Dis­cover Gigha

The idyl­lic is­land get­away on your doorstep

The Oban Times - - Feature -

You nor­mally have to travel thou­sands of miles to find crys­tal clear ocean waves lap­ping softly onto pris­tine white sandy beaches.

For­tu­nately, the West Coast of Kin­tyre is an is­land paradise with all this and more just a 20 minute ferry trip away, the Isle of Gigha, of­ten re­ferred to as 'God's Is­land.'

Af­ter a gen­tle sail across from the vil­lage of Tayin­loan, cour­tesy of CalMac and their friendly staff, the idyl­lic and peace­ful shores of Gigha awaits you. From the minute you step off the ferry, es­pe­cially on a warm sum­mer's day, you might just think you are in a trop­i­cal oa­sis.

Im­me­di­ately on your left as you leave the ferry you will find the Gigha Boats Ac­tiv­ity Cen­tre, which of­fers the chance to get out across the clear crys­tal blue wa­ters in kayaks, pad­dle boards, ped­a­los and row­ing boats.

The cen­tre is run by Gor­don Wat­son, who moved to Gigha from Stir­ling to set up the busi­ness af­ter fall­ing in love with the is­land fol­low­ing a hol­i­day. It also rents out bikes, along with taga­longs which are a per­fect way to get around the sin­gle track, nearly car-free roads. Mini-golf is also present of­fer­ing a fun ac­tiv­ity for all the fam­ily.

Fol­low­ing south around Ard­min­ish Bay leads to the Boathouse, the Miche­lin-rec­om­mended and mul­ti­award win­ning restau­rant.

The quaint build­ing sits in front of a beau­ti­ful white sand bay with out­side deck­ing and serves sim­ply stun­ning fresh lo­cal food pro­vid­ing a heav­enly din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Boathouse camp­site sits along­side the restau­rant which is an idyl­lic spot to en­joy the peace­ful­ness of the is­land with all the nec­es­sary ameni­ties on site.

Car­ry­ing on up the main road into Gigha brings you to Ard­min­ish Stores, the only shop on the is­land which stocks a va­ri­ety of hy­per-lo­cal pro­duce as well as more ex­otic and ec­cen­tric sup­plies. This is the only place on the is­land where you can buy smoked Gigha Hal­ibut, a true del­i­cacy, which re­cently scooped the Golden Fork Award for the Best Scot­tish Prod­uct of the Year.

The store, run by Joe and Han­nah, also of­fer one of Gigha's most in­ter­est­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions: a real Mon­go­lian Yurt.

Im­ported from the East Asian na­tion, it has a won­der­ful eth­nic­ity and the cosy stove makes it a lovely re­treat for both sum­mer and win­ter months. En­joy fresh eggs in the morn­ings from the hens which pot­ter about the gar­den. It’s per­fect for fam­i­lies and cou­ples, or a won­der­ful gift idea.

Di­rectly across from the shop you will find the Gigha Church and the Manse Bi­ble Gar­den, where vis­i­tors are more than wel­come.

It is im­pos­si­ble to walk or cy­cle around the is­land with­out bump­ing into one of its many char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing the per­son­able John Martin, a joiner who moved to the is­land in 1971 af­ter fall­ing in love with it and his fu­ture wife, and has never once wished to move away.

John, and sev­eral other lo­cals, are al­ways happy to stop to tell vis­i­tors the in­cred­i­ble his­tory of the is­land, which be­came com­mu­nity owned af­ter a buy­out in 2002.

John says: 'We now have a say in our fu­ture, we are all working to­gether and as a team and it is to­tally demo­cratic. I am de­lighted to be alive to wit­ness what is hap­pen­ing here right now.'

The Gigha Ho­tel sits around the cor­ner from the shop and is the is­land's main ac­com­mo­da­tion hub, of­ten called Gigha's beat­ing heart.

Hav­ing just re­cently re-opened last year thanks to the lov­ing care of Le­ices­ter­shire man Ken and his wife An­gela, the ho­tel is now thriv­ing again with self-cater­ing cot­tages, a bar and a new bistro cafe.

Ken says: 'We are ideal for mini-breaks, be­cause Gigha is an is­land that you need to stay on, you can­not see ev­ery­thing it has to of­fer in just one day.' The ho­tel serves as a great place to hold an event, such as a wed­ding, with a won­der­ful gar­den which is the per­fect spot to en­joy in the sum­mer months.

Next to the ho­tel lies Gigha Gallery, run by art afi­cionado Henri Ma­caulay, who is cur­rently cel­e­brat­ing her tenth an­niver­sary and her 50th ex­hi­bi­tion on the is­land.

The gallery is a beau­ti­ful open space, with ex­cel­lent ex­hi­bi­tions adorn­ing the walls with views across the bay onto the sail­ing boats moored at the newly in­stalled pon­toon.

Henri says: 'Art should be up­lift­ing, so I choose to have ex­hibits here which have that ef­fect on vis­i­tors.

'We have a lot of events here: Gaelic week­ends, film nights, mu­sic ses­sions, ceilidhs. Its a won­der­ful space where art is re­ally im­por­tant.'

The gallery sits next to a craft shop, which sells a wide va­ri­ety of all-nat­u­ral and Gighapro­duced skin­care and beauty prod­ucts, along with a num­ber of other arty items pro­duced by the lo­cal peo­ple of Gigha. Ev­ery­thing from home­made pre­serves to knit­ted cardi­gans. Open­ing soon in the Gigha Gallery is the Pot­tery Tea­room, serv­ing tea, cof­fee and a de­light­ful ar­ray of home bak­ing. The cafe will be run by Henri and her daugh­ter, lo­cal lass and mu­si­cian Ca­tri­ona Rose. Keep an eye out for Ca­tri­ona's up­com­ing CD, Fly, which is due to be re­leased on Au­gust 24 and en­joy a free down­load of her first sin­gle on Au­gust 6.

