Top Tips for Exploring The Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Last summer, Leona Duff was reaching the stage where she felt I’d been back at home for too long when my aunt, uncle and cousins asked her brother and her if they would like to join them camping in Islay: an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, and just a bus and ferry ride away from where they live.
Not knowing much at all about the island, except its multitude of whisky distilleries (a bonus!) and its vast population of midges, Leona was very interested to discover more. Here she shares her experience and recommendations for visiting this region.
I always find it disappointing that so many people in Scotland have never been to the islands and other different parts of the country, with such amazing scenery so nearby. I always enjoy the feeling of being a tourist in my own country, and frequently my family and I will go up North to lovely places like Auchterarder to relax for a couple of days – a great way of doing holidays cheaply!
The journey up to Islay was very enjoyable in itself. My brother and I got a beer and took in the views from the quaint café the deck of the ferry that took us there in just over an hour.
We were quickly whisked away to the campsite on arrival in our cousins’ car, with them having already set up their fortress of tents at our campsite, which was absolutely stunning. Right at the water’s edge, it looked out to the bright blue sea, and for miles, all that we could see were other islands. If it hadn’t been for the temperature, I’d have thought we were somewhere in the Pacific!
The trip was very relaxing yet action-packed. On day one, after a night of drinking a few local whiskies to ease the cold (I’d advise packing a few jumpers for overnight!) we went to explore the island, visiting an amazing building still used as a garment factory. Here, we had lots of fun looking at all the different tartan kilts, scarves, pillows… virtually everything you could cover in tartan! And the friendly owner kindly gave my little cousins their own scarves, free of charge – a lovely end to the visit! Next, we drove to the Bruichladdich distillery not far away. I was immediately surprised by the modern nature of the building, with it having been, I assume, renovated fairly recently. We enjoyed looking at all the different malts and were given a sample to taste for ourselves – rude not to! I’d always liked whisky, but actually being in the distillery and seeing the process that had gone into its making made it seem even better! I would definitely recommend a visit.
Back at the campsite, we made some food (in possibly the cleanest campsite facilities I’ve ever seen – very impressive!) and enjoyed the scenery from our seats next to the water as the sun went down, looking forward to going exploring a little further afield the next day. When we woke up, we were quick as we needed to catch the one and only ferry to Colonsay, a nearby island with beaches I’d heard looked tropical, so understandably I was incredibly eager to get going! Again, we took in some spectacular views from the ferry as we moved towards Colonsay. It is possible to hire bikes almost immediately after stepping off the ferry, and though I hadn’t cycled properly in years, I was looking forward to this! We decided to refuel in a lovely hotel before setting off properly, having some coffee in the sun, looking out towards the sea.
Throughout the cycle, though I remember slight pain, the island was very impressive-looking and incredibly clean, but when we finally reached our focal point – the beach – I was in awe! We arrived to a clear stretch of crystal water and light golden sand, and the only thing differentiating Kiloran Beach from one anywhere else was the large group of highland cows resting on the sand, which was very unique!
Picking up our bikes at the water’s edge after a couple of hours of walking along the beach and generally enjoying the bay, we cycled back to catch the ferry. Though Colonsay is absolutely incredible, we didn’t fancy being stranded without tents or food!
That night was much like the one the night before – more tasty local whisky, socialising with other friendly campers, and relaxing with a view that was worth far more than we were paying!
The next morning, unfortunately we had to leave, however with little warm clothing left that hadn’t been covered with sand, this was probably a blessing disguise! We hopped onto the ferry once more to enjoy another beautiful journey back to the mainland, talking about how amazing the trip had been. I would highly recommend this to anybody wishing to look a little further afield for places in the UK or Scotland to visit, and with the journey and facilities being so cheap, there’s really no reason not to! Many cottages are also available to rent, if a slightly warmer alternative appeals, but with the views at this campsite, I think the dip in temperature at night is definitely worth putting up with!
By Leona Duff
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