The history, heritage and archaeology of Scotland's 'small isles'- Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck- is beautifully presented in this coffee table book. It is packed full of spectacular photography, particularly the aerial views of the islands, that provide the reader with hours of fascination. This is accompanied by a very detailed text that explains everything about the historic landscape of the islands. This book will certainly inspire you to visit these beautiful places.
Each island has its own chapter. This opens with a map of the island that pinpoints the locations of the points of interest that are covered in the chapter. This means that you could use this book to plan visits to the islands and seek out particular buildings or archaeological sites.
The text is very detailed and has clearly taken a lot of time to put together. In that sense it is not a traditional travel guide, but aimed at telling every aspect of the island's past through its human structures. I did not read every single page and tended to browse to the parts that interested me the most. It is the photography that makes this book such a pleasure to flick through. I loved the aerial photos that show how beautiful, lush and green the islands are.
This is a gorgeous book to have on your coffee table and inspire visits to these special islands.
You can buy a copy from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Scotland's islands are fantastic places to take your bicycle. They are the ultimate escape where the pace of life is always more relaxed, the roads are quiet and the scenery breathtaking. Travelling to them is always exciting because of the sea voyage. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry timetable is something I love to pour over and plan island adventures.
The contents page lists the islands, their magical names (Gigha, Tiree, Skye...), enticing you to turn the pages and find out how to visit them.
The timetable for each island provides you with lots of information, such as ticket prices and connections with trains.
Every fare table has a bicycle symbol with the words "pedal cycles FREE" next to it, so you only ever pay the price of a passenger to take your bike on a ferry.
As you make your way through the pages you can tell how remote an island is by the infrequency of the services. These islands excite me the most as they require a lot more planning to work out how to get there and how to get back.
Each timetable has a collection of symbols that indicate what facilities are available on the ferry. On the longer ferry journeys the most important symbol to look for is the knife and fork because this means that there is a "Mariner's Restaurant" on the boat where you will be able to buy a hot meal.
Calmac favourites include fish and chips, curry of the day and macaroni cheese. This is tasty and filling fuel if you have been on the bike all day. Calmac are proud that they source the best of Scottish food, so there is fish caught from the shores of the island of Barra, venison from Argyll, and Rannoch Moor smoked chicken.
So, there is plenty to look forward to when planning a trip to Scotland's islands. The Calmac ferry timetable provides plenty of inspiration and is always worth having in your bag. A true icon of travel.
This book is a delight, a perfect combination of inspiration and information. It is a guide to 60 islands in Britain that are 300 acres or less in size. Twenty-five of the islands are in Scotland and many of these can be visited by bicycle, so this book provides plenty of ideas for island/cycle trips.
Witty and sharp writing tells the story of the islands, whilst the stunning photography and hand-drawn maps illustrate what these places are like. It is a brilliant idea for a travel guide and the author must have had a great time researching these islands. He tells of encounters with locals and those who work on some of the islands. He uncovers fascinating histories and surprising facts. He describes the mini-adventures that are involved in travelling to some of the islands, largely involving tides or boats.
This is a book to dip in and out of and should be close at hand whenever you feel like your imagination could do with a bit of adventure. You just have to flick through a few pages and it won't be long before you find yourself planning your next island expedition.
Scotland has again been recognised for its outstanding scenery with an award for Lewis and Harris from TripAdvisor. They were voted number one of the ten best islands in Europe. Two other Scottish islands made it to the list- Orkney and Isle of Mull.
