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.
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.
Piel Island – a tiny island in Cumbria off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness – is looking for a new ruler. For reasons that have become slightly hazy, the licensee of the Ship Inn, Piel’s only pub, is crowned the King or Queen of Piel.
The ‘coronation’ ceremony involves sitting on a throne and having beer poured over their head.
Piel is a tidal island, and can be reached by ferry from Roa (at times).
At low tide, it’s possible to walk across the sands (careful now).
For a small island, it punches above its weight with one substantial ruined castle, one thriving pub and one row of very solid-looking houses.
When we visited, there was a great display in the Ship Inn, full of historical artefacts.
If you like to get away from it all, it might be worth a shot.
I took advantage of the sunny weather to go somewhere I haven’t been before – a trip on the Renfrew-Yoker Ferry. This is the only regular ferry that I know of still running in Glasgow, since the Govan Ferry has been off for the last couple of years.
This crossing has been in operation over a hundred years, in one form or another. The old Renfrew Ferry is now an entertainment venue in Glasgow city centre. The current ferry is for foot passengers and cycles only, and runs on demand between Renfrew and Yoker. The ferry is operated by ClydeLink – check for updates on Twitter @RenfrewFerry.
The ferryman said they have lost 90% of their business over the festive season and have had to implement the first price rise in 10 years. A single journey now costs £2.50 (was £2) – cash only.
The crossing only takes a few minutes. Not the most scenic, it has to be said, but there is a great moment in the middle where you can look right up and down the Clyde. For a city that’s so connected to its river, it’s actually quite hard to get on it (unless you join a rowing club).
Any trip to Yoker is accompanied by the spirit of Limmy’s DeeDee, who now has a cafe named after him on Dumbarton Road.
Thought I would squeeze in another island while the weather is still decent. Off to Rothesay we go.
Rothesay is the main town on the Isle of Bute. It is easy to get there from Glasgow by train and as a bonus, you get to go through Wemyss* Bay Station, one of the most beautiful railway stations in the UK.
Get off the train and go down the adjoining walkway to get the ferry (operated by CalMac). The scenic crossing through the First of Clyde takes around 35 minutes.
Bute is one of the easiest islands to visit, because it’s so accessible. Get off the ferry and you’re right in the centre of Rothesay. The Esplanade has a lovely vintage seaside feel.
There are all kinds of shops and odd things to look at. Sadly, Zavaroni’s, home of the Top Hat (an ice cream cone with a Tunnock’s snowball squashed into it), and the Victorian toilets were both closed.
This little gem was still open – I was taking a picture of the shopfront, thinking it had long closed, when the owner came back from lunch and gave me a wee look inside. He said he’ll be closing up at the end of the year.
How can you compete with young guns like Wesley Snips?
After that it was time to head home again, with a beautiful view of all the Victorian villas along the shore and a plan to see more of Bute on my next visit.