Islay, once home of the MacDonald 'Lords of the Isles', is famous for its malt whiskies and bird life, as well as for its farming, fishing and shooting. Hills, moors and machair are edged by an infinitely varied coast, with rocks, beaches and dunes, salt marshes and cliffs. Good walking country. Machair is fertile ground on wind-blown shell-sand; well-drained and not acid, it can support a lovely short green turf with flowers.
Jura, nearly as large as Islay, is wild and infinitely more rugged. Its distinctive landmark hills - the Paps - are visible from vantage points all over Argyll, and from places as far apart as Ben Nevis and the Irish coast. Red deer outnumber people here many times over.
Colonsay, with neighbouring Oronsay, is perhaps the most peaceful and remote of all the inner Hebrides. The ruined but inspiring 14th century Oronsay Priory, with its 4m tall 'high cross', is accessible from Colonsay across the tidal Strand. The American author, John MacPhee, wrote his excellent book, 'The Crofter and the Laird', about his return to Colonsay, the land of his forebears.
We will stay on Islay, the largest of these islands where four of our walks are located, and make excursions to Jura and to Colonsay.
Islay has a complex geology, with major differences between the land west and east of a fault between Lochs Gruinart and Indaal. Westwards the rocks are extremely old metamorphosed sediments. The low platform of both Colonsay and this western peninsula, dotted with lochs and knobbly little hills, is reminiscent of the Outer Hebrides.
East of the fault, the slightly less ancient rocks are also mainly metamorphosed sediments - part of structures that continue north-east through Jura and on into the Grampian highlands. Islay's highest hill areas are of quartzite, like the Paps of Jura. Across the centre of eastern Islay, a weak belt of phyllites gives the low land of 'the Glen'; much of it peat-covered.
Now apparently peripheral to the mainstream of Scottish life, these islands were focal points of human activity back in the days when land transport was difficult and the seas were the sensible way to travel (not to mention an accessible source of food). Oronsay has several shell mounds surviving Neolithic and Bronze Age times, while on Colonsay and Islay a wealth of burial cairns, rock carvings and standing stones are preserved.
Folded rocks near Saligo Bay
Iron Age times may have brought intensified social and political conflict - the evidence is there in the remains of many fortifications, in all, around 80 on Islay alone. More peaceful activity is commemorated in the remains of several Early Christian chapels and crosses, of which Kildalton is the most outstanding.
Islay played its part in the evolution of a united Scotland and also in resisting it. The very name 'Scotland' derives from the Roman name for the Iron Age Celtic people who, by the 6th century, occupied both Ulster and Argyll (Irish and Scottish Dalriada). Islay would have been one of the richest parts of Scottish Dalriada, from where came the first king of a united nation in the 9th century.
Later, though, especially from the 13th to the 15th centuries, the centralising Scottish state was very effectively resisted by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles - by then practically an independent kingdom. Their power base was at Finlaggan.
In between times, as elsewhere along the western seaboard, Islay underwent a series of Viking raids. Unlike most of the mainland, these raids were followed by extensive Norse settlement and a period (from 1098 to 1263) under the Norwegian crown. Evidence survives in numerous place names of Norse origin.
Modern Islay is a land of farms and of beautiful and distinctive planned villages whose whitewashed houses are a particularly attractive feature. These characteristics, differentiating the island from others in the Hebrides, are partly the result of its geology, topography and relative fertility, but also partly of the management policies of a succession of landowners.
The programme will be subject to variables such as weather and the abilities of the group and changes may also be made to take account of lambing, deer stalking, etc. Any such alterations will always take into account the need to maintain the overall character of the holiday.
Meet in Glasgow, early afternoon. Travel to Islay by our minibus and Calmac's ferry from Kennacraig.
Machir Bay, Isle of Islay
Our first walk will be along the west coast of the Rhinns of Islay. This coast is washed by the surf of the Atlantic Ocean which dashes against spectacular cliffs, interspersed with stretches of sands and dunes. We will start at Kilchoman by visiting the graveyard with its impressive Celtic cross which stands 8ft/2.4m tall. The Kilchoman Cross is one of the finest of the medieval crosses, dated around 150, in the western Highlands and Islands. Beneath the cross is a wishing stone.
Our walk then starts by climbing a low hill to enjoy fine views across Machir Bay to Saligo Bay and Loch Gorm, before dropping down to the sandy beach of Machir Bay to head north, across a peninsula where the cliffs display interesting geological features. The walk ends at the second beach of the day, Saligo Bay.
6 miles/10 km and 650ft/200m of ascent
Today we will walk along the north coast of the Oa peninsula, starting at Kintra at the south-end of the 6 miles long Big Strand beach to the Soldier's Rock, a natural sea stack and along the coast back to Kintra.
