Gylen Castle on the isle of Kerrera, looking out to sea

Known as ‘The Gateway to the Isles’, Oban connects the mainland of Scotland’s west coast to a plethora of rugged Highland islands. With main provider, CalMac Ferries, sailing to over 10 of these destinations alone, it’s no surprise that travellers regularly choose the picturesque fishing town as a launchpad to the isles.

However, first-timers to Scotland (and return visitors alike) are often working to busy itineraries. Longer ferry trips, restricted timescales, and limited island accommodation regularly mean that the islands are removed from traveller wish lists.

What many don’t realise is that you don’t need to sail for hours (or stay overnight) to experience a slice of Scottish island charm. The Isle of Kerrera is a mere hop, skip, and a jump (passenger boat) away from Oban and can be done in as little as a half-day trip. Here’s everything you need to know:

An overview of Kerrera’s history

Documentation of Kerrera dates back as far as the 1200s, a time when Norway and Scotland clashed for control of the chain of islands that lies between Scotland and Ireland. It’s noted that King Hakon (or Haakon) IV of Norway landed on the island and held a meeting of Hebridean chiefs here before waging his descent on the mainland with Battle of Largs.

With a population of less than 100, a lot of the island is owned by the MacDougalls of Dunollie, descended from the Norse-Gael Somerled. It was the MacDougalls that built Gylen Castle, now, arguably, one of Kerrera’s main attractions.

Believed to have been completed in 1582, the stronghold was attacked in 1647, the fire marks still visible to this day. It has been observed that Gylen Castle is connected to a group of other castles built in the west and north Highlands. All contain mason-work that nod to the same craftsmen.

Today, the main industries on the island are farming (sheep and Highland cattle) cattle), a full service marina, and tourism. As you explore the two main trails, its impossible to pass through the gentle hills without passing the island’s four-legged inhabitants.

How big is Kerrera island?

At only 4 miles long and a little over 1.5 miles wide, Kerrera is one of the smaller islands of the Inner Hebrides. The tracks here are easy to navigate and visitors have free range on the grassy lands and raised beaches (though they are asked to be mindful that much of the island is crofting farmland – you will have livestock around you moment you arrive.)

Kerrera travellers should also take note that, during wetter months, some areas become particularly boggy.

How do I get from Oban to the Isle of Kerrera?

There are two ports from which you can gain access to Kerrera. You can depart from Oban itself, leaving from North Pier in the centre of Oban and dropping you off in the north of the island, or setting sail from the ferry slipway at Gallanach.

The latter lies only a couple of miles south of Oban and is our preferred route. The small passenger ferry here takes only 4-5 minutes and drops you closer to the south of the island (where most of the sights can be found).

There is a small car park next to the slipway (you can’t take your car across, but you can take your bike – which many do!). We recommend getting here 15 minutes or so before your departure in the summer months as the spaces fill up quickly.

Kerrera ferry from the ferry slipway at Gallanach

The Kerrera ferry from the ferry slipway at Gallanach

Kerrera ferry timetable

While a trip to Kerrera can be done in a half-day, it’s worth noting that timetables differ between the summer and winter seasons. Operated by CalMac, you can always find the current, up-to-date timetables and prices on the CalMac website. On our most recent visit in April 2024, the journey cost only a few pounds.

We recommend catching one of the first early morning ferries, as this will allow for plenty of time to do the return 5km walk to the castle and back. An early start should also mean your visit will tie in well with the ferry’s lunchtime pause.

Things to do in Kerrera

As previously noted, if you’re trying to take in the sights of Kerrera on a tight timescale, we recommend you visit the south of the island first. It wasn’t until 2021 that the north and south communities of the island were properly connected, when the island’s Development Trust completed work on a long-desired link road.

