Just off the West Coast of Scotland, the Inner Hebrides boasts some of the most beautiful and remote islands in the UK, if not Europe! With so many close to the mainland and connected by frequent ferries, these beautiful islands make the perfect day out during your visit to the West Highlands. We’ve created a series of posts detailing some of our favourite Island trips off the Scottish West Coast. This one takes a look at the Isles of Mull, Iona and Jura.
All 3 of these islands are close to mainland Argyll, with both Mull and Jura being manageable as a day trip (although you will need to keep your eye on your timing on Jura). Each of them deliver magnificent snapshots of Scottish scenery and are equally blessed with individual charm.
The Isle of Mull
A quick 45-minute ferry will get you from Oban on Scotland’s West mainland to the large Isle of Mull. The 2nd largest island of the Inner Hebrides is a geological wonder, with plenty of scenic coastal walks, pretty beaches and spectacular viewpoints. Keen photographers will find great opportunities in Salen, a small village located halfway along the East coast of Mull. The bay here is home to ‘The Three Ladies’, three abandoned ships that draw a lot of attention due to their photogenic characters. Salen is a wonderful little halfway point to stop for pick-me-up, with ‘The Coffee Pot‘ being a firm tourist favourite. Homemade cakes and scones of all varieties, alongside delicious, hot coffee are all served with a smile and a chat from friendly owner, Laura.
Looking for something low-impact or child friendly? If you’ve been doing your research, you may well have already seen photographs of colourful Tobermory. As the main town of Mull, Tobermory was made famous by the BBC as the location of the popular children’s television series Balamory. Chosen due to its multi-coloured houses and pretty location, there are plenty of great stop points for painters and those looking to enjoy a coffee or a spot of lunch. For rainy days, the town’s newest attraction comes in the form of an aquarium, which offers touch pools, interactive games and information on local history and wrecks.
For those interested in Scottish castles, Duart Castle makes for a slightly different visit. Unlike a lot of 13th century ruined castles, Duart was given a new lease of life at the beginning of the 1900’s when it was fully refurbished. The large structure was turned into the home of the McLean clan Chief and is now home to an impressive visitor museum of weapons, dirks and costumes. Movie buffs will be impressed to know that the castle was also featured in the Sean Connery movie Entrapment.
The Isle of Iona
At only 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, pretty little Iona lies just a mile off the coast of Mull. It became an important spiritual point for the UK in the 9th century, when the ruling dynasty of Scotland traced its roots back to the island. There are 48 Scottish kings buried on this sacred isle, alongside 4 Irish and 8 Norwegian kings. Getting to Iona involves an easy 10-minute ferry ride from Fionnphort on Mull, though it’s worth noting that cars are prohibited (with the exception of local taxis and authorised vehicles). Getting around here is relatively easy; the island’s size means that most places are within walking distance, but you can also hire bikes from local businesses.
One of the most notable tourist attractions of the island is the famous Iona Abbey, originally founded by St Columba in 563. Pilgrimage to St Columba’s shrine remains popular and the Abbey’s museum houses Scotland’s finest collection of early medieval carved stones and crosses. Located just half a mile North from the Abbey is a little pool known as The Well of Eternal Youth. Ancient Celtic myths speak of 6th century St Brigid visiting Iona at midnight on the summer solstice. It is said that she blessed the water here so that it would heal those seeking renewal. Visitors and believers can now be found washing their faces in the well or sipping from its waters.
There are several beaches to be found across Iona, however, Port Bàn is probably best for those hoping to enjoy some shelter from the wind. About a 20-minute walk from the abbey (and 30-minutes from the ferry), this beach is comparable to those in the Bahamas; unspoilt, pale golden sands and crystal-clear turquoise water. The steep sided rocks on either side of Port Bàn create a delightful sun trap on warmer days.
You’ll most likely be looking for a filling lunch after your walks across Iona. Just up from the Ferry terminal, the Argyll Hotel offers hearty meals accompanied by home grown vegetables from their organic garden. Fresh Iona lamb, locally sourced seafood platters and sizeable hot lasagne portions are regulars on their menu.
The Isle of Jura
Jura can be reached by passenger ferry from Tayvallich, taking around an hour and giving you enough time to spend roughly 5 hours on the island. It is one of the least densely populated islands of Scotland and, due to its areas of exceptional scenery, the Southern part of the island is designated as a national scenic area. This has protected it from development and has encouraged an impressive deer population (the name Jura is believed to come from the Norse meaning ‘Deer Island’).
A stop at the Jura Whisky Distillery has to be done. A 45-minute tour (costing a mere £6pp) will cover Jura’s heritage and how they handcraft their unique whisky. A more in-depth distillery tour lasts 1 hour 30 minutes and also delves into the intricacies of the signature Jura style. This will cost you £15pp and booking for both is essential.
Jura has a real wilderness feeling to it. The one road on the island is devoid of traffic (with the exception of the village of Craighouse) and it’s possible to drive or cycle for good stretches of time without passing anyone else (except deer!). Those wanting to take a car or bike to Jura will need to do so via the car ferry from the Isle of Islay. At only 5-minutes, this ferry crossing is a fast one, and gives you the freedom to explore the North of the island, where George Orwell wrote his book 1984.
Gin lovers (and those looking to take a little break from whisky) will be pleased to learn that the Ardlussa Estate, in the North of Jura, is home to the Lussa Gin Distillery. The trio behind the gin are particularly fond of their remote island and incredibly proud to be surrounded by all the botanicals needed to make their product. Visitors can take a tour of this distillery by booking online in advance. Tours run Monday to Friday at 11.30am and 2.30pm.
Sightseeing and distillery tours are hungry work. Be sure to satisfy your appetite with a visit to the Jura Hotel Restaurant. As the only pub on the island, this family-run establishment prides itself on their special local venison dish, alongside freshly-caught langoustine, crab from nearby Islay and sorbet made with Lussa Gin!
Looking to take in as much as possible of Scotland’s island coast but short on time? Our Wildlife Break offers spectacular views across the Isle of Mull and includes a wildlife day-trip through the Isles of Jura and Islay.
Coming soon, our island guide to Lismore, Kerrera and Islay.