The route takes us through several deserted crofting townships with ruined houses, corn drying kilns, a standing stone and the remains of an ancient chapel. The residents of these villages were cleared from the land in the second half of the 19th century. Many of them moved to the central Lowlands or emigrated.
We continue our walk to the headland with dramatic sea-cliffs, arches, caves and the sea stack An Saigghdear or Soldier's Rock from where you can see Ireland across the North Channel on a clear day. We return along sheep tracks high above the cliffs enjoying the views across Laggan Bay.
We then drive to the most westerly part of the peninsula for a walk to the Mull of Oa and the American Monument - commemorating the loss of two troop ships in 1918 - and Beinn Mhor.
Total: 9.5 miles/15.5 km and 1400ft/425m of ascent.
We will travel towards the east coast of Islay for a walk up Sgorr nam Faoileann - (The) cleft (in the rock) of the white seagulls (1407ft/429m). This hill rises above the Sound of Islay and from the top we will have fine views across Islay and across the Sound towards Jura and Colonsay. On a bright day you can see as far as Ireland in the south and the Isle of Mull in the north.
Mainly path-free going in rough, remote country with a good chance to see red deer.
We will finish the day with a visit to one of the nine whisky distilleries on Islay.
6 miles/9.5 km and 1370ft/420m of ascent
Walking on the Isle of Colonsay
Remote from the other Inner Hebrides (the next stop west is Labrador), Colonsay is the kind of place that draws people back again and again, attracted by the island's varied scenery and divers flora and fauna, including otters if you're lucky!
If you want a strenuous day here, with lots of scrambling over rough, ancient rocks, then Colonsay can give it, but, surprisingly for an island so far west, there are many sheltered corners and much more woodland than you might expect. Add to that some delightful sandy bays and a rich store of prehistoric remains and you have a place in which it's good just to wander quietly and at peace.
Kiloran Bay via Colonsay House is one option. Another, tide permitting, is to cross the sands to Oronsay, with its high cross and ruined priory. Oronsay preserves traces of Scotland's earliest hunter-gatherer inhabitants from 6000 years or more ago in the form of turf-covered shell middens.
Up to 7 miles/12km and 800ft/250m ascent.
On Corra Bheinn, Jura
A relatively easy day in two parts, and without too much ascent. We begin at Ardnave, overlooking Loch Gruinart, and walk around the coast via Ardnave Point. Pleasant going over, sandy beaches, dunes and rocky shores, with wide views towards Colonsay as well as the chance of coming across seals and terns.
In the afternoon we visit a dramatic Iron Age fort and also Finlaggan, once the home of the Lords of the Isles.
About 7 miles/11km in total.
The route we take will depend on the weather, the stalking season and on how well we've been walking. Probably it's a walk up Corra Bheinn, just north of the Paps, but there is a much gentler alternative on the east coast of the island for those who think a big climb may be too much for them, however wide and marvellous the views might be.
7 miles/11km and 2000ft/600m of ascent.
To Glasgow via the morning ferry. We will be back in Glasgow in the afternoon
This walking holiday is designed for people who are fit and used to walking all day. We will walk up to 11 miles/17.5km (6 hours plus stops) per day with an average 1150ft/350m of ascent. On one day it might be as much as 3000ft/900m but there are also easier days. Our routes sometimes traverse pathless glens, climb mountains or thread remote passes and there may be some scrambling. On most days as much of our time is spent off path as on it. Scotland can be very wild and tough going: 10 miles here is often much harder than 10 miles elsewhere. All that said, we don’t want to break any speed records, especially not when going uphill and you’ll have all the rewards of walking in the most beautiful and fascinating parts of the Highlands and Islands.
If you're still not sure whether or not you can cope after you've read this and the details of the week's programme, please get in touch to discuss it further.
This is either in carefully selected Bed & Breakfast accommodation or Guest Houses. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the professionalism and welcoming nature of those who run it. The B&Bs and guest houses we use are more personal and the quality of the accommodation is as good or even better than of hotels in the same category. Double and twin rooms that are occupied by two people always have an en suite or private bathroom.
If you have particular requirements or prefer to stay in a 4-star hotel, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
Details of where you will be staying will be sent to you well in advance of your holiday.
Dinner is not included in the price, but your guide will take you out for supper every evening. We usually eat in a different place each evening, giving you the opportunity to try a range of Scottish dishes and ambiences.
|Description||8 days (Saturday to Saturday), accommodation on the Isle of Islay in carefully selected B&Bs or guest houses.|
|Walking||6-11 miles (10-18 km) daily, with a mix of rough going and path. Four days with longer walks and two gentler days.|
|IS231||24 June-1 July 2023||£1405||Single room: £122.50 extra|
|IS232||2-9 September 2023|
|We may be able to book groups of 4 or more on other dates, please ask.|
and most especially
For general information and booking, please click here.