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Holy Isle

Holy Isle from Lamlash, Isle of Arran

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.

Lamlash cruises boat at Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

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 Centre for World Peace and Health on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

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.

Buddist rock paintings on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

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.

Holy Isle, Outer or Pillar Rock lighthouse, Holy Isle, Arran, Scotland

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)
  • Calmac ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran
  • Local bus from Brodick to Lamlash (Stagecoach)
  • Lamlash Cruises ferry from Lamlash old pier to Holy Isle – this runs from Spring to Autumn at various times and usually needs to be booked in advance
  • There is a toilet on Holy Isle, but no other facilities so come prepared
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Dunoon and aroon

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.

Old building on Dunoon's Pier

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.

An old triangular metal sign showing attractions in Dunoon

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.

Puffin Rock in Dunoon with a Western Ferries ferry in the background

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.

Kilcreggan Ferry Terminal on the Rosneath Peninsula

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.

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A Day on Jura – part 1: Nothing To See Here

The main road on the isle of Jura

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.

The Paps of Jura

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.

Red deer at Ardlussa, Isle of Jura

Jura is also famous for having more deer than people (around 7,000 deer v 200 people), so there’s always that.

The Islay-Jura ferry

To get there, there is a car ferry from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin (a 5-10 minute crossing) or the Jura passenger ferry that runs from Tayvallich on the mainland to Craighouse, the main town on Jura.

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A trip to Colonsay

Colonsay bookshop and sheep, Isle of Colonsay

Colonsay is a small island (population 125) in the Southern Hebrides (part of the Inner Hebrides) off the west coast of Scotland. The ferry runs daily from Oban, or from Islay twice a week in summer.

There is a bookshop, a microbrewery, two gin distilleries and Colonsay house and gardens (closed when we visited). It is also covered with beautiful quiet beaches and has its own species of bee.

We hung about on Colonsay Golf Course, which has a fantastic setting, like the Bunabhainneadar tennis course on Harris. It operates via an honesty box, and local rules allow “a free drop for balls disappearing into rabbit-holes or taken by the ravens”.

It was covered in relics of something or other and led down to a deserted bay.

After a trip to Oronsay (of which, more later) the last stop was something to eat at the excellent Colonsay Pantry before the beautiful journey back to Islay.

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King of Piel

The Ship Inn and Jetty, Piel Island

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 King of Piel's Throne, Piel Island

The ‘coronation’ ceremony involves sitting on a throne and having beer poured over their head.

Piel Ferry to Piel Island

Piel is a tidal island, and can be reached by ferry from Roa (at times).

Tide's out, Piel Island

At low tide, it’s possible to walk across the sands (careful now).

Pilots' Houses, Piel Island

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.

Piel Island artefacts in the Ship Inn

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.

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A trip to Yoker

Happy new year!

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.

Yoker Ferry old waiting room

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.

Ferry Inn, Renfrew

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.

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A trip to Rothesay

Wemyss Bay station ticket office

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.

(*pronounced Weems)

Wemyss Bay station

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.

Rothesay fountain

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.

Rothesay puppets

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.

Gents Hairdresser, Rothesay

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.

Wesley Snips, Rothesay

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.

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Bonus island: Luing

While we’re on the subject of islands, here’s Luing, from a visit in 2017.

Luing is one of the Slate Islands, in the same group as Easdale.

There is a small car ferry that runs from North Cuan on the mainland to South Cuan on Luing.

It is quite an unusual shape. The crossing takes about 5 minutes.

The island itself is great for walking. We walked from the ferry landing to Cullipool, the main settlement, and visited the Atlantic Islands Heritage Centre.

It was very picturesque and unspoilt – an easy way to get away from it all.

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What I did on my holidays: Part three – Lismore

Following on from What I did on my summer holidays: Part two – Kerrera

Island 3: Lismore

A white shed with a red corrugated iron roof on Lismore

Lismore is an island in the Inner Hebrides, reachable from Oban.

Church noticeboard on Lismore

It is 10 miles long (but fairly thin) and takes some time to explore.

View from Port Ramsay on Lismore

There are beautiful views everywhere.

Whitewashed houses at Port Ramsay, Lismore

And a lot of history. The Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre tells the story of the island.

The Oban Achnacroish ferry passing the old pier on Lismore

Two ferries run to Lismore. The larger car ferry operated by Caledonian MacBrayne runs from Oban to Achnacroish in the centre of the island. The journey takes around 1 hour. Booking is recommended.

The Lismore-Point Appin ferry

At the north end of the island, a smaller passenger ferry runs between Point on Lismore, and Port Appin on the mainland. The crossing takes around 10 minutes.

Achnacroish ferry slipway on Lismore

We visited on a hot, clear day and it was spectacular. I look forward to visiting again for a better look.

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What I did on my summer holidays: Part two – Kerrera

Following on from What I did on my summer holidays: Part one – Easdale

Island 2: Kerrera

Kerrera Ferry leaves the slipway in Gallanach near Oban

Kerrera is a small island near Oban. Cars are allowed for residents only.

The Kerrera ferry runs from Gallanach, 2 miles from Oban – follow the road round from the main ferry terminal until you get to the slipway.

The Kerrera Ferry waiting to cross to Gallanach

The MV Carvoria is the smallest ferry in Calmac’s fleet. The crossing takes around 5 minutes, carries 12 passengers, and does not usually need to be booked.

There isn’t a lot to do on Kerrera apart from walk, but the walks are scenic, and full of wildlife. I was accompanied by a while-tailed sea eagle flying along the shore.

The Kerrera Tea Garden and Bunkhouse is a good landmark to aim for (open seasonally), and there is a well-stocked farm shop up the hill from the ferry landing.

Next: What I did on my holidays: Part three – Lismore