The isle of Gigha Heritage Trust is also along­side the Gallery, whose doors are al­ways open to help shed light on the is­land and its his­tory.

Jac­qui Smith, ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sis­tant, ex­plains: ' We have just im­proved the pon­toon to in­crease the yacht ca­pac­ity, as well as mak­ing it a safer and more wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

'We have a num­ber of self-cater­ing cot­tages, many of which look onto beaches, and there re­ally is some­thing for ev­ery­one look­ing for a quiet, tran­quil get­away.

'The com­mu­nity takeover re­ally en­cap­su­lates the spirit of Gigha - there is team­work across all busi­nesses and across our wee so­ci­ety. Ev­ery­one looks af­ter ev­ery­one else.'

Head­ing to­wards the south of the is­land do not for­get to buy a wee bag of home­made Gigha tablet which sits on a stall on the sin­gle track road, a true de­light.

As you carry on to­wards the south of the is­land you reach the world-renowned Achamore Gar­dens, a sen­sory sen­sa­tion that pro­vides a won­der­ful walk through rare rhodo­den­drons, be­fore reach­ing the two acre walled gar­den and a breath­tak­ing view­point across to the Isles of Is­lay and Jura, known as the Jewel in the Crown.

Tasty Wee Isle dairy ice-cream is avail­able at the stun­ning Achamore House, which sits in the cen­tre of the gar­dens - a real treat for your walk around the gar­dens.

Nestling be­side the gar­dens you will find Spring­bank B&B, where your hosts Betty and Kenny, who were farm­ers on the is­land for over 30 years, make vis­i­tors feel most at home from the minute they walk through the door. Wel­comed into their lounge, which has sim­ply stun­ning views across to the main­land, en­joy some de­li­cious home­bak­ing and a cuppa with the su­perbly friendly hosts.

Not far from the gar­dens, down a track road, look out for the sign posts for 'The Wee

Gift Shed.' It is ex­actly what it says on the tin: a wee shed full of beau­ti­ful and un­usual hand­made gifts, an ab­so­lute must see.

Head­ing back to­wards the north end of the is­land, you will come across Gigha Golf Course: a nine hole course with some test­ing par 3's and 4's. £15 will see you have as many rounds as you like. Up past the golf club, you will find Drume­on­beg B&B. Run by the MacNeills, who have been part of Gigha's his­tory for over 1000 years, you will ex­pe­ri­ence a truly de­light­ful stay with breath­tak­ing views over the golf course to the main­land. Break­fast in this B&B is one for the stars. Alistair says: 'Break­fast is the most im­por­tant meal of the day so we pride ourselves on the break­fast we serve. You won't need lunch af­ter your break­fast at Drume­on­beg.'

As you con­tinue up the north end of the is­land, the gems are the white sandy twin beaches which makes the per­fect pic­nic stop.

There is a depth of his­tory to Gigha, from stand­ing stones, to ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, chapel ru­ins and ship­wrecks, not to men­tion the abun­dance of wildlife.

Seven miles long and one mile wide, Gigha serves as a great get­away for those who love to walk and ex­plore. There are 12 des­ig­nated off-road walks, with some cov­er­ing a range of ter­rain, from white sandy beaches, rocky shores, bram­ble cov­ered hill-sides and wood­land. Walk highlights in­clude the Spout­ing Cave, an­cient stand­ing stones, shel­tered beaches, the Fish­er­man's Cave and many more.

The week­end of June 24-26 sees the is­land en­joy one of its busiest week­ends of the year: their own mu­sic fes­ti­val with a ceilidh on the Fri­day night, Shooglenifty on the Satur­day and the Pipers pic­nic on the Sun­day along­side a num­ber of other mu­si­cal tal­ents. It’s a great week­end for all the fam­ily.

So take a long week­end, book your­self into some of Gigha's won­der­ful ac­com­mo­da­tion, be it a B&B, the ho­tel, the yurt or the camp­site, and en­joy a few days break on this won­der­ful, peace­ful, safe and wel­com­ing lit­tle is­land. It is the per­fect get­away for an in­di­vid­ual, cou­ple, fam­ily, wildlife en­thu­si­asts, art en­thu­si­asts, walk­ers and cy­clists.

In one way or an­other, whether it is the sandy beaches, the stun­ning food, the crys­tal clear wa­ter, this is­land will take your breath away, and for that rea­son alone, it is ab­so­lutely worth a visit. While the ferry of­fers the op­tion to spend a day on Gigha, it is the per­fect get­away to un­wind from the hus­tle and bus­tle of mod­ern 21st cen­tury liv­ing. How lucky we are that it is right on our doorstep.

One of the is­land’s many white sandy beaches.

The new pon­toon from the sky.

Even the phone box has a quirky side.

Ard­min­ish Stores pro­vides the is­land’s best lo­cal food and drink pro­duce.

The Boathouse pro­duces stun­ning food to match its lo­ca­tion.

The eye- catch­ing Gigha Church.

Henri Ma­caulay en­cap­su­lates Gigha’s cultural iden­tity.

Be­low: The stun­ning Ard­min­ish Bay.

Ken Dea­con al­ways pro­vides a warm wel­come at Gigha Ho­tel.

Lo­cals John Martin, Tommy Shaw and hol­i­day maker Dougie launch com­mu­nity boat ‘Saorsa’: Gaelic for free­dom.

Gor­don Wat­son pro­vides the best mode of trans­port around the is­land.

Honesty boxes are a wel­come sight.

Drume­on­beg host, Alexan­der MacNeill

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