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Arran & Oban, Oban & Mull, or Isle of Harris

Hi All-
I am finally breaking down and looking for other opinions. This is our second trip to Scotland. Last time we visited Edinburgh, Stirling, Aviemore, Inverness, Skye, & Glencoe. Struggling with our itinerary for May 2020. At the moment I am between spending a week between Skye and Harris & Lewis or Arran & Oban with the three island day trip one day. The other option is skipping Arran and spending time on Mull. We have been to Skye before so would probably only spend two nights there to do some things we missed last time before heading to Harris for two nights and two nights on Lewis. On the other hand we could spend three nights on Arran and visit Oban for a few nights and incorporate that day trip I mentioned earlier. My husband doesn’t hate the idea of seeing the Puffins on Staffa. We enjoy hiking & nature. We will have a car. It is a real struggle as both options are great and we would like to do all of it. Unfortunately not enough time. After we will be heading over to Dufftown, Pitlochry and St. Andrews. It all boils down to preference I am sure. I know Rick doesn’t really mention Arran or Harris & Lewis in his books. Everyone on other forums are voting for Arran but there are a few that are voting for Harris. What do you think and why? Thank you!!

Posted by
1825 posts

A co-worker that sits beside me is from Glasgow and his vote is for Arran. He says it's beautiful. I'm taking my first trip to Scotland in June and we're spending 2 nights on Mull but skipping Arran. For me though it is because Mull is a bucket list item because my hometown is named after Calgary Beach on Mull. We've been studying Mull and honestly we're not sure yet if it is a worthwhile stop for extra days or just a means to get to Iona and Staffa.

Posted by
116 posts

Hi Allan- Thank you for your response and thank your coworker for me. Yes those from Glasgow do seem crazy about Arran. It does make you want to visit to see what the fuss is about. ;0) I can see wanting to visit a place for personal reasons such as a place being named after where you live for sure. I do agree though that I am I unsure about Mull for several days. Thanks again for your input!

Posted by
544 posts

In early September we spent 4 nights on Arran and could easily have spent a week. It truly is Scotland in miniature. It has a little of everything: standing stones, ruined castles, manor houses, hill walking, Goat Fell and now, two distilleries. We stayed at the Glenartney B&B. The rooms are small but everything is impeccable and the owner is a volunteer with Arran Mountain Rescue. So his hiking suggestions are perfect. Re Harris and Lewis, get the Brandt "Outer Hebrides" guidebook if you don't have it. It's very good.

Posted by
116 posts

Kclyons- Thank you for your feedback. Much appreciated. I have heard great things about Arran. If we did it we were thinking 3-4 nights. Sounds like you have been to both Arran and Harris & Lewis. Out of the two which would you choose? I know it is a tough question but seeing as you have been to both I would love to hear further thoughts on the subject.

Posted by
544 posts

We were only on Barra, didn't have time for Harris and Lewis. My husband's family was cleared from Barra and he really wanted to see it - oh and land on a beach ;-) The Brandt guide was great for Barra and I assume would be similarly helpful for Harris and Lewis.

Posted by
695 posts

Hi islandfam -

We spent a week on Arran earlier this year. We are lucky that our friends have bought and are currently renovating a property at Kildonan at the southern tip of the island and could stay there (Kildonan itself is a sensational spot).

We largely hiked - the northern end of the island is a ‘highlands in miniature’ and has a ton of great walks. If you want to know what we did send me a pm and I’ll enlarge!

There’s also plenty to see - the main settlements are on the eastern side of the island. On the one ‘iffy’ weather day we had, we went west to see the standing stones on Machrie Moor, well worth a visit. The last full day we had we had a wander round the grounds of Brodick Castle, didn’t have time to see the interior.

Arran is fantastic and if you get the weather, absolutely fantastic for getting out and about! I am sure you won’t regret going there if that’s what you choose to do!

Ian

Posted by
116 posts

Hi Ian- Thank you for your feedback. I will be sure to PM you for some hiking feedback and to hear what all you enjoyed. I had figured 3 -4 nights on Arran. It sounds like you had plenty to fill your days with a entire week. We loved our last trip to Scotland so much that we really wanted to come back. This western part of the trip has me hung up this time. Sort of funny seeing as last time we went it was very easy to sort out. What else did you do on your trip this past time after or before your Arran stay?

