Scotland may not be the first place that springs to mind when ‘island paradise’ is mentioned. But the country is home to 790, and was only two years ago named the world’s most beautiful country. How’s that for paradise?
As a nation we’re all familiar with Ko Phi Phi, Bali and Santorini, but what to we actually know about the islands of our closest neighbour? Well, they’re mainly divided into four groups, Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides, which are sub-divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides. So if you’re thinking of adding some to your next travel itinerary, then read on. Here are 7 Scottish island holidays IDEAL for wildlife and whisky.
Just off Scotland’s northern coast lies a majestic clutch of islands, shaped by the elements and dating back over 6,000 years. Orkney is famous for its mystical, majestic Neolithic sites, particularly the Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar. A grouping of these sites, ‘the Heart of Neolithic Orkney’ has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. If wildlife is more your thing, then Orkney is generally considered Britain’s premium destination for seal watching, both of the Harbour and Grey variety. You’ll see them splayed out endearingly on rocks and sand, and if you visit in October, you’ll catch the laughably cute seal pups feeding for the first time.
THE ISLE OF MULL
The Isle of Mull, or Mull for short, is one of the few areas visitors can experience rare white-tailed sea eagles and extraordinary species of sea life. An offshore boat trip incorporating nearby Staffa and its famous Fingal’s Cave offers the chance to glimpse basking sharks, dolphins and a host of whale varieties.
Jura is one of the wildest locations in Scotland, and that’s saying something. This long, narrow island is most recognisable for its magnificent mountains, cracking local whisky and small population of just 200 people, who are comfortably outnumbered by the island’s wild deer.
This remote island is home to over 7000 red deer, with seven estates currently responsible for their protection and wellbeing. Jura has a coastal edge which stretches for almost 115 miles where you’ll see an abundance of other wildlife too, including highland cows, species of songbirds, guillemots, otters and seals. There are a couple of restaurants on the island which endeavour to celebrate Jura venison when in season; a must try if you see it on the menu.
THE ISLE OF ISLAY
Islay has been dubbed ‘the Queen of the Hebrides’ and is probably best known for its whisky production. There are currently eight functioning distilleries, renowned for their production of the smoky, peaty good stuff. These units across Islay welcome visitors all year round, offering tours of the origins of whisky distilling on the island. If you’re up for seeing all eight in the same day, make sure you hire a driver, such as the guys at Private Driver Scotland, so you can imbibe with abandon.
For those who don’t enjoy a dram, Islay is buzzing with wildlife and fantastic scenery. What’s more, The Festival of Malt and Music, held annually at the end of May, is reason enough to visit.
The Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides, is world famous for its cinematic vistas and, not surprisingly for a landscape of this majesty, has been the set of some massive blockbusters in recent years; the B.F.G and King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, to name but two. The island also presents perhaps Scotland’s best opportunity to see the Northern Lights, with nine (yes, nine) discovery sites offering views from October to March.
For adventurers and adrenaline seekers, Skye offers plenty of scope for mountain biking, water sports and rock climbing, and on the wildlife front, you’ll find species of dolphins, sharks, red deer and puffins amongst others. For those looking for a gentle excursion, The Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle are a must. These stunning rock pools of crystal clear spring water fed by series of waterfalls are easily accessible and great for a quick, albeit cold, dip.
THE SHETLAND ISLES
The Shetland Isles are packed with heather clad moorlands and surrounded by vivid blue shores. The Shetlands has over 6,000 years of history and legend, with gripping stories of the islands’ Viking origins. Shetland is proudly part of the National Cycling Network with the North Sea Cycle Route passing through the island, giving an opportunity for riders to see wildlife at first hand and in motion. Birdwatching is a particular highlight here; keep your eye out for gannets, guillemots, puffins, razorbills and kittiwakes. Killer whales have been known to swim close to the shore here, too. Exciting stuff!
THE ISLE OF ARRAN
Filled with incredible beaches, heritage, art and hospitality, the Isle of Arran has a little something for everyone. The renowned Island Cheese Company calls Arran home; try their supremely confident cheddar and Arran blue. Oh yes. Finish your island adventure at Brodick Bay, which the Isle of Arran distillery has named a new Sherried single malt after.