Holy Isle is a small island in the Firth of Clyde, off the Isle of Arran – not to be confused with Holy Island in Northumberland. I have looked at it so many times from Lamlash and was determined to get there, even though it’s an epic journey by public transport of two trains, two ferries and a bus each way from Glasgow. In the end, it took almost a year for weather and tide times to align and I just caught the last sailing of the year.
The ferry is a small boat operated by Lamlash Cruises. Check their site for sailing times, these vary according to tides and other factors. The journey from Lamlash takes around 15 minutes and the view of Arran from the boat is worth the trip alone. Grant, the skipper, is very knowledgeable and gives visitors a good introduction to the island on arrival.
The whole island is owned by the same Buddhist community as Samye Ling. The main building is a monastery which is open for retreats but closed to day visitors, apart from the garden. There are only really two paths to take – a walk to the other end of the island either easily along the shore, or more strenuously over the top. It’s about 2 miles end-to-end and there’s a lot to take in along the way.
Getting around is simple as there are no roads and barely any people. There are some Christian sites like the cave of St Molaise, sitting alongside brightly painted rocks featuring Buddhist deities, and populations of wild Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats and Soay sheep. It took me around 3 hours to amble to the lighthouse and back. It’s not far but there’s a lot to look at.
There are also two lighthouses on the island. The Inner lighthouse is on a private part of the island, and the Outer or Pillar Rock Lighthouse is at the end of the public path where you can sit and enjoy a good view of the Firth of Clyde.
How to get to Holy Isle on public transport
Train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan (Scotrail)
At the start of 2022, I planned to go to as many different islands on as many different ferries as I reasonably could. By September I felt like I was underachieving somewhat, so I went for three ferries in one day (no islands though), from Gourock to Dunoon (two ways) with a side-trip to Kilcreggan.
The first leg, Calmac’s passenger only Gourock-Dunoon ferry gets you to the heart of Dunoon in 25 minutes. Gourock ferry terminal is close to the station so it’s an easy day trip from Glasgow on public transport.
Dunoon is a slightly forlorn former holiday resort. I used to go there on holiday in the 1980s and forever associate it with rainy bank holidays where everything is shut. This was a better day, and I enjoyed wandering about the pier and trailing around the charity shops.
Instead of going back the same way I walked along to Hunter’s Quay to catch the car ferry to McInroy’s Point in Gourock, passing Puffin Rock on the way. This used to be called Jim Crow (it was painted like a crow) and I remember it as the highlight of any visit to Dunoon. It has been reimagined and repainted as Puffin Rock now and is part of a small but impressive bunch of brightly painted erratic boulders around this part of Scotland.
After that I was back in Gourock early enough to nip over to Kilcreggan on the Rosneath Peninsula – the passenger-only ferry leaves from the same terminal as the Gourock-Dunoon passenger ferry. This is a short and sweet ride, only 13 minutes. There is a small row of shops at Kilcreggan and a cafe where you can sit and watch the water where there are cruise ships, nuclear submarines, seabirds and dolphins.
Barnhill, where George Orwell wrote 1984 is beyond the end of the public road, as is Corryvreckan, the third largest whirlpool in the world. Jura is covered in private estates, so we couldn’t see where the KLF burnt a million quid (YouTube) either. Ah well!
At the end of the road we did find Lussa Gin, a gin distillery run by three local women. Claire, who kindly gave us a tour first came to Jura with the KLF. There’s not much work for women on Jura, so three friends started Lussa Gin.
The botanicals are all grown locally (right outside the door!) and it tastes gorgeous.
A new book, called Sign Here is now available in the shop. It’s the fourth in a series of photobooks – a collection of signs – old and new, from the hand-lettered and beautifully drawn, to the idiosyncratic and frankly falling-apart. This was the first book I started laying out, as I like signs and have been photographing them for years, but for some reason the other three books jumped the queue.
This the main road on Jura that runs from the west coast to Ardlussa on the east. There isn’t a lot to see, but the wilderness is part of its charm. George Orwell wrote 1984 here, calling it an ‘un-gettable’ place.
What you can’t miss is ‘the Paps’ of Jura. These three mountains are visible for miles around, and make the island’s skyline easy to identify from any direction. Even though they are omnipresent, they are also strangely out of reach.