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, islandfam2008,

Here's another vote for the Glenartney in Brodick. Mrs. A and I stayed there last summer. Rooms are small, as previously noted, but we didn't spend a lot of time there. We stayed in the Iorsa (all the rooms have names). Breakfasts are great. Parking is tight, but you can parallel park in the road outside. They even did our laundry for us, which gave an extra couple of hours to explore the island. I did a review for Trip Advisor, under the nom de plume Runrig_fan.

Arran is a great place for a few days. There is a lot to see and do, including Brodick Castle and Gardens, and Lochranza Castle. There are several good hikes, and villages to discover. It's definitely on our itinerary for our next trip.

It's really easy to get to Oban from Arran. The ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig runs frequently, and from Claonaig, it's a relatively easy drive up the A83 to Lochgilphead, then the A816 to Oban.

Arran is a favourite location for Glaswegians taking their summer holidays, as it's easily accessible, and it's beautiful. For an island its size, there are plenty of places to get away from it all.

On the other hand, Harris is spectacular! It has some of the most gorgeous beaches in Britain. And Lewis has the Standing Stones at Callanish and the Dun Carloway brochs.

Last summer we visited Harris, Lewis, and Arran, with a side trip to Rum. It's possible to travel from Tarbert to Arran in one day, but Mrs. A would have my guts for garters if I suggested it for us. That would involve catching the 7:00 a.m. ferry out of Tarbert; hustling across Skye to Armadale; taking the ferry to Mallaig; driving down to Claonaig; then taking the ferry from there to Lochranza. However, if you miss the last ferry out of Claonaig, there's not a whole lot to do until the first ferry out in the morning. Skipness Castle is somewhat interesting, if you end up taking the Lochranza - Claonaig ferry at any point in your travels.

Whatever you decide to do, have a wonderful time! You already know how beautiful Scotland is, so you don't need any more advice from me in that respect.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
5546 posts

I have to admit that I have not been to Arran and it is on my list, but Harris and Lewis are a place apart. I would spend a week on the Outer Hebrides and save Skye for your next trip. I did a week on Harris and Lewis a few years ago and it was wonderful. There are lovely walks. The beaches are amazing. You can visit the black houses. You can visit Donald John MacKay at Luskentyre and walk on that beach. It's magical.

Pam

Posted by
506 posts

Personally I would go to Lewis and Harris in a heartbeat. We just live across the water on Skye, and really enjoy getting across to the Outer Islands. Lewis & Harris could soak up a week of your time easily. There are the prehistoric stones at Callanish (and other sites nearby), the amazing white sand beaches, e.g. at Luskentyre and Uig Bay, the black house village, various artisan Harris Tweed manufacturers, the Harris Distillery at Tarbet (excellent gin!) and right next to the main Harris Tweed store, not to mention Stornaway, with it's busy harbour and the castle and grounds to wander around.

Another option could be to island hop, taking the ferry from Oban to Barra and then working your way up through the Uist, across to Harris and then onwards to Stornaway from where you could get the ferry across to Ullapool (or from Tarbet to Skye).

Posted by
116 posts

Hi All- Thank you so much for your feedback although now I am even more in a struggle. We had planned on two nights in Skye and the ferry over to Tarbert for 2 nights with another two nights in Stronoway. We would be coming from Glencoe. So really just four nights on Harris & Lewis. When we saw pictures of Arran it seemed much easier to get to and perhaps a more compact easy going few days. If we did Arran we would spend two nights in Oban (three island tour) and two in Glencoe after. We really liked the hiking in Glencoe. After we are driving to Dufftown. My husband is really sold on Arran now. I am on the fence.

Mike- You seem to be the one that has done both. Not surprising with all your trips. From looking at our itinerary options, which would you pick?

Posted by
940 posts

Hi again, islandfam2008,

I'd have to say that the Outer Hebrides are my favorite place in Scotland. And South Harris is my favorite part of the Outer Hebrides. The beaches are spectacular, the hiking is great, and the people are wonderful. The Golden Road is one of the most unique places on Earth. It looks like a blasted moonscape, with millenniums old rocks and lochans scattered about, and the road cutting through what looks like it should be impossible to cut through. We've been there four times, and still haven't seen everything. There's a beautiful hike out from Northton (Taobh Tuath) at the southwest tip of Harris, past deserted beaches, that I would put up against any low level hike in Scotland.