Top 10 islands in Europe
1 Lewis and Harris, Scotland, UK
2 Naxos, Greece
3 Island of Gozo, Malta
4 Mainland, Orkney, Scotland, UK
5 Milos, Greece
6 Cephalonia, Greece
7 Santorini, Greece
8 Island of Capri, Italy
9 Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK
10 Paros, Greece
Lewis and Harris was also ranked the fifth best in the world. Here is the list:
Top 10 islands in the world
1 Ambergris Caye, Belize
2 Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
3 Bora Bora, French Polynesia
4 Marco Island, Florida, US
5 Lewis and Harris, Scotland, UK
6 Naxos, Greece
7 Aitutaki, Cook Islands
8 Nosy Be, Madagascar
9 Easter Island, Chile
10 Ko Tao, Thailand
Scotland also featured prominently in the UK’s best island list:
Top 10 islands in the UK
1 Lewis and Harris, Scotland
2 Mainland, Orkney, Scotland
3 Isle of Mull, Scotland
5 Isle of Skye
6 Isle of Arran, Scotland
7 Isle of Man
8 Islay, Scotland
9 St Mary's, Isle of Scilly, England
10 Anglesey, Wales
It is wonderful to see Scottish islands feature on these lists. I have cycled on all of the islands that have made these top ten lists and can attest to their beauty and fine range of things to see and do.
I have written about my journey to Lewis to see the Callanish standing stones, pictured in the first image on this page. Although it was the stones that I was excited about seeing I ended up falling for the far north of the island at the Butt of Lewis with its lighthouse and crashing waves.
Why were all the other cyclists going the opposite way to us? They were going south to north. We were going north to south. Paul and I were the only ones travelling the Western Isles in this direction. It didn’t take us long to find out why- we were riding into the wind and suffering. We actually had to peddle to go down hills! But the other cyclists were having a ball with the wind pushing them along at great speeds. How on earth did we manage to get this wrong and everybody else got it right?
It was just the way things were for us. Our cycling trips always seemed to have something go wrong. It was the mishaps that made our trips so memorable and fun. This was only our second ever cycling trip and our planning left a lot to be desired- we missed the bit that said it is better to cycle south to north.
As soon as we arrived on the Isle of Harris things went from bad to worse. The rain was heavy and our clothes quickly soaked through. In those days we still wore jeans on cycling trips- bad idea! We reached our bed and breakfast, dreaming of a shower and warmth. The owner opened the door and looked serious. Something was wrong. “I am very sorry. I have double booked you. I am so sorry. But don’t worry I have got you a room at my sister’s place. She lives just around the corner.”
It turned out that “just around the corner” was another five miles away! We were sodden and cursed non-cyclists who freely used the term “just around the corner” when they knew fine well that they were thinking of cars when they said it. It was getting dark and we were getting wetter and colder. It was difficult to find anything enjoyable about this.
At the time we did not know that we had to cycle another five miles, so after 15 minutes we began to wonder if we had gone too far. We spotted a man outside a cottage just standing there, seemingly unperturbed by the rain. Paul asked him directions and the man stood there staring straight ahead, smoking. He suddenly snapped out of his trance and started speaking. It was all mumbles and gibbering, so Paul gave up. We moved off, looking back to see that the man was still standing there, sheets of rain all around him.
My head was down and I was focused on getting there, but the odd time that I did glance up I noticed that our surroundings were breathtaking, even in this foul weather. “It’s really beautiful around here,” I said to Paul. It was rocky, hilly and green, somewhat lunar. It was dotted with tiny lochs. It got me excited about being here and it made the rain not matter.
We finally arrived at our bed and breakfast. Paul was fuming and determined to make this known to the sister. A frail old lady emerged onto the driveway to welcome us, “Oh deary me, you are all wet. Come inside boys.” She was very slow moving and had a very, very quiet voice. Paul could not bring himself to unleash his anger. It would be like shouting at your granny.
She had made us sandwiches, scones and tea. It was just what we needed and within minutes there was not a single crumb left on the plates.
It was Paul’s birthday and this should have been a special day for him. There would be no night out because there was nowhere to go for a night out. However, I had a bottle of champagne! I had hidden it inside my panniers and cycled with it for the past two days as we travelled across the Isle of Skye on our way here. Each time we went up a hill I felt the weight of that champagne, but now it was worth it as we toasted Paul’s birthday and our adventure.
