There is something undeniably romantic about visiting an uninhabited island and while there is no shortage of quiet, remote spots in Scotland somehow the thought of being surrounded by water, being cut off or isolated even if it’s just for a short while, is quite unique. Almost all the islands big enough for a house and a croft were inhabited at some point or another, whether by pirates, druids or crofters evicted from the more fertile land on the mainland. Most are now only home to wildlife which is in one way sad but in another it presents visitors with the opportunity to explore a little bit of history frozen in time. Here are a few of our favourites. Some you can walk to at low tide, others have scheduled boat trips, while some of the more remote will necessitate you organising your own transport. They have one thing in common though, they all have fascinating stories.
The Kintyre peninsula is well served with boats to the larger islands of the Inner Hebrides with sailings available to Arran, Gigha, Islay and Jura from Kennacraig as well as Tayvallich. The most intriguing island to visit though is Davaar, not far from Cambeltown. Accessed on foot at low tide, via a sand and shingle causeway, this island was an important coastal defence base during the second world war and has an impressive lighthouse. The reason why it’s worth the effort to get there though is for the famous Crucifixion Cave. In the 1800s a local teacher, after a vision from God, painted a life size scene of Jesus on the cross in the interior of one of the largest caves. it has been restored a number of times over the years (as well as being vandalised) and is now a site of pilgrimage. Kirkland House sits halfway up the Kintyre peninsula, great for exploring or hopping on a ferry but is also a luxurious place to unwind. In truth it feels more like being on an island than the mainland.
Craigie Knowes on the Solway coast has the benefit of having not one but two nearby islands accessible on foot at low tide. From the conservatory the stunning sea views reach across to Rough Island. This is now owned by the National Trust and is a fantastic place to visit for any nature lover. Visiting is discouraged from the beginning of May to mid-July to avoiding disturbing beach nesting birds but at other times of year you can see red squirrel, otter, adder, oystercatcher and ringed plover. A short trip up the coast will take you to Hestan Island which is slightly more difficult to access as you will need to wade through shallow water to reach it even at low tide. This island is more like something out of an Enid Blyton book with a ruined manor house built for a pretender to the Scottish throne, disused mines, pinnacles and smugglers caves. It’s a brilliant day out and a great contrast to the splendour of Craigie Knowes.
The island of Maol Rubha on Loch Maree has a strange and captivating history, originally a spiritual retreat with connections to St Columba it was also the scene of pagan sacrifice (bulls were reported as being killed here right up till the 18th century). In the Victorian era ‘lunatics’ were dragged behind a boat that circled the island three times as it was a well-known cure for madness. Queen Victoria herself even visited and recorded her experiences in her diary. Although small, the island has a holy well, a derelict 8th century chapel, a cemetery and a deceased wishing tree which has been poisoned by the copper from all the coins pushed into it. The small loch on the island even has its own wee island. Wade out to it if you really want to say you have been to an island on a loch on an island on a loch on an island. There are no scheduled boat trips here so you will have to arrange the logistics of your visit yourself, caution should be exercised as there is a loch monster known as the Muc-sheilche in residence. Aodann is just a few miles from the westerly tip of the loch and looks out over the sea. If boating, paddling or stand up kayaking is your thing then the views will undoubtedly inspire you to get out there and get wet.
Handa Island, although remote is relatively easy to visit with scheduled boat trips throughout the season. The island was traditionally used as a burial ground (as wolves would frequently dig up corpses buried on the mainland) and in the mid-1800s potato famine forced the last of its residents to emigrate. Now this windswept isle which is managed by the Scottish wildlife trust is an internationally important breeding ground for seabirds. In addition to the stunning cliff top panoramas you can see puffins here from May to July and if you are lucky dolphins, whales and basking sharks can be spotted from the ferry which leaves from Tarbet near Scourie on the NC500. Seahorses looks out over Eddrachilles Bay just south of here, the perfect modern and luxurious place to return to after a day exploring.