Search this site:
Colonsay is one of the most beguiling of the Hebrides, a small Scottish island with a big appeal for lovers of the outdoors.
Drive down the hill towards the douce bed-and breakfasts of Oban and the bay will catch your eye. Offshore, the island of Kerrera forms a humpy green breakwater and protects Oban's piers from the south-westerlies. Close at hand, the breezy crescent of the town's promenade is lined with more hotels, as well as shops selling everything from Scottish designer jewellery to organic oatcakes.
For many, this is the end of the drive, or the rail journey. But Oban should be a beginning, for it is the gateway to the Inner Hebrides and the island of Colonsay. Out beyond Kerrera, the hills of the island of Mull are conspicuous, but the very best is out of sight, south-westwards down the sea-lanes once ploughed by the galleys of the Lords of the Isles in the Middle Ages.
The Caledonian Macbrayne ferry takes just over two hours to reach the island of Colonsay. (Five sailings a week in the summer season from Oban plus there is one ferry a week from Kennacraig on the mainland, via Port Askaig on Islay.) On a day of even average visibility, the island views on the way are outstanding. Clear of Kerrera, Mull stretches far westwards, its water-fluted cliffs all blocks and battleship prows. On the landward side, beyond Seil and the rough dome of uninhabited Scarba, Jura is humped and sinuous, back-lit silver-grey. Finally, when the rock-twisted Garvellachs, the Isles of the Sea, drop away, Colonsay itself takes shape out of the glittering sea, dead ahead. It is indeed a poetic voyage and perhaps a plate of Caledonian MacBrayne's finest fish and chips en route is needed as a reminder that this is no luxury cruise, but a vital island lifeline. About 120 residents depend on the CalMac ferries for supplies, livestock movements, mail - and visitors.
Hebridean Air also flies from Oban to Colonsay but we like the ferry journey as it feels an essential part of this island adventure.
Colonsay is barely eight miles long. Beyond its western shores lies Canada, give or take a couple of lighthouses. Seen from the boat, the island gives little away on first impression. Grey rock rubs through a threadbare moorland. Then, as the ferry's bow-thrusters churn and edge it deftly to Scalasaig pier, a bright green field can be seen rolling up to the island's only hotel - which is a cool and stylish affair. Meanwhile, the post office van is down from the only general store, and in the general bustle is the hotel courtesy luggage car, a tractor possibly driven by a sheepdog, boxes of oysters blowing bubbles while awaiting loading and an assortment of green wellies in which stalk earnest ornithologists.
The boat's arrival is an important island event. Some visitors take their cars, as there are at least 14 miles of public road. Others visitors can hire bikes. In addition to the hotel, there are a few guest houses, as well as a backpackers hostel. There is also a surprising amount of self-catering accommodation - mainly estate cottages belonging the Strathcona family for over 100 years.
The grounds of Colonsay House, a rambling, pink mansion, with their tender rhododendrons, thickets of rampant escallonia and many species much rarer, are open to the public on Wednesdays and Friday afternoons plus there is a nice cafe here too.The house is half-hidden in woodlands in the island's loch-straddled and sheltered interior. There are also five apartments located in a south facing wing available to rent.
Even to the explorer on foot, the island soon reveals itself to be much more than rocky moors on the Atlantic edge. The farms raise sheep and cattle, the rabbit-cropped machair is shadowed by hunting buzzards, while wild goats browse round the edges of protected patches of unusual Hebridean natural woodlands of oak,hazel and willow. The habitat list also includes gleaming sandy beaches and extensive tidal sandflats as well as impressive sea-cliffs.
The hotel is a social centre. In the public bar you can chat to locals. There are also ceilidhs in the village hall every Saturday during the main season where visitors are both welcomed and encouraged to contribute to the entertainment.
The island also hosts a range of popular events such as The Festival of Spring - 28th April - 19th May, 2012 . The annual Folk Festival is from 13th to 16th September 2012. It attracts some of the best of Scotland's folk music talent and this event sells out fast! The island even has its own book festival in April each year.
Enjoy part two of our Colonsay adventure, so click on the link.
Return to the main Scottish islands page.
Return to the Scotlandinaweek main page
Search this site:
Scotland in Three Days