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Scottish Islands.

Next year we plan to visit Scottish Islands.
It will probably be about 4 weeks and thinking maybe in May or June.
We have travelled the West Coast and did visit Skye and Raasay.
We tend to enjoy the quieter less commercially touristic places.
So any island hoppers out there?
Favourites? Unique experiences? Challenges of reaching some of the more out of the way islands?
All tips and info welcome.
PS, One that has always intrigued me is St Kilda. Has anyone visited it? Worthwhile? How difficult to access?

Posted by
5678 posts

You should think about the northern islands Orkney, Shetland and maybe Fair Isle. Orkney is loaded with interesting Neolithic sites. It is a bit more crowded than it used to be as there are cruise boats that visit, but you should be able to dodge them. I've not been to Shetland, but would love to visit someday. Check out Ann Cleeves' mysteries based on Shetland and Fair Isle.

If you want to stay in the west, I really liked Mull. Everyone visits from Oban on a day tour so it's much quieter.


Posted by
1019 posts

Yes... check out Shetland islands. I was there in 2010 and would love to go back. My 2nd great grandfather came from Shetland. We found cousins while we were there. Such beauty and birds! Puffins galore at Sumburgh. We flew into Aberdeen and took the overnight northlink ferry to Lerwick.


Posted by
683 posts

The only Scottish islands I've been to were Mull and Iona, and they were wonderful. Mull has your Scotland-standard breathtaking scenery/wildlife/attractive villages/walking trails, while Iona has remarkable buildings (Iona Abbey and others) that date to as early as the mid-6th century. Mull is not particularly touristy, at least it was not when we went four years ago; Iona is more crowded, but not disturbingly so--a short walk took us away from the one crowded area, the town landing--and the place is amazing. It was haunting to imagine people living out there, literally at the end of the earth, prior to the coming of the Northmen. (BTW, we heard a European Cuckoo calling from a wooded area, and my first thought was, "why in the world would someone take a cuckoo clock into the woods?")

Having said that, the suggestions in the posts above are great, and Mull/Iona are a bit out of the way if you plan on the Orkneys and points north.

Posted by
752 posts

I spent 10 days in the Outer Hebrides in May 2017, and wish I had stayed longer. The day trips to St Kilda leave from Lewis and Harris, pricey but worth it when the weather is lovely. Not difficult at all.

I chose to fly into Stornoway, picked up a car from Car Hire Hebrides at the airport. Since you’ve already seen the west coast and inner Hebrides, the flight would save time. There is also the famous flight into Barra’s beach landing strip. And of course there are ferries from the west coast, as well as Skye.

Should you decide to visit, book accommodations in January for May as lodging is limited on these islands.

Every island has its own special flavor, Peter May’s coffee table book Hebrides will give you images to savor, and his novels will provide the atmosphere and of the first questions someone asked me in Uig is “are you a Gaelic speaker, Barbara?”

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, Mo'pak,

I'll second the choice of the Outer Hebrides. The beaches of South Harris are stunning - the equivalent of gorgeous beaches anywhere in the world. The best trips to St. Kilda leave from Leverburgh in South Harris. We went with Angus, and Kilda Cruises. It definitely is the trip of a lifetime. It had been on my bucket list for about 30 years after I read Tom Steel's book. It cost 190 pounds two years ago - it has probably gone up a bit by now. But it is well worth the expense. Be prepared to do some hiking once you get there. It truly is the Edge of the World.

The Uists are pretty amazing, too. Balranald Bird Sanctuary, on North Uist, is a must see, as are some of the west coast beaches.

Very best wishes.


Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
396 posts

We are hardcore hikers Mike so no fears there.
Usually pretty frugal but like you St Kilda has had me enthralled for a long time so I would be prepared to spend to get there.
Thanks everyone for the suggestions.
I did google the Barra beach landing. Pretty cool. I have landed at Lukla in Nepal and Meleleuca at South Coast Tassie. I loved those so will give that some thought.

Posted by
7571 posts

We flew to Shetland in 2015, rented a car upon arrival, and drove to our B&B on the west side, near Sandness. Being in a less-commercially-touristic place, having a rental car was really helpful. After 3 days we turned in the rental car at the docks in Lerwick and hopped on the ferry to Orkney, arriving late at night. We rented a small house on an estate (no longer being rented out-think the estate got sold a couple years ago) and the owner met us at the docks in Kirkwall. He said the “bad news” was that the next day was one of two days in the whole year (maybe those numbers have changed) that a cruise ship was arriving, but “good news” was that their passengers would only be there for the day, and would be touring (read: taking up) the major Neolithic sights that day only. So we drove south the next morning, seeing the Italian Chapel, Churchill Barriers, and Tomb of the Eagles, among other things. The next 3 days we saw sights and towns to the west and north.

We turned in our Orkney rental car and flew to Inverness, picking up our 3rd rental car for the journey towards Skye, mostly in a pouring rainstorm. Skye was the 3rd great island of that trip ... wait, Scotland’s mainland is, itself, an island. All great!

Posted by
752 posts

Hi, Mo’pak,
If you like dramatic takeoffs and landings, have you been to Paro, Bhutan? Like a slingshot.

I took Kilda Cruises as well. Excellent boat and service from Leverburgh. Do you know you can camp overnight on Kilda? The Cruise company charges double, but it might be worth it to have the island almost to yourself. I met someone who had done this, and they said it was one of the most memorable experiences of their life. Most people find the day trip to be sufficient, though.

There are also several companies that offer tours to nearer islands, and well as shorter rib boat trips.

Mike is right about Balrenald, especially during nesting time. The nesting birds help you keep to the marked trails. :) Try to time your visit for one of the reserve’s interpreter tours, about 2 hours.

Since you are a hiker, there are some great day hikes on Lewis, as well as Harris. On Bhaltos Peninsula, for example, there is a trail leading up into the mountain to a series of Norse mills. Not well marked on the hiking maps, but a resident showed me the way.

I hope you do get to St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides now, Mo’pak. While it still retains a remote feeling.

Posted by
396 posts

Also an avid birdwatcher so I am finding these suggestions very helpful.
I will google the Bhutan flight thanks Barbara.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi once again Mo'pak,

If you make it to Harris and Lewis, you should definitely see the Standing Stones at Callanish, and the Dun Carloway broch. Also the black house museum.

Also, if you have time, the small isles are well worth visiting. There's lots of hiking on Eigg and Rum. They're definitely off the grid, especially Eigg, which has its own electric supply, provided by solar and wind power. Eigg has the Sgurr, for climbing, and Rum has Kinloch Castle, which is one of the most fascinating castles in Scotland. I can highly recommend the Rum Bunkhouse and the Glebe Barn on Eigg for overnight (or longer) stays. Both Rum and Eigg can be reached from Mallaig via CalMac, and also from Arisaig.

Harris and Lewis are becoming very popular tourist destinations, so booking well in advance is very highly recommended, as Barbara pointed out. I've found the TI office in Tarbert to be very helpful if you're having difficulty finding accommodation.

Enjoy your island hopping!


Mike (Auchterless)