Skye may be the largest of the Inner Hebrides, but there’s plenty more for walkers in this archipelago.
Other beauties to suit your mood.
S TRETCHING 150 MILES from Islay in the south to Skye up north, the Inner Hebrides is a long scatter of islands, 36 of them inhabited. Their terrain is astonishingly varied even when they’re almost-touching neighbours like low-lying, lush Islay and the mountain wilderness of Jura. The former is famed for its whisky and you can walk (ahem, weave) from Laphroaig to Lagavulin to Ardbeg distilleries in one four-mile walk. Jura, half a mile of water away is where George Orwell holed up to write 1984 and is topped by the steep, quartzite-scree cones of the Paps of Jura, a trio of peaks that are landmarks for miles around and make a scrabbly, but panoramic, 10-mile day out.
Sailing north, there’s Colonsay where walkers might spy, or more likely hear the rasping call of one of Britain’s rarest birds, the corncrake, and spot eucalypts and palm trees in its woodland gardens. And then comes Mull, the second largest island in the group with its brightly- painted capital Tobermory known to millions from CBeebies show Balamory. It’s the only one with a Munro-high mountain other than Skye, and you can summit Ben More on a straightforward six-mile out-and-back haul from Dhiseig, while an adventurous coastal walk along the Ardmeanach Peninsula* leads to the remains of the 50-million-year-old Fossil Tree, with views out to tiny Staffa, where the strange echoes off the hexagonal basalt columns of Fingal’s Cave inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. And don’t miss little Iona* adrift off the Ross of Mull, which has drawn pilgrims since St Columba founded a monastery there in 563.
On Coll and Tiree out to the west you can stroll idyllic sandy beaches and bask in more sunshine than almost anywhere else in the UK, and then it’s the Small Isles – an archipelago within an archipelago. Four islands strong, there’s the vibrant green of Muck; the high cliffs of Canna jam-packed with seabirds; the jagged Cuillin of Rum towering over an island that is almost wholly a nature reserve; and the community-owned eco-isle of Eigg, dominated by the mile-long pitchstone wedge of An Sgurr*, its prow a five-mile (return) walk-scramble from the quay.
And then tucked into the eastern shadow of Skye lies Raasay, and its high point of Dun Caan*. Just 1457 feet above the sea, it’s little-visited compared to its starry neighbour across the sound, but its table-top is an exceptional lookout. The view whisks down Raasay’s steep, green eastern slopes and across the water to Applecross on the mainland, then whirls over the island’s rocky northern tip round to Skye’s Trotternish and Cuillins. When James Boswell and Samuel Johnson toured the Hebrides in 1773 Boswell danced a jig up here. You might be tempted to do the same. *Find guides to these walks at www.lfto.com/bonusroutes