Trea­sure is­lands

Skye may be the largest of the In­ner He­brides, but there’s plenty more for walk­ers in this ar­chi­pel­ago.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

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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

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