Hebridean Island Cruises (www.hebridean.co.uk) and The Majestic Line (www.themajesticline.co.uk). Visit www.southernhebrides.com/cruise-hebrides-wildlife-boat-trips.html for a full list.
Mull’s brightly painted harbour town of Tobermory is recognisable to many as the setting for children’s TV’s Balamory, but there’s far more to this island than pretty cottages and bobbing boats. With 300 miles of coastline it’s perfect for spotting seabirds and waders, while whales, porpoises and dolphins can be seen offshore. The island is also home to several species of eagle, and buzzards. Historic sites include the well-preserved and eerie Lochbuie stone circle; Duart Castle, the seat of MacLean clan, and Torosay Castle, served by the Isle of Mull Railway’s steam trains.
Iona is a spiritual place, whether you are sitting in the cool of the abbey or watching waves crash on the white beaches to the west. The isle’s history is entwined with that of St Columba, who arrived in AD 563 from Ireland. The restored 13th-century Abbey built on the site of Columba’s church is a place of pilgrimage, worship and contemplation.
The island refuge of Skye that Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to still holds an allure, despite the addition of the rather less prosaic bridge to the mainland (technically robbing it of its island status). The jagged peaks of the Cuillin Hills have inspired artists and writers, from Turner to Sir Walter Scott, and the ruins of castles echo with the past. The imposing remains of Armadale Castle, formerly a home of the all-powerful MacDonald clan, and the Museum of the Isles, within its gardens, are musts for all MacDonalds in search of their roots. The Skye Museum of Island Life recreates the island’s 19th century crofts. In the 1880s, Skye was the scene of bloody uprisings by crofters being evicted as part of the notorious Highland Clearances. Nature’s impressive storehouse of sights include the Old Man of Storr, an 160 foot pinnacle of rock, the bewitching rock formations of the Quiraing and wildlife including otters, eagles, puffins and seals. Gaelic music is a strong Skye tradition, so catch a ceilidh if you can.
On Islay there are no less than eight whisky distilleries on this island, including Lagavulin and Laphroaig. If that isn’t temptation enough, there’s also the ancient Celtic Kildalton Cross, and Loch Finlaggan, the administrative centre of the fearsome MacDonald chiefs – the Lords of the Isles – from the 12th to the 16th century. Birdwatchers come in search of the wild geese that visit between October to May.
Words by Jo Leevers