The Inner Hebrides

Overview

Introduction

Located off the northwest coast, the rugged, isolated and desolate Inner Hebrides are a wonderful glimpse of the old rural Scotland. If you visit, make sure you spend enough time to settle into the slow island rhythms—otherwise their subtle charms might pass you by.

The spectacular Isle of Skye is a fascinating place and, fortunately, the biggest and most accessible of the Inner Hebrides. The rounded mountain mass of the Red Cuillins contrasts dramatically with the jagged spires of the Black Cuillins, a magnet for Britain's premier mountaineers.

Spend as much time as possible on Skye—many of the loveliest parts are down side roads, so it can't be fully appreciated on a day trip. Drive to Talisker and visit the distillery for a tour (http://www.malts.com/index.php/en_gb/Our-Whiskies/Talisker), Sleat to see the Clan Donald center (http://www.clandonald.com) or Glendale, near 800-year-old Dunvegan Castle (http://www.glendaleskye.com). Skye offers a chance to explore isolated beaches and trek through jagged mountains.

Visit the Bright Water Visitor Centre at Kyleakin Pier and learn a little about the author Gavin Maxwell and his time on Skye (http://www.eileanban.org/visitor-centre.html). Also worth a visit is the collection of old crofter cottages that form the Skye Museum of Island Life (http://www.skyemuseum.co.uk), and Flora MacDonald's grave near Kilmuir. The island is reached by a bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh.

Several days could be spent on Islay, which is more sheltered than the other Hebrides. It provides an astounding variety of scenery and wildlife—hundreds of species of birds have been recorded. The rich, peaty, single-malt whiskys of Islay's eight distilleries are world-renowned (http://www.islayinfo.com/islay_whisky_distilleries.html), and the island also produces tweeds and cheese. Attractions include ancient crosses, the Finnlagan Complex, the Lords of the Isles and Scotland's only round church, designed so that the devil would have no corner in which to hide. http://theroundchurch.org.uk.

Jura is separated from Islay by a narrow passage and a short ferry crossing. If anything it is more rugged than Islay and the perfect location for a "get away from it all" break. The author George Orwell took up residence in the isolated house of Barnhill in 1946, and it was there that he wrote his novel 1984, which was completed in 1948. North of where Orwell lived is the Sound of Corryvreckan, which separates Jura from Scarba. There's a famous whirlpool that can be viewed from the hills above the gulf. Jura also has a whisky distillery that's open to visitors. http://www.jurainfo.com/isle_of_jura_distillery.html.

Though fairly difficult to get to, the Isle of Iona is worth the effort for those interested in the history of Christianity in Britain—the island's abbey was the center of Christianity in the north of Scotland for a very long time. Reached by Calmac ferry from Oban and then a shorter ferry crossing to the island, Iona is worth a day's visit. Include a boat trip from there to see the dramatic column-shaped basalt pillars and Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa.

Mull is also worth visiting, particularly the town of Tobermoray, with its distillery (http://www.tobermorymalt.com) and gaily colored cottages facing the harbor, where the remains of a Spanish galleon loaded with gold supposedly lie.

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