COLONSAY AND ORONSAY:TWO TINY HEBRIDEAN GEMS

It had always niggled me that on our only trip to this little Hebridean island many, many moons ago, we had never got over to the tidal island of Oronsay with its beautiful 14th century ruined abbey, built by John, Lord of the Isles. A Bird Reserve too, home to rare species such as Corncrakes and Choughs. But the high tide had made it impossible to cross the half mile of sand and mudflats called The Strand. The awful weather also meant that we hadn’t seen this little Colonsay at its best. So, with a couple of nights to plan, Colonsay it had to be. It’s only 10miles long by 2miles wide so is easily seen via bike or even by walking, but age, shortness of time (and to be honest – laziness) made us opt to take the car this time. That made it easier too, to transport food supplies bought in Oban,  as there is only one small shop on the island.

Oban

The sail from Oban is a beauty and after a morning of rain, the skies brightened just as we boarded The Clansman. We’d bought some great carry out lunch to share from Oban’s famous Seafood Shack on the pier  – 5 freshly cooked  and huge scallops, deliciously sweet and meaty (£10) ; and the biggest Prawn Marie Rose sandwich (£3.95) I’ve ever seen, jam-packed with tasty prawns and a million miles from the thinnish offerings sold by the big chains. A protein filled lunch!

Soon we were underway, heading out of Oban bay then turning south down the lovely Firth of Lorn.

Kerrera

Seeing Mull so close, I admit that I felt a pang of loss that we weren’t going there, but it was good, too, to be branching out to somewhere less familiar.

Mull

Past Kerrera, scene of yesterday’s walk, then the Garvellachs (the Rough Islands) came into view – as did 3 or 4 dolphins which suddenly created surf of their own amidst the white horses, as they hunted furiously a short distance from the ship. But I failed miserably to get decent photos – just splashes on a wind whipped sea.

Mull

It was sunny but very cold on deck with the northerly blowing,  so Chris got some carry – out tea from the cafeteria and we found a seat on the sheltered side, to enjoy the scenery. Scarba appeared, with the world’s third largest whirlpool – the Corrievreckan  – lying eerily between it and Jura’s rugged north end. It’s a great boat trip out to see the whirlpool but it was fully booked on the days we were in this area, otherwise I would have enjoyed doing it again.

Jura

Then the Paps of Jura (3 of them and not 2 as the name suggests!) began to clear after the morning’s rain, the mountains always taking a bit more time to emerge. I love seeing Jura, the hills rearing in such a shapely way out of the ocean.

It’s a 2hr 15min sail to Colonsay but the interest never wanes given the stunning views. Colonsay itself sat serenely on the horizon, low lying and quite craggy in places, but also very much a farming island and with one of the Hebrides most photographed beaches at Kiloran Bay.

At 2.30pm, we pulled into Scalasaig harbour, the tiny village setting very attractive on first sight. It was Monday afternoon and there was no ferry now until Wed at 3.30pm.We were marooned  – but in a good way!

Colonsay

A 15 min drive took us to our apartment on the lovely Colonsay Estate, in a quite spacious flat conversion within 18th century Colonsay House. This is still the home of Lord Strathcona and his family, a beautiful building surrounded by gorgeous gardens. It’s also only a 10 min walk from Kiloran beach.

Colonsay Apartments

It was now such a sunny, bright afternoon that we wasted no time in unloading the car before setting off immediately for Kiloran. Carpe Diem!

Kiloran under sunny skies is quite a sight.The sand in some light is almost orange, certainly a rich golden colour and striking against the turquoise sea and the pounding surf. It’s enhanced too by being overlooked by the island’s highest hill – Carnan Eoin or the Hill of the Birds – all 143m of it! But it’s a shapely, rugged wee hill and I was determined to climb it this time though I’d have had a mutiny on my hands if I’d suggested to Chris that we do it now. Actually I wasn’t up for it at that point either – we’d been Munro bagging a couple of days earlier and I’d been physically exhausted by that jaunt, a battle against 40mph winds over 22km of often trackless moorland. Plus we’d wild camped the night before, which always seems to take it out of me. THEN the 7mile walk on Kerrera yesterday – my enthusiasm for activity had waned quite a bit, to put it mildly!

Kiloran beach

What a fine beach for strolling though, the surf crashing beside us and not a soul around.

We made our way to the very end of the sand, coming across the remains of a huge whale with just the bleached bones left on the grass. A Minke whale perhaps? Quite sad to see.

After that, we did no more than wander back to our apartment, with a brief walk round Colonsay House Gardens with their slightly exotic feel. Little bridges over streams, lots of Blue Hydrangeas in bloom, some fine specimen pine trees – it’s quite gorgeous – though we were too late for the rhododendrons, considered the finest collection in Scotland. And of course the grand house makes a fantastic backdrop, with our little apartment (not so little actually) up on the roof space with its long row of attic windows. Servants quarters in the past? Good enough nowadays for hoi polloi like us!Once inside, I prepped the chicken for roasting  while Chris opened some champagne (Asda special at £10.99) and we drank to a lovely if exhausting trip so far with , hopefully,  another few nice (and easier!) days still to come. With a good forecast for tomorrow and the Tide Tables suggesting low tide at 11.30am, my longed for walk over to Oronsay looked ‘on.’

Next Day: A Walk Across the Tidal Sands to Oronsay and a Clamber up Colonsay’s Highest Hill A HALF DAY ON ORONSAY and A CLAMBER UP COLONSAY’S HIGHEST HILL (143m!)

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