Islands of Scotland
Scotland: A spring in your Tartan
Whether an enthusiastic outdoor adventurer or an avid island hopper, Scotland’s plethora of almost 800 islands provides a wealth of rugged and sandy coastlines to choose from for the perfect spring getaway.
With a variety of islands scattered across the country to explore, visitors can make memories to last a lifetime from any of our sand-sea escape recommendations below.
Spring brings tranquil long days and bright vast skies across this archipelago, and with direct flights from London City airport with Loganair commencing from 4 April 2023, the new service will provide even easier access to short breaks or longer stays.
Feel the fresh Orcadian breeze when exploring the outer-isles by e-bike – suitable for a variety of ages and abilities; more seasoned cyclists can opt to discover the stunning landscapes and heritage with a guided mountain bike tour.
A stop off at the Scapa Flow Museum, with the newly restored and extended attraction home to more than 250 fascinating artefacts, is a great way to discover the story of Scapa Flow and Orkney’s role during two world wars, with the option to refuel in the new café.
Orkney’s upcoming Folk Festival (May), which is set to get toes tapping with scores from Orkney musicians and singers, is a wonderful way to experience the buzz from the local community. The line-up includes acts from across the UK, Scandinavia and North America. Scottish headliners include the funk-trad-electronic fusion of Elephant Sessions, stomping favourites Breabach and soulful Kinnaris Quintet.
The reward for travelling this far north is an incredible combination of wildlife, breath-taking scenery, isolation and tranquillity. The longer days mean it’s even easier to become one with nature, marvel at the wildflowers beginning to bloom or take to the water with The Mousa Boat, Shetland Seabird Tours or Sea Birds and Seals for an awe-inspiring wildlife experience; from watching a mass gannet diving up-close right through to spotting otters and whales.
Shetland is the place to explore the seaside and enjoy miles of breathtaking coastline, fringed by towering clifftops, pristine beaches and crystal-clear blue shores. Intrepid adventurers can visit the Scalloway Museum and the world-class Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve, discovering the history and natural heritage of Sumburgh Head from early geological beginnings and Iron Age settlers to Lighthouse Keepers, whales, puffins and much more.
Visitors can also expect a feast for the ears as music runs in the blood of Shetlanders with the Shetland Folk Festival (April), promising an exciting mix of homegrown talent and visiting acts.
For those looking for a literary fix, June brings the Shetland Noir Festival, a four-day programme packed full of internationally known writer events, workshops, panel discussions and outings. With headline guests including Val McDermid – dubbed the Queen of Crime – selling over 17 million books to date across the globe, alongside Elly Griffiths, Martin Edwards and Richard Osman – whose first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, and his second, The Man Who Died Twice, are number one million-copy international bestsellers.
Endless white beaches, grassland bustling with bird life and freely roaming ponies – the six islands that make up Uist in the Outer Hebrides (Berneray, North Uist, Grimsay, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay) offer visitors a special slice of paradise.
One of the best ways to explore these unique islands is while walking or cycling the Hebridean Way, taking time to find out about the close connection between the locals and the land in this remote part of the world and even befriending some of the four-legged inhabitants along the way.
From taking a croft tour in South Uist, enjoying the fine sands of Prince’s Beach on Eriskay – the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have first stepped foot on Scottish soil – to ending the day with a sip of local Downpour Gin, made with blossoms of wild Hebridean heather – there are plenty of ways to connect more deeply with these islands.
How about a city break and an island adventure all in one? Visitors can enjoy fantastic museums, a spot of retail therapy and a night out in Scotland’s UNESCO City of Music, Glasgow – then jump on a train to Largs (under one hour) the next morning and hop over to Cumbrae on an eight-minute ferry, making it Scotland’s most accessible island.
Cycle hire is available from the main town of Millport, and the island will not fail to delight with its miles of stunning coastline. The 10-mile circular loop around the island’s main road, which is suitable for families, offers views of the North Ayrshire coast and the Isle of Bute.
The newly opened self-catering cabins at Jack’s Alt-Stays, where quirky interior design meets eco-consciousness, will make the perfect home away from home. The cabins have been built locally from sustainable materials and are powered by 100% renewable energy. All five cabins have a traditional Swedish wood-fired hot tub on their terrace – perfect for resting those tired legs after a day of pedaling.
Lismore is a small island near Oban on the West Coast of Scotland – reached by ferry from Oban (55 mins) or Port Appin (5 mins). It is home to only around 160 human inhabitants but boasts over 130 bird species and an abundance of other wildlife. It’s Gaelic name Lios Mòr means The Great Garden – thanks to its fertile soil, the island is known for putting on a colourful display of wildflowers in spring and summer.
Despite being only 10 miles long and 1 mile wide, Lismore is rich in historical sites – including an Iron Age broch – telling the story of people who have lived here for thousands of years. From April to October, visitors can learn about the island’s cultural heritage by paying a visit to Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre, housed in an innovative, eco-friendly building.
Lismore is a beautiful place to explore at a slower pace – on foot or by bike (hire available) – or with local guides Robert and Iris on a bespoke Land Rover tour of the island. Day packages can include a range of activities such as Shepherding with local Shepherd Arthur, a musical experience with professional fiddle player Charlie Grey or guided Paddle Boarding in the summer.
A stop by the red telephone box at the ferry point is a must for anyone looking for a sweet surprise! Known as The Dutch Bakery on Lismore, it is stocked with scrumptious homemade cakes to fuel more island adventures.
Travelling by public transport enables travellers to sit back and enjoy the scenic train journey across to the Isle of Arran, often said to be ‘Scotland in miniature’, thanks to the Highland Boundary Fault which runs through its heart, dividing a mountainous, dramatic highland landscape on one side from lush, green lowland countryside on the other.
It’s possible to jump aboard a train at Glasgow Central Station across to Ardrossan before hopping on the 55-minute ferry to Brodick. Upon arrival visitors can walk off sea legs around Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park, where they can check out the Bavarian summerhouse which is elaborately decorated with pinecones and a true masterpiece of craftsmanship, before heading to the wildlife spotting hideaways to watch for red squirrels amongst the spring foliage.
A journey to the north of the island means the opportunity to explore the castle ruins at Lochranza (which is beautifully complemented by the hues of spring heather), or tasting some of the wonderful fresh produce the island has to offer, from cheese to chocolate.
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