Some properties of the NTS are well known from the gorgeous Culzean Castle and the eloquent Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, to the majestic Mar Lodge and of course the amazing Culloden Battlefield. However, there are some places that are a little more off the beaten track, especially the islands, but with the cold weather drawing in we thought this might be a good time to plan next years adventures.
Here in the Highlands of Scotland we are blessed to be surrounded by the Hebrides to the west and the Orkney and Shetland Islands to the north. And though we may not be the first thought when you think of a beach or coastal holiday hopefully this will make you reconsider as we take you on a journey around the NTS islands of Scotland.
Firstly, north to Fair Isle. Located halfway between Orkney and Shetland, Fair Isle is one of Britain’s most remote inhabited islands. Not only that but it’s adorably small – only 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Don’t let its size deceive you though there’s plenty to see. Fair Isle is well known for its colonies of seabirds but for us here we love the unique crofting community that fills the island with spirit and can’t help but make you smile. Crafts are bountiful on Fair Isle with the world famous Fair Isle knitting the obvious example but the island also showcases boat building, spinning and crofting so there a little bit for everyone. For those less crafty there are archaeological remains, an abandoned RAF radar station and the wreck of a Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber that crashed here in World War II. Oh, and not only all of that to see but you can even stay at South Lighthouse!
From the north to the west, and here we look at the three spectacular island of Mingulay, Berneray and Pabbay. Located at the southern tip of the western isle these islands have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. For these islands the adventure starts before you even arrive. Accessible only by boat and with spectacular high sea cliffs the journey over is exciting to say the least and the landing something unique. For those brave enough to make it though the islands will open their hearts and show you some fantastic scenery. From the sea stacks, caves and promontories along the west coast to the white sandy bays and turquoise seas to the east the islands are a wonder of contrasts. Wildlife loves the islands as well with basking sharks and dolphins visiting in the summer and even golden eagles soaring above.
Now we couldn’t do a post about islands without mentioning the jewel in the crown, St Kilda. This World Heritage Site formed from the rim of an ancient volcano is the remotest part of the British Isles. Now uninhabited the island is home to the most important seabird breeding station in northwest Europe. This place is an ornithologists dream. In summer a million bird make St Kilda their home and these include the largest colony of northern gannets in the world and the largest colony of northern fulmars in the British Isles, as well as thousands of puffins and guillemots.
Finally for something a little more accessible we take a trip to Iona and Staffa. Iona is known internationally as the cradle of Scottish Christianity, thanks to the arrival in AD563 of St Columba and his followers; whilst Staffa is best known for its magnificent basalt columns and spectacular sea caves, including the famous Fingal’s Cave. Iona maintains its special spiritual atmosphere and even has a restored medieval abbey which still holds daily services. Also worth visiting are the nearby St Oran’s Chapel and Reilig Odhrain, reputed to be the burial place of 48 kings of Scotland, including Macbeth.
Once you’ve checked out the wonders of Iona you then have to make your way to Staffa. This uninhabited and unspoilt island is the stuff of legend. Fingal’s Cave, also known as An Uamh Binn (Cave of Melody) is the highlight and is best seen by boat. It has a unique, cathedral-like structure and its hexagonal columns are similar to those of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. There are more caves along Staffas south coast and if you have time it’s also worth checking out Gunna Mor, here a bore-hole creates dramatic thunderous noises as waves strike the cliff below.
Hopefully you’re inspired to visit one of the many islands which the NTS helps preserve and protect and fingers crossed for glorious sunshine and summer heat for next year. As always please like, share, comment, tweet, re-blog and don’t just dream about Scotland, come and live it for real!
All the best, K & D