‘The sooner you slow down and switch to is­land time the bet­ter’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

There are times when the scat­tered mo­saic of is­lands off the west coast of Scot­land per­forms con­jur­ing tricks. It hap­pens when the sun shines, man­tles of mist and rain dis­ap­pear, the hills are ablaze with heather, and wild flow­ers and the seas sparkle with the bril­liant azure of the sky.

At such times Colon­say be­comes an il­lu­sory Corfu, and Skye pre­tends it is Skope­los – mi­nus the sear­ing heat and the crowds. Those of us who live a ferry ride from these isles know this, which is why we don’t see much point in fly­ing to a sun-baked hell in Greece in mid-sum­mer. For­get the ouzo and mobbed tav­er­nas, give us a fine peaty malt and golden sun­sets on end­less beaches with no­body on them.

Throw in spec­tac­u­lar wildlife from or­cas to golden ea­gles, leg­endary pubs with amaz­ing fid­dlers, and award-win­ning restau­rants and dis­til­leries, and who needs bouzoukis and mous­saka?

The im­por­tant thing is to take your time. Sail­ing to a He­bridean is­land is like step­ping off the world into a qui­eter, time­less place. The sooner you slow down and switch to is­land time the bet­ter.

Get out of the car and climb a hill, hire a kayak, spend a day at a high­land games or an agri­cul­tural show, and look out for ceilidhs in vil­lage halls. Or just stand and stare at the care­free beauty of flower-strewn machair grass­lands by a shim­mer­ing sea loch.

The eas­i­est, most scenic (and some­times only) way of hop­ping around the He­brides is on a fleet of fer­ries as Scot­tish as IrnBru, op­er­ated by Cale­do­nian MacBrayne that of­fers “Hop­scotch” pack­ages of up to half a dozen routes on a sin­gle ticket. Choose a group of is­lands, book a Hop­scotch ticket, and set sail in which­ever di­rec­tion you choose to dis­cover the best of the west. old­est course at Askernish, and the Kil­do­nan Cen­tre has a mu­seum, a craft shop, a cafe and a room for ceilidhs, mu­sic and dance.

Next up on an­other cause­way is Ben­bec­ula, which is fairly flat and ideal for walk­ing and cy­cling to ex­plore tidal bays and moor­lands. Or by horse – there is a com­mu­nity rid­ing school.

North Uist is a draw for an­glers and bird­watch­ers, with ex­cep­tional sea trout fish­ing and an RSPB na­ture re­serve famed for corn­crakes. Fur­ther north, lit­tle Bern­eray was home to the Prince of Wales when he se­cretly spent a week liv­ing and work­ing with a crofter. His Royal High­ness en­joyed it so much, he re­turned. Given beaches once mis­tak­enly used to ad­ver­tise Thai re­sorts, it’s not hard to see why.

A ferry con­nects to Har­ris, my per­sonal favourite. The home of hand-loomed tweeds is a fairy­land of rocky hillocks, lochans and white­washed croft houses. There are end­less white sands and turquoise wa­ters on the west coast, but don’t miss the en­chant­ing “Golden Road” me­an­der­ing up the east coast from Le­ver­burgh to Tar­bert – where you’ll find the Outer He­brides’ new­est whisky dis­tillery.

The fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, Lewis, is an ad­ven­ture play­ground for hill walk­ers. The lonely west coast is the site of Scot­land’s Stone­henge, the Cal­lan­ish Stand­ing Stones dat­ing from around 3,000 BC, and Lews Cas­tle in Stornoway – from where the Ul­lapool ferry de­parts – has a mu­seum that cel­e­brates Gaelic cul­ture with au­dio-vis­ual dis­plays of po­etry, songs, sto­ries and be­liefs. Hop­scotch tick­ets are valid for 31 days and are avail­able from Cale­do­nian MacBrayne (0800 066 5000; cal­mac.co.uk/ is­land-hop­ping).

Jour­neys may be taken in ei­ther di­rec­tion.

Ad­vance book­ing on some routes is strongly rec­om­mended, par­tic­u­larly in sum­mer.

Price for a car and two adults from £50. Balam­ory. Don’t miss lively folk ses­sions in the bar of the Mish­nish Ho­tel, a leg­end in its own life­time. A haven for white-tailed sea ea­gles and hill walk­ers, Mull is the gate­way to Iona, the lit­tle jewel in the He­bridean crown. A sanc­tu­ary of peace in­fused with the spir­i­tu­al­ity of cen­turies of re­li­gious de­vo­tion, it is where St Columba brought Chris­tian­ity to Scot­land. Its abbey is a place for quiet re­flec­tion amid the burial grounds of 60 Scot­tish, Ir­ish and Nor­we­gian kings, and sit­ting by its shores of translu­cent blue wa­ter on a calm sum­mer’s day is balm to the soul.

A short ferry cross­ing from Tober­mory takes you to one of the most en­chant­ing land­scapes of the West High­lands, the Ard­na­mur­chan penin­sula. Head for the most west­erly point of the Bri­tish main­land, where a light­house mu­seum is an ideal place for a pic­nic and He­bridean sun­sets. A sin­gle track road hug­ging Loch Su­nart winds through wood­lands and pretty vil­lages to Locha­line be­fore a re­turn north to join the famed “Road

The Isle of Skye, left; Ard­beg Dis­tillery in Is­lay, home to some of Scot­land’s finest malts, be­low; kayak time, bot­tom

The is­land of Jura, where Ge­orge Or­well wrote 1984

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