Once you're on Harris, it's a good drive up to Stornoway, which would be your stopping off point for some of the stunning circular tours of Lewis.

Mrs. A. and I love Arran, as well, and are planning a revisit next year. If you decide to go, try to spend most of your time there during the week. Weekends can be really busy, with weekenders coming from Glasgow and points along the Southwest coast. The main villages of Brodick, Whiting Bay, and Lamlash can get really crowded, but there are enough places to really get away from it all. There are some short and long distance hikes, and the public transportation is excellent, so you can do a long distance one way hike, and be assured of a bus ride back. The Glenartney, in particular, has some excellent hiking information and maps. (To borrow, not keep!)

It's a tough call. Personally, I'd go with Harris and Lewis. As you've been to Skye before, you may want to consider visiting one of the Small Isles, like Eigg and Rum. To best appreciate those islands, you'd need to stay overnight, which would involve leaving your car in Mallaig. Don't worry, it's perfectly safe! If you end up going to Harris and Lewis, you may want to consider a day visit to St. Kilda, out of Leverburgh. It's a bit expensive, but it's something you'll always remember.

I can recommend a couple of places to stay on Harris. The first is the Harris Hotel. It's a bit pricey, but it's in a good location, and it's very comfortable. The second is Luskentyre Lodge. They do mainly self catering, but they have a single bedroom in their house which they offer for B&B. It's not en-suite, but you have a private bathroom. Leona and Norman are wonderful hosts.

I hope that's given you some food for thought. Best wishes for your travels.

Slainte!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
116 posts

Mike -

I can’t thank you enough for all your feedback. Truly appreciated. Rick should hire you to add to his Scotland book! We will be going over all your feedback and making some decisions soon. Thanks again!

Posted by
506 posts

Everything Mike says is spot on! However, you could still do a circuit, going across to Tarbet from Skye, exploring Lewis and Harris and then heading south through North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra, before taking the ferry across to Oban. If you allowed 2 or 3 days for the journey through the Uists and Barra you'd get a decent appreciation of those island which are quite different from Lewis & Harris. The Uists and Benbecula have an unbroken beach of white sand the entire length of the west coast, with machair (wild flowers and grasslands in the sand dunes) behind the beach. The east coast is wild and hilly with hidden bays and ruined settlements. Barra is a gem, with the only scheduled air service to land on a beach!

Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
1273 posts

The Eileann nan Siar are also the setting of the book 'Whisky Galore' if you've ever read it or seen the two films. Complete with the islands where the traditional denominations contrast as strongly as they do in the book.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi again, islandfam2008,

Just to add a bit to Jacqui's response, if you do find yourselves on North Uist, you should visit the Balranald Nature Reserve. There is an RSPB hut there, with information on all of the birds that have been seen there. It's on the migratory path for many sea and shore birds, and is in a beautiful location. There is a hike of about three miles which takes you along the Western shore on the return, between the white sand beaches and the machair. If you're there in nesting season, you have to watch out for the Arctic terns. If you get to close to their nests, they will dive bomb you!

From personal experience, I can recommend the Temple View Hotel in Carinish. They have six en-suite letting rooms, and the meals are excellent. We stayed there for a couple of nights, and enjoyed dinner there.

I had wanted to do what Jacqui suggested - taking the ferry from Barra to Oban, but when I told Mrs. A. that she would be on a ferry for 4 1/2 hours, she said "no way!" in most colorful terms! So we ended up travelling Uig - Tarbert - Leverburgh - Berneray - Lochmaddy- Uig. But we did get down as far as Kildonan before turning back.

Once again, very best wishes.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
991 posts

Everyone, This has been great. My daughter and I are going to Scotland in September and the plan is to go to some of the islands. At first the Orkneys were on the list but due to time constraints, didn't make the cut. So we're sticking to the west. We thought we had things sorted but now you've all given us more to think about. Its all good, we have time to plan. This will be my 5th trip to Scotland and her second. I know, I know. How can I have been here 4 times and not gone to Skye.

Posted by
940 posts

Hi, Laurel,

Don't feel badly. We didn't visit Arran until our 24th. trip to Scotland. Once we got there, we wondered how we could have passed it by for so many years!

Best wishes for your next visit!

Mike (Auchterless)