From Glasgow to Colonsay: A Tour of the Inner Hebrides
A Tour of the Inner Hebrides
From places famed for peaty whisky to a wilderness roamed by deer, Scotland’s bonnie western isles are best explored on a road trip
Glasgow’s blend of history, lively pubs and innovative art galleries makes for a fun break. When you want to escape the city, that’s pretty easy too. The ruggedly beautiful islands of the Inner Hebrides are just a couple of hours away by road and ferry. Yet they’re so alluring we’d happily catch a long-haul flight to visit them.
Here’s what to see and do on a road trip through the archipelago, driving from Glasgow to Colonsay.Back to destination page
Isle of Arran
The Isle of Arran packs a lot of personality into its tiny frame. But then, it’s had plenty of time to cultivate its charm. The Isle of Arran Heritage Museum showcases some of its history, with an early Bronze age grave and a head reconstructed from a 5,000-year-old skull among the macabre but fascinating displays.
Walk a one-hour loop to see the ancient stone circles of Machrie Moor, made up of standing shards of granite and red sandstone piercing the moorland.
Brodick Castle is the UK’s only island country park. It’s closed until spring 2019 for improvements (including a new tearoom), but you can still admire the orange-brick baronial home from the outside. The gardens are one of its most alluring attractions, with rhododendrons blooming in hues from lilac to cerise, woodlands inhabited by red squirrels and bathing pools.
Nearby, Brodick Bay is a lovely spot for kayaking, swimming (in summer, mind – the water’s a little chilly) or just sitting on the sand-and-shingle beach, gazing at the view. With the peak of Goatfell behind and the Firth of Clyde ahead, the trickiest thing is knowing which way to look.
How to get there: It will take you about two and a half hours from Glasgow, via the A737 including the ferry crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick.
Arrive here on a day with clear, cornflower skies and sunshine and you might just have to remind yourself this is Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, not Saint Lucia. Cliffs form brackets around champagne-hued beaches, tucked around the island is a green patchwork of fields, hills and woodland. And all this is ringed by deep navy blue waters with splotches of milky turquoise.
Then, of course, there’s more than just a wee dram of whisky. Islay is famous for its smoky, salty single malts, which owe their distinctive taste to the island’s peat, used to toast the barley. Laguvulin and Laphroaig are among the most famous, and offer distillery and peat bog tours.
Potter around the charming Port Charlotte and Bowmore villages before heading to Saligo Bay, on the Atlantic west coast for sunset. The uninterrupted view as the sun dips into the ocean, bathing the sand in soft pink light, draws photographers from across the world.
How to get there: It's a long but scenic drive and ferry ride to Islay. Your journey from Glasgow will take you via Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, a vast area of mountains and lakes, an ideal place to take a break from the driving and enjoy the countryside.
Wild red deer outnumber the human residents of this rugged island, and by quite some margin – there are around 5,500 of the elegant creatures and just 200 or so people. So, it’s pretty likely you’ll spot one or three during your time here. Deer, that is – not necessarily people.
If you’re looking for solitude, this is the place. Head to the wildest corners of this untamed land and you might not see another soul for days.
On the east side of the island, ocean bluffs blanketed with bracken and heather overlook tiny, sandy coves. Golden eagles and buzzards soar above woodland bogs and valleys grazed by deer.
The Paps of Jura, a trio of conical mountains on the western side, are steep and challenging to climb – but don’t let that stop you. The summits richly reward the effort, with views over the valley to the sea beyond.
If you do crave human contact, follow the scent of smoke and salt to Jura Distillery. Long, skinny and shaped like a bottle with a wedge taken out of the middle, the island shares Islay’s talent for peaty single malts.
Or visit Barnhill Farmhouse, where George Orwell lived from 1946-48. He sought peace and quiet while finishing 1984 – and he certainly found it.
How to get there: It is about 6 hours’ journey time from Glasgow to the Isle of Jura, including two ferry crossings, Kennacraig to Port Askaig and then a short hop over to Feolin from Port Askaig. On leaving Glasgow, follow the M8, A82 and A83 to Argyll and Bute to board.
Colonsay is a mere 10 miles long and two miles wide and, as you explore, it feels like most of that is made up of smooth sand beaches, rocky outcrops and thick, bouncy heather.
It’s hard not to smile, especially when you bump into one of the island’s most characterful residents. The shaggy fringed, curved-horned Highland cattle that graze the meadows look like they need a haircut or a headband.
The cows share this Inner Hebridean land with around 135 people. Combing the beaches, exploring shops with local crafts and fragrant honey, and tasting freshly shucked oysters right by the ocean, you’ll wish you were one of those lucky few.
How to get there: On leaving Glasgow, follow M8, A82 and A85 to Oban. From there board the Colonsay - Oban ferry, for the 3-hour crossing.