The Most Beautiful places in Scotland - Isle of Colonsay
Exploring England, Scotland, and Wales
In this series, I've been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Scotland, from historic cities like Edinburgh to remote islands like Colonsay, from the Highlands to Orkney. Along the way, I'll be sharing some of my favourite photos from over 15 years of exploring Scotland.
The Hebridean island of Colonsay is small -- only about eight miles from top to toe, but within that small area is some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, including a wealth of secluded beaches and stunning coastline.
I spent a week spent exploring Colonsay, my camera at the ready. I got up before dawn and stayed out past sunset (this is pretty normal behaviour for an avid photographer like me). And, over the course of that week, I was lucky enough to see and experience some of the most spectacular scenery and amazing sunsets it's been my delight to experience in decades of photographing the best of Britain.
These are some of my favourite views of Colonsay, arranged, for lack of any better criteria, in alphabetical order:
This secluded bay in the southwestern corner of Colonsay can only be reached on foot from Garvard to the east, a distance of about one mile, or Tobar Fuar to the north, a two-mile walk. Either way, you are rewarded with a superb beach of white sand protected by rocks and machair. This is Colonsay at its best.
Here's another secluded bay that takes a bit of getting to. Balnahard Bay is at the northeastern tip of Colonsay and to get there you have to walk 40 minutes from Kiloran. The walk, though, is simply stunning, with amazing views from Carnan Eoin, the highest point on Colonsay.
Formal gardens surround 18th-century Colonsay House, with woodland walks further from the house. This is one of the great gardens of Scotland, especially known for its display of rhododendrons. Within the formal garden area, look for the Tobar Oran Sculptured Stone, an 8th-century carved figure found at nearby Riasg Buidhe.
4. Eilean Olmsa
This small island lies off Colonsay's east coast, north of Scalasaig. Seals bask on the rocks by the shore and wild goats climb the rocks. You can get great views of the island from the bay of Port Olmsa.
Garvard is a farmstead near the southern end of Colonsay. The farm stands on low land surrounded by hills. On one of those hills is an ancient standing stone. If you climb up to the stone you are rewarded with amazing views south to Oronsay and east to Islay and Jura.
There are really two Kilchattans, Upper and Lower, stretched out along the B8086. Roughly between the two, and immediately west of Loch Fada, stand a pair of standing stones known as Fingal's Limpet Hammers after the mythical Celtic giant Fingal.
7. Kiloran Bay
Rightly known as one of the finest beaches in Scotland, Kiloran Bay is a crescent-shaped expanse of clean, white sand on the northwestern coast of Colonsay. A favourite of surfers, Kiloran Bay is a superb place to enjoy some of the finest coastal scenery in the Hebrides.
I spent several evenings photographing sunsets on Kiloran Beach, and for most of that time I had the entire beach to myself. The one time I wasn't alone, I shared the beach with a friendly fellow from Glasgow, who was on a camping tour of Scottish islands. He offered me a cup of hot chocolate, and on a whim, I asked him to pose against the setting sun to create one of my favourite photos.
8. Loch an Sgoltaire
This small loch near Kiloran was so close to the holiday cottage I rented for the week that I was able to walk there for early morning and late evening photography. The remains of a castle stand on a small island in the middle of the loch and a picturesque boathouse is set back from the southern edge of the loch.
9. Loch Fada
There are really three lochs here, stretched along the B8086 between Kilchattan and Kiloran. Each loch is popular with fishermen and you can often see boats drawn up on the shore.
On one memorable occasion, I was photographing the bridge that allows the B8087 to cross the burn linking the upper two lochs when I was surprised by a herd of sheep running as fast as they could down the road, across the bridge and into the distance.
I have no idea what spooked them, or if they were simply heading at top speed for greener pastures, but it was a bizarre experience to be stampeded by sheep!
10. Loch Staosnaig
Loch Staosnaig is a wide sea loch just south of Scalasaig. A small island known as Eilean Staosnaig helps protect a sweep of clean, white sand. You can reach the beach at Staosnaig by taking the footpath from the Scalasaig Parish Church towards Milbuie and branching left at the burn of Allt Staosnaig.
There's not a lot to Machrins, just a few scattered houses on the B8086 west of Scalasaig. To the north rises Beinn nan Caorach, one of the highest hills on Colonsay. To the west are the island's airfield and golf course.
12. Machrins Beach
Beyond the island's airfield at Machrins stretches the beach of Traigh an Tobair Fhuair, This lovely secluded beach is bounded by rocky shoreline to the north and south, and protected by raised rocks to the west. creating an oasis of pure, white sand.
13. The Old Road
This track is what remains of the original road between Scalasaig and Kiloran. It stretches from just behind the Colonsay Hotel in Scalasaig and climbs the slope of Beinn nan Gudairean, passing the remains of a stone circle on the way, before skirting Turraman Loch and Loch Fada. This is one of the most popular walks on Colonsay, and with good reason.
The small island of Oronsay can only be reached on foot by crossing the mile-long strait of The Strand, a tidal causeway that separates Oronsay from Colonsay near Garvard. Oronsay is home to the ruined medieval monastery of Oronsay Priory, where you can see the remains of the beautifully-carved grave slabs of Clan MacDuffie chiefs.
15. Port Lobh
One of the smallest beaches on Colonsay, Port Lobh lies between Machrins Beach and Ardskenish, on the west coast of the island. It can be reached on foot from the track that skirts the golf course and airfield, off the B8086.
16. Port Mor
This is the place I came to on my first evening on Colonsay, drawn by its superb west-facing location, perfect for catching the sunset. Though it has very little sand compared to most beaches on Colonsay, Port Mor is a wonderful place if you're an avid landscape photographer like me. For a start, access is very easy; the bay is directly beside the B8086 at Lower Kilchattan, and it is easy to find parking along the verge.
17. Riasg Buidhe
This deserted village north of Scalasaig is often dubbed 'The Fever Village', which gives the wrong impression. Riasg Buidhe did have at least one outbreak of scarlet fever in the 19th century, but that is not why the village was abandoned. Rather, the villagers left because they could not make a go of the herring or lobster fisheries.
Today, all that remains of this once-busy community are roofless stone cottages now half overgrown with bracken. It is a sad, lonely place, but the location is superb.
Scalasaig is the main community on Colonsay and the place where ferries from Port Askaig and Oban dock. Here you will find most of the island's major facilities including a doctor's surgery, community hall, post office and general store, hotel and bar, and a popular micro-brewery.
It is worth a leisurely stroll around Scalasaig to enjoy the coastal scenery, and perhaps a hike to the top of Cnoc na Faire Mor to see the Lord Colonsay Monument, erected in 1879 by the islanders in memory of the sixth Lord Colonsay.
Set into the slope of a hill north of Kiloran Bay is an ancient well whose waters are said to have healing qualities. The well isn't just dedicated to St Columba, it is said to have been created by the saint himself. This is certainly possible, for there is a very credible tradition that Columba came to Colonsay as part of his mission to Christianise the Hebrides.
20. The Strand
I mentioned The Strand earlier. This stretch of beautiful sand separates Oronsay from the mainland of Colonsay. The water here is so low that it recedes completely at low tide, allowing you to walk from one island to the other. This is one of the most beautiful places on the island, and a place I came back to again and again during my stay.
It is very easy to reach The Strand; just take the B8085 south from Scalasaig until you reach the end of the road where there is a parking area and direct access to the beach.
21. Turraman Loch
This small inland loch lies beside the Old Road from Scalasaig to Kiloran. I was fascinated by the reeds and lily pads that were thick along the shoreline.
So, there you are, these are picks as the most beautiful places on Colonsay (until I return to the island and discover more stunning places to enjoy!)