Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides

It had been several years since Lindsay had ventured west from Aberdeen to the Isle of Skye, and he had never visited the Isle of Iona. Hence, we decided to take a 10-day road trip together to visit numerous Isles on the west coast of Scotland. The 800-mile route we took is displayed on the map below.  I’ve been writing a book about taking Road Trips in Scotland, and I wanted to do a bit of research as well while I was at it.

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We started out on Friday, September 13th, driving south from Aberdeen through Perth to the harbor town of Oban on the west coast.  Along the way, we took a bit of a detour through Glencoe because I mainly wanted to see the beautiful sight of the Three Sisters along the A82. It is so breathtaking!

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We arrived in Oban in the late afternoon, got settled into the hostel along the water’s edge, and then explored the town a bit looking for a decent place to get some fresh fish ‘n chips for our evening meal.

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After dinner, we checked in with the Cal-Mac Ferries to book our spot on the ferry the following morning to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was rather stormy, and we were informed that the boat was probably not going to run the next day due to the foul weather predictions.

We explained to the attendant that we had reservations on Mull the following evening and asked if they knew of any other route we could take instead. She suggested we drive north a short distance to Carron to catch a ferry there and then drive to another ferry landing at Lochaline that also goes to Mull and lands at Fishnish. Those two ferry crossings are very short and not as subject to the rough waters as the ferry from Oban to Craignure. We thanked her immensely and made the necessary adjustments to our plans.

As luck would have it, it turned out to be a much better route to take than what we had initially planned. Even though we had to take two ferries instead of one, they were both very short ferry rides, less expensive, and we had the opportunity to drive through some stunning and remote countryside not often traveled by others! To me, that’s a huge plus!

The drive north to Corran from Oban in the morning was only about 30 miles. About halfway along the route, we happened upon a delightful little cafe and gift shop where we enjoyed a fabulous traditional Scottish breakfast that also offered up an absolutely beautiful view of Castle Stalker situated on an island to enjoy while we ate. What a special treat!

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In addition to the many selections on their menu, they also had some absolutely yummy looking desserts in their display cases that were difficult to resist! I was particularly intrigued by the first option called Banoffee, which is made from bananas, cream, and toffee!

We drove the rest of the way to Corran and boarded the small ferry to cross Loch Linnhe at its’ narrowest point to the other side about 1/4 mile away. Before we could turn around, we were on the other side and well on our way, driving across the countryside. There was no getting out of the car on this short hop of a ferry ride!

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The traffic along the one-track road was horrendous, as you can easily see, as we made our way to Lochaline about 30 miles south!

After a beautiful drive, we arrived at the water’s edge of the Sea of Mull at Lochaline and positioned our car in the front of the line for the next ferry that would take us over to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull about a mile across the water.

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Once we landed at Fishnish, the third and final leg of our day’s journey took us south and west across the Isle of Mull to the tiny village of Fionnphort about 35 miles away.

map on Isle of Mull

The drive is very scenic and full of surprises around every corner.

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When we arrived at Fionnphort, there were busloads of people waiting for the last ferry crossing of the day. It was stormy with choppy seas and threatening to rain all night, just as predicted. The travelers were all quite worried they wouldn’t be able to cross the water the short distance to the Isle of Iona. Many people make a pilgrimage to Iona, where the iconic Iona Abbey is located. Most of the people were attending a week-long spiritual retreat on the Isle and were quite worried about where they would spend the night in this small village if the ferry didn’t run. Lucky for them, however, the boat did allow them aboard after all, and they made one last run for the day.

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Lindsay and I had reservations in Fionnphort at a lovely B & B called the Seaview.

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We hunkered down and spent the stormy evening warm and dry in our cozy accommodations and also thoroughly enjoyed a delectable and hearty dinner in the pub next door.

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We also thought our placemats were quite comical.

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Fionnphort is a delightful little seaport village, and the ‘hairy coos’ have the run of the place. It appears that their job is to keep the bushes trimmed all over town.

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The following morning, after a good night’s rest, we awoke to an absolutely gorgeous day!

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at our B & B with beautiful views of the beach from the breakfast room.

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beach at Fionnphort ferry landing

The seas and the wind had both calmed considerably. Soon, we were making our way on the first ferry crossing over to the Isle of Iona.

bay view at ferry landing on Isle of Iona4IMG_3584Safely across the water to the Isle of Iona, we began our explorations of this tiny island’s treasures. A handy map of this village points out the sites we will pass as we make our way from the ferry landing to the Abbey nearby.