We settled down to watch a film- Groundhog Day- as we drank and relaxed. Two minutes before the end of the film all the lights and television went out. We burst out laughing- it was typical of the mishaps of our cycling trips. We suspected that it was not a real power cut, but that the sweet old lady wanted to go to sleep and she found our television a bit too loud so she simply pulled the fuse out!
Dream cycling country- this is what the island of Stronsay is. Flat, lush farmland and uninterrupted views of the sea. There is not much in the way of roads and they are almost traffic-free. The island is 6 miles long and has a population of around 350.
It is somewhat of an adventure to reach Stronsay. First you must get to Orkney which is located off the north-coast of Scotland. This means travelling the length of Scotland to take a boat from Scrabster.
When we rolled off the ferry and started cycling we found roads with nobody. The horizon was mostly light blue sky with a band of deep blue sea underneath. White sandy beaches and green fields added to Stronsay's palette.
Paul (my cycling buddy) and I are not birdwatchers, but we booked a night at a bed and breakfast called Stronsay Bird Reserve. The owner John Holloway was surprised that we were staying with him because usually his guests love birds and watching them. I think it took him a little time to get used to the fact that we would not be able to chat with him about yellow-breasted buntings, but he quickly warmed to us.
We did not do that much cycling on Stronsay, which was okay because there are not that many roads. We were too busy chatting with John and his wife Sue. I can’t remember the specifics of the conversations, but it was one of those occasions where a group of people hit it off with no effort. John had a relaxed and laid back demeanor. He was easy to talk to and conversation flowed naturally.
To Fair Isle and Back
John had moved from Kent to Orkney with a dream of living on a remote island and setting up his own bird reserve. He wrote a book about Stronsay and his reserve called “To Fair Isle and Back”.
The reason that Fair Isle is mentioned in the title of a book about Stronsay is that John also ran the shop on Fair Isle for six years.
“Life on Fair Isle was always interesting- winds up to 150mph, so violent that large fish were literally thrown out of the raging sea and onto the beach; beautiful aurora lighting the whole sky, including one of the best in living memory which could be heard “hissing” its pulsating rhythm as we watched the magnificent display of colours in total awe; huge arrivals of autumn migrants when the whole isle seemed alive with birds…”
The Vat of Kirbister
There is something on Stronsay with a name that I loved so much that I tried to find a way of including it in every conversation just so that I could say it out loud- the Vat of Kirbister. It is a rock arch, carved naturally from the sea. John offered to drive us to it, which was another reason that we did not do much cycling.
Scotland’s coastline is littered with dramatic rock formations, but when it is shaped like something we associate with a manmade structure it induces even more wonder. A stone arch requires planning, an architect and team of builders and masons, so when we see one that has been perfectly sculpted from the random movements of waves it is even more impressive. The Vat of Kirbister looks too precarious to walk across and is best seen from far enough back that you can look through the arch to the sea beyond. I wondered how long it had taken for the waves and tides to create this structure.
That evening John’s wife served us homemade lasagne for dinner. It was so good I had three helpings! We had a few glasses of red wine and chatted until it got dark. John and Sue were really suited to the bed and breakfast business as they were very natural and had a knack of making us feel like we had known them for years. Good company, special location and delicious food make for the best travel memories. Sleep always comes easily in such places where there is no chance of traffic or noisy neighbours.
In the morning John seemed distracted. He kept looking past us to the window, trying his best to continue the conversation. He apologized, but there were interesting birds fluttering around and he could not stand to miss anything. He talked away to us about something non-bird, but would suddenly say the name of a bird he had just seen out of the window. Paul and I shared a giggle about this later on- we had never come across someone who was this focused on feathery creatures.
I must confess that I never read “To Fair Isle and Back” until I started to write this post. It has been on my book shelf for years. At the time Paul read the book on the train journey home, but I did not look at it. I am glad that I have now finally read it as it has brought back very happy travelling memories. As I turned the pages I recalled the yellow fields, endless blue skies and empty roads. Most of all I pictured the cosy evening with homemade lasagna, red wine and good conversation.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: