Islands with a Difference

22 November 2016


Scotland has close to 800 islands scattered all round the country. They range from large and developed islands like Skye in the Hebrides to tiny uninhabited bumps in freshwater lochs. As the mountains of Scotland become ever more crowded by the growing number of Munro baggers some people have turned instead to island bagging, visiting all the islands of Scotland instead. Certainly for those wanting to get away from it all there is nothing to compare to a bleak and windswept Western Isles beach all to yourself, or how about a kayak to an artificially constructed island castle. The island experiences you can have are as varied as the Scottish weather so here are just a few of our favourites, remote, famous, uninhabited, historical or just downright peculiar and some great places to stay.

Handa Island has been uninhabited since the middle of 19th century. Once the location for the mainland dead, as wolves were prone to digging up fresh corpses, the island is now an internationally important nature reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. A small ferry sails from nearby Tarbet for day trippers and there is now even a toilet, erected at the cost of £50,000 to try and prevent environmental damage while still maintaining visitor numbers. Further north up this beautiful and windswept part of the Scottish coast is the spectacular retreat of Seahorses, a holiday home with perhaps the best view in Sutherland.

When the 60s pop icon Donovan bought the island of Clett off the west coast of Skye he had the intention to turning it into a free love commune. Quite how that would have sat with the more traditional islanders we can only guess but with the end of the hippy era all ambitions for the spiritual retreat came to nothing. The island is still easy to visit, a quick kayak from the Stein Inn and you can see why it inspired Donovan so much he wrote a song about it. The island itself was eventually sold but has hit the news recently as it is controversially being subdivided into thousands of miniature plots and sold to wealthy Americans of Scottish heritage. For a spot of peace (and maybe some love) you don’t have to go far to get to The Beach House which has stunning views of another island worth a visit, Raasay.

Celebrities seem to have a thing about owning Scottish islands. Another curious one is the recent purchase by Uri Geller of The Lamb, a small island just off the coast of North Berwick. Uri believes that the island has links to the Pyramids at Giza and the Knights Templar and after divining with sticks wielded no treasure, he has attempted to obtain permission to excavate it. If you visit you may find a crystal sphere which once belonged to Albert Einstein, and a heart-shaped piece of quartz that he left there. Denfind House is just a brief stroll from the coast where you can see the island quite clearly.

Although a massive and modern mansion is clearly visible on the island of Inch Kenneth the island has been officially uninhabited for years. Its close proximity to the main island of Mull has meant that owners can enjoy seclusion without being too remote. Johnson and Boswell both visited in the 1700s and the island contains a 12th century chapel and allegedly was the burial spot for Scottish kings. The island achieved some degree of notoriety after being acquired by the Mitford family in the late 30s. The Mitford sisters, seemingly never out of the tabloids for their scandalous and attention seeking behaviour could achieve a relative privacy here. Unity Mitford convalesced on the island after a failed suicide attempt at the outbreak of the war, in later years the island fell into the possession of Jessica Mitford who at the height of the cold war offered part of it to the communist party as a safe haven for Soviet submarines. Glenforsa House on the main island of Mull offers seclusion as well as luxury but without the drama.

The Wolf of Badenoch was notorious in medieval Scotland for his violence and cruelty. A man with as many enemies as him would have needed a secure lair to retreat to. The perfect solution then, an artificial island in the middle of a freshwater loch. Lochindorb, just north of Grantown on Spey is the stunning location for this seldom visited castle, bring your own kayak or rowing boat to make the journey, or swim if you are really hardy. Mallachie in nearby Boat of Garten is the perfect spot to retreat to afterwards.