According to the interpretive signs provided, “Iona is one of the most iconic and sacred places in Scotland. A place of pilgrimage, we welcome thousands of visitors every year. Whether attracted by the islands’ peace and spirituality, its wildlife and inspiring landscape, or its unique, friendly atmosphere, there is something for everyone to enjoy here on Iona. Saint Columba’s arrival on Iona in AD563 heralded the spreading of Christianity across Scotland.”IMG_3583The first site we came upon was the Nunnery ruins… 

IMG_3602 We continued along the path toward the Abbey passing additional sites along the way. I particularly liked this rock stile built into the fence. It makes it easy to go over the wall and walk IMG_3605across the field to the opposite corner.

Just across the way, we happened upon Macleans Cross. Medieval pilgrims paused here to pray on the approach to the Abbey.

A little further on, we passed IMG_3609the quaint Parish Church and the Larder, which is now a gift shop.

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Like many places across Scotland, the vine-like plant, called Kenilworth Ivy, grows wild on rock walls, and this particular display was plentiful and quite decorative against the hard rock surfaces.

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Just after passing the former home of the Reverend and his wife, the sacred graveyard, and the Abbey beyond came into view.

IMG_3630“As old as the Abbey itself, Reilig Odhrain is Iona’s main burial ground – the final resting place of abbots, monks, great lords, and warriors. Tradition says it is also the burial place of ancient kings. Medieval sources name 48 Scottish kings laid to rest here. However, recent scholars have cast doubt on this long-held belief. Whether or not there are royal burials, Reilig Odhrain holds the remains of some powerful people.” Below is an old drawing of the sacred burial grounds.IMG_3791

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Inside the chapel were some intriguing stone slabs and curiosities.

Next, we began exploring the Abbey itself…

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IMG_3699We happened to arrive while the Sunday service was being held inside. Therefore, we walked all around the outside of the Abbey and visited the Abbey museum located in the back. It was filled to the brim with fascinating artifacts and told the whole story of Abbey’s history.

After we were done looking at all of the artifacts in the museum, the church service had ended. We were able to enter the Abbey and begin exploring its interior.

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I particularly enjoyed the cloisters located in the center of the church.

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The carvings on the stone posts and columns throughout the buildings were particularly magnificent.

Just as we were finishing up our tour, we noticed that the ferry had brought over busloads of tourists from the mainland. It was so lovely to catch the first ferry of the day. Doing so made it possible to have the Abbey to ourselves instead of having to deal with so many other tourists. That was excellent timing. Since they were arriving, it was time for us to make our way back to the ferry and the Isle of Mull to continue our travels for the rest of the day. From Fionnphort, we drove about 50 miles to the northern end of the Isle to the town of Tobermory.

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Along the way, we saw all manner of sights!

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Also, there were a few free-range cows that directed traffic!

There were also some very creative and whimsical scrap art creations along the way…

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About halfway through our journey, we stopped at Macleans Castle. We didn’t tour the castle, but we sure enjoyed a yummy bowl of hot soup in their Tea Room!

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IMG_3972Near the end of the day, we arrived at Tobermory. It’s such a cute little harbor town, full of colorful buildings all in a row. Our hostel was right in the thick of it at the water’s edge. It’s the pink and white building in the photo below. We also particularly enjoyed the view of the harbor from our vantage point at the hostel.

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It had been another fantastic day exploring the ancient and iconic Abbey, driving through beautiful countryside, and riding on yet another ferry. We finished up our day just enjoying the view while we ate our spaghetti dinner with Italian sausages that we made in the kitchen at our hostel.  A perfect ending to a perfect day!

That brings us to the end of the first 3 days of Lindsay at Tobermoryour 10-day trip of Isle Hopping. In the next post, we will travel from Tobermory (by ferry, of course!) in a northerly direction, visiting a lighthouse and our adventures will continue on the Isle of Skye for a couple of days. I hope you’ll return to continue following my adventures. Until then, happy traveling!

 

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

2 thoughts on “Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides”

  1. Those 3 days were so much fun – beautiful scenery, fascination sights, wonderful weather, and the best of company. So nice to have such a lovely record of our trip together, to revisit time and again. Thank you Claudia, for creating such a comprehensive and delightful post- just love it, and looking forward to reading your next post about the rest of our great West Coast and Island Hopping adventure.

    Like

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