As you’re dropped on the pier from Gallanach, take the road to the left to visit our favourite sights in the south:

  • Kerrera Community Woodland Project – A charming addition relatively close to the start of the walk, in a bid to replace some of the old crofting land with more natural elements, the locals have installed a woodland growth project. £1 = one new tree.
  • Commemorative Plaque – On the south walk you’ll find a stone marking the landing point of the first transatlantic undersea telephone cable. The cables stretched from Kerrera all the way to Clarenville, Newfoundland, Canada!
  • Kerrera’s boats and shipwrecks – Alongside the old, abandoned fishing boat resting on the beach in Little Horseshoe Bay, you’ll often find newer vessels dotted along the beach while the tide is out.
  • Kerrera Tea Garden and Bunkhouse – The walk down to the castle is thirsty work, but fortunately, the island’s main tea house in conveniently located just before the gate to the castle. The Bunkhouse has recently had an upgrade, and the team have expanded to offer a charming indoor area alongside their outside picnic tables. The café offers a wide selection of drinks, cakes, and meals options, teamed with incredible views out to sea.
  • Gylen Castle – Influenced by European design, Gylen Castle has undergone significant restoration and, as a result, allows you to scramble amongst its ruins, peering inside its dark storage rooms and ascend the winding staircase to the main hall and kitchen floor. The castle sits dramatically on the cliff edge overlooking two rocky beaches and making you feel like you’re being thrown back in time to its days as a proud stronghold.

kerrera community woodland project

Kerrera Teapot Trail

a boat docked on the small beach in the south of kerrera

the grassy trail leading up to Gylen Castle on the island of Kerrera, Oban

If you have more time on your hands, follow the road to the right and explore the north of Kerrera:

  • The wreck of Hyacinth – In 1920, the motor fishing boat Hyacinth left Oban and caught fire near Maiden Island. While the crew made efforts to save the boat, they eventually had to admit defeats and climb aboard a passing drifter. The hull of the motorboat was towed to Ardantrive Bay, where it has now rested for over 100 years.
  • The Waypoint – A delightful restaurant at Kerrera Marina, where the menu is seasonal and the produce is local from farms and waters surrounding the island. Enjoy your lunch from their friendly team whilst looking out over the bay. The restaurant is open Thursday to Sunday but the bar, and coffee and cake corner (which is currently run as an honesty box), is open daily.
  • Hutcheson’s Memorial – Erected in memory of David Hutcheson, the ship owner who operated services to the islands in the 1800s, this large obelisk monument can be visited as part of Walk Highlands’ ‘Hutcheson’s Monument circuit’.
  • Wildlife watching – Regardless of whether you’re heading north or south, be sure to keep an eye out for Kerrera’s impressive wildlife offering. As well as being blessed with a huge variety of resident and visiting birds, it’s not unusual to spot wild goats, sika deer, and the occasional otter. The waters surrounding the islands are regularly frequented by grey seals and harbour seals, so look out for their curious little heads bobbing out of the water to watch what you’re up to.

sheep and her lamb on the island of Kerrera, Oban, Scotland

Can you stay on Kerrera?

Yes! However, accommodation on the island is very limited. Walking along the south route, you’ll spot that some of the locals are in the development stages of building Eco pods for future rentals. Many have their properties listed for private rental during chosen times of year, but you’ll need to be quick to secure a stay.

The previously mentioned Bunkhouse offers overnight stays, sleeping up to 7 people and consisting of two booths with bunk beds, and a mezzanine level with a double and single bed. They’ll even help with the transport of bags (and people) outside of their busy cafe hours.

Alternatively, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code grants access to wild campers looking to set up base across hills, beaches, moorland, forests and lochs, as long as they do so responsibly. Make sure to pitch your tent on high ground to avoid rising tides and boggy patches.

The front garden of the Kerrera Bunkhouse and tearoom

A day trip from Loch Melfort Hotel to the Isle of Kerrera

Loch Melfort Hotel is a great stopover in your itinerary, and a fantastic base to explore the hidden-gem of the Inner Hebrides that is the Isle of Kerrera.

You can enjoy breakfast with us before setting off on your 30-minute car journey towards Oban. Follow the scenic A816 along Argyll’s stunning west coast, before turning off towards Gallanach where you can leave your car at the terminal (remember to get there early!) and hop on the short ferry ride across to the island.

After a day of discovery, you will be returned to the mainland where we will be waiting to welcome you back to our unique 4-star country house hotel. Settle down for the evening, order your favourite drink and reminisce on your day whilst gazing out to the most spectacular coastal views. Find out about more about our Summer Breaks.