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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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The last of Islay

Claire from Lussa Gin gave us a tip-off about the Islay Woollen Mill, which is just off the main road to Port Askaig.

Started in 1883 and still going strong, the mill supplies high-end tailors in Savile Row and further afield.

It is most famous for weaving the tweed used in Braveheart and other big name Hollywood productions. Their fabrics are produced on two traditional Dobcross looms and shipped all over the world.

The vibe inside is distinctly down-to-earth – an old building with lots of character filled with old looms, yarn cones, rolls of fabric and weaving paraphernalia, all higgledy-piggledy.

Lucky visitors can get an impromptu tour from the owners and try out the big scissors.

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The Library in the Forest

Eas Mor Library on the Isle of Arran

This is Eas Mor Library on the isle of Arran. It’s a little log cabin in a forest beside a waterfall.

Eas Mor Library interior, Isle of Arran, Scotland

The library is filled with books and messages left by visitors over the years.

There are drawings, messages and all kinds of wisdom, from inspirational quotes to ‘We saw a jellyfish’.

Eas Mor Library, Isle of Arran, Scotland - Drink vodka

It was created by Eas Mor Ecology who are working hard to enhance the beautiful area around the Eas Mor waterfall.

The path to Eas Mor Library, Isle of Arran, Scotland

It’s a steep (but fairly short) hike to the top on well-kept paths. There’s a circular route, which is also a steep hike down in places, depending on which route you take.

Eas Mor is 1-2 miles from Kildonan in the south of Arran. There is a car park and a bus stop near the entrance just off the A841. A cafe is planned for the summer.

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A Day on Jura: part 2 – Something To See Here

Knockrome Library, Isle of Jura

Following on from A Day on Jura: part 1 – Nothing To See Here. Once you’re out of Craighouse (the main town on Jura) there’s virtually nothing there, and what is there is often out of bounds.

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!

Lussa Gin, Ardlussa, Jura

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.

Locally grown botanicals for Lussa Gin

The botanicals are all grown locally (right outside the door!) and it tastes gorgeous.

Tea on the Beach sign, Inverlussa, Isle of Jura

Claire recommended Tea on the Beach at Inverlussa.

Tea on the Beach, Ardlussa, Isle of Jura

It’s a horse box converted into a tea room with a selection of freshly-made cakes and an honesty box, run by local school kids. A lovely place to stop before the ferry back to Islay.

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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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The long walk to Oronsay

Oronsay Island, Southern Hebrides

Oronsay is a tiny island, connected to Colonsay by a beach which is only accessible at low tide.

The walk between Oronsay and Colonsay, Southern Hebrides, Scotland

A 4-5 hour circular walk takes you over the crossing to see the priory and an RSPB sanctuary.

The beach between Oronsay and Colonsay, Southern Hebrides, Scotland

Compared to the other tidal islands I’ve visited (Burgh Island, St Michael’s Mount, Cramond Island) the walk to Oronsay was a long and not particularly enjoyable schlep across wet sand and standing water.

The marker on Oronsay island, Inner Hebrides

I’d love to say it was worth the walk, but I was so fed up I turned back as soon as I got to the waymarker. Sorry Oronsay! Another day perhaps.

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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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Islay – a round church, a square lighthouse and other architectural highlights

Portnhaven Church, Isle of Islay

Portnahaven Church was designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1828. The two doors are reputed to allow the populations of Portnahaven and the neighbouring village of Port Wemyss to enter separately and remain segregated when inside. Very Christian!

It is one of the best remaining examples of a ‘parliamentary church’, part of a wave of church-building (funded by Parliament) designed to better serve churchgoers in remote areas. Thanks Maraid for the tip-off.

The Round Church in Bowmore, Isle of Islay

Kilarrow Parish Church, more commonly known as The Round Church sits at the top of Bowmore’s main street. It was built in 1767 and is one of few round churches in the UK. The story goes that it was designed to be round so the devil couldn’t hide in any corners, but this seems to be more fiction than fact.

The church is not usually open apart from Sunday mornings, but you can arrange a visit by contacting the parish clerk on the number at the entrance.

Carraig Fhada Lighthouse, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay

Carraig Fhada Lighthouse on the Mull of Oa is a beautiful thing from any angle. We visited at 7.30am on the hottest day of the year.

It is Scotland’s only square lighthouse, and was commissioned by Walter Frederick Campbell, the Laird of Islay, in memory of his wife Lady Ellinor Campbell who died young in 1832. There is a beautiful dedication to her on one side of the lighthouse.

You can walk across the little path to get right up close (except at high tide). The lighthouse itself is not usually open to the public.

Further reading: a great tour of the lights of Islay and Jura by a very dedicated lighthouse-bagger.

The Royal Arch Masonic Hall, Bowmore, Islay

And finally… a pleasing doorway. Bowmore’s Royal Arch Masonic Hall has been beautifully restored and is now Bowmore Lodge holiday accommodation.

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The lonely petrol pumps of Islay

Port Askaig garage, Isle of Islay

I’ve been on the Isle of Islay for a few days. This Brutalist shelter was the first thing I saw after getting off the ferry at Port Askaig.

I thought it was a bus stop, but it’s a lone petrol pump. The shape of the island is cut out of one side.

Port Charlotte Garage, Isle of Islay, Scotland

After that, I couldn’t help noticing other tiny garages. This one was in Port Charlotte.

Bowmore Filling Station, Isle of Islay, Scotland

Bowmore Filling Station, in the middle of one of the main town’s streets seemed like a megastore in comparison.

All operated by Gleaner, a family-owned Scottish fuel supplier.

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A postcard from Corrie

Corrie Harbour with sheep, Isle of Arran

I found this idyllic harbour last week in Corrie on the Isle of Arran.

Corrie Harbour with sheep and swan

Corrie lies on the north-east side of the island. It has two harbours – this one is known as Sandstone Quay because of the sandstone that was quarried locally and shipped from here.

Sandstone Quay at Corrie on the Isle of Arran - harbour view with black sheep and rocks

The sheep came from the Glasgow Garden Festival, and are a fun presence. There is also a lot going on rock-wise, if you like that kind of thing (I do).

Corrie Harbour with swan. Isle of Arran

The shoreline is full of plants, lichens, birds and sealife. The textures and colours are amazing.

Corrie sand, Isle of Arran

The colour of the sand is warm and inviting. It reminded me of butterscotch Angel Delight.