When asked ‘what was my favourite holiday’, I would once have been torn between the complete escapism and stunning beaches of the Maldives and the culture and culinary extravagance of Thailand. This was until we abandoned long-haul travel and experienced life on a Scottish Island.
If I had to sum up our holiday in three words they would be ‘enchanting’, ‘magical’ and truly ‘refreshing’. A holiday that not only offered the perfect combination of paradise, culture and true escapism but also the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures that are so often forgotten in our hectic busy lives.
The worst bit of the holiday was choosing what island to visit as Scotland has hundreds of islands, each tempting you with their stunning coastline, incredible wildlife, ancient history and rich culture. Most islands have immense appeal with plenty of opportunities for spotting rare wildlife, wonderful walks and bike rides and lazy days on deserted beaches – all things that were high on the ‘wish list’. The Shetland Isles truly beckoned (what horse lover wouldn’t want to see Shetland ponies in their natural habitat!). However, the drive from Kent to the furthest point of Scotland and beyond some 100 miles was slightly off putting for our first Scottish adventure.
Eventually the decision was made to visit the Isle of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides. A tough decision but one that was centred around: its location (2 hours by ferry from Oban); fantastic golden sandy beaches; size – at just 10 miles long and 2 miles wide it felt small enough to truly experience island life, yet still had a hotel for eating out and small shop for provisions; plenty of wildlife to spot and birds to photograph (otters, seals, wild goats and eagles amongst others); and local produce to sample (Hebrides beer from the smallest island brewery in the world, wildflower honey, lobster and award winning oysters – after all it is a holiday!).
In the knowledge that there was only a small shop on the island for buying groceries, a fair few hours were spent planning the holiday before setting off. Recipe’s were chosen, meals were planned in advance, cook books were packed and groceries were ordered for delivery. Yes you heard right, who would have ever thought a small island shop would offer a delivery service and have your wine and groceries in the cottage ready for your arrival! All that was left to do was a small shop at Tesco’s in Oban (and the whisky store!) before setting sail.
You can fly to Colonsay (Hebridean Air offers regular services on set days) but that leaves you with little room for all your holiday essentials (including the dog!), so the preferred option was CalMac who sail 5 times per week during the busy summer months and 4 times in the winter (make sure you book in advance). The journey is just over two hours but a pleasurable scenic one passing a number of islands including Mull, Luing and Jura. Dogs are welcome on board (travelling free of charge) and allowed access to outside and some inside seating areas. You can also leave them in the car should you prefer but it is worth noting that once the hull is closed and the ferry sets sail, access to cars (and anything in them) is restricted. This was learnt the hard way but thankfully the captain could be persuaded to unlock the hull and let our dog out just after setting sail!
From the moment the ferry approached Colonsay, it was love at first sight. So often the areas surrounding destination ‘gateways’ are shabby and unwelcoming but even the pier, where the ferry docked was inviting, with friendly locals and holiday makers gathered and chatting whilst waiting to catch the return crossing.
A self-catering cottage was ‘home’ for the week and the perfect choice with its warm welcoming accommodation and stunning sea views. You could be forgiven for thinking that accommodation would be compromised on a small island in terms of quality and style. However, the many miles of water between the mainland and island didn’t seem to present this cottage owner with any challenges.
It took no time at all to settle into island life with its wonderful relaxed pace. Leisurely breakfasts were spent planning the days adventures, followed by hours of wildlife spotting as every corner of the island was explored. Pretty wooded areas smelling of wild garlic, rocky shorelines and imposing cliffs teeming with bird life, Loch Fada deluged with visiting geese, gorse filled moorland where cattle quietly graze and the sound of corncrake providing false hope of a sighting along the way. Whilst the corncrake and golden eagles remained shy for the week, there were plenty of other thrilling sightings including seals, wild goats and even an otter swimming off the shoreline – great breakfast entertainment provided from the cottage window.
The weather was kind during the holiday so days were spent outdoors. Walking, cycling and relaxing with a picnic or BBQ on the beach, shared only with the local sheep and oyster catchers. Of an evening it was supper at the cottage in front of the fire or at The Colonsay Hotel – a wonderfully relaxed dog-friendly place, where you could chat with the locals and sample the freshest oysters you will ever taste!
Thankfully, all the planning and preparation paid off and we wanted for nothing on our island holiday (apart from fresh bread which we quickly learned had to be pre-ordered if you wanted to avoid waiting 2 days for the next ferry!). We had sunshine, fantastic food, incredible wildlife, beaches of indescribable beauty, not a mosquito in sight and the warmest of Scottish welcomes.
It is a dream to return again one day soon but before that day, there are many more beautiful Scottish Islands just waiting to be explored.