Misty, magical, moody and remote, for some travellers there’s nowhere like the isles of Scotland, which have been a source of inspiration for painters, poets and mystics since time began.
The light has a special clarity, the air is fresh and oxygen-rich and the beaches are a far cry from the popular Costas, even in peak summer.
While Cornwall is the UK’s favourite southern timeshare destination, Scotland is the northern favourite. If you remember the film Local Hero with those long, flat beaches, fresh fish, crackling firesides in cosy pubs…that’s the Scottish coastline most of us know and love.
Generally, the Inner Hebrides tend to be gentler and lusher than the wind-swept Outer Isles which take the full brunt of the northern Atlantic waves, but any of the islands would make for an eye opening, different style of holiday – all of them a dream if you love fishing!
Here are four of the islands which are off the beaten track, each one with its own character and landscape, and all of them well worth exploring.
Whisky experts may already know there are eight distilleries on this island all producing some of the best malts in Scotland. The whisky is made according to ancient traditions and it’s fair to say this island has virtually stood still against the passing of time. Single track roads, wild sheep and over twenty beaches to enjoy some brisk, breezy walks will whet your appetite for an early supper.
Jura was made famous by George Orwell’s book The Last Man in Europe. He wrote it in 1984 from a croft cottage “in the middle of nowhere”. One of Britain’s most rugged, windswept spots, it feels like the wild animals and birds outnumber the humans, and they do. There are only about 200 people living along Jura’s single track road and it’s a brilliant place if you’re into wild life watching, with stags in the hills, golden eagles swooping across the crags and – yes of course, there’s the Isle of Jura distillery for those fortifying drinks by the fireside on chilly Jura evenings.
Harris is the island that made Harris Tweed famous – by the end of the 18th century, making wool from raw local materials was already a staple industry from the isle’s crofters. The original name of this traditional cloth was called “tweel”, which is Scottish for twill, and as the story goes a London merchant who received a letter from a firm about some “tweels” interpreted the word as coming from the name of the River Tweed in Scotland.
The sea around the Outer Hebrides is clear as crystal, in fact if it weren’t for the weather, you’d think the brilliant white sandy beach with turquoise waters at Scarista beach, for example, was somewhere else in the world.
If it’s peace and quiet you’re after, Iona has it in spades. This is where St. Columba brought Christianity to Scotland and the sense of spirituality somehow infuses the scenery with a special tranquillity. Amazingly, the local abbey houses the remains of sixty Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings and if you’re up for a beautiful walk, make your way over to the lovely sandy coves in Camus Cul an Tabg (which means Bay at the back of the Ocean).