I’m delving into my road-trip archives to share a lesser known Scottish gem with you today – the community owned Isle of Gigha.
Gigha first caught my eye in 2014 as I sailed by on my way to Islay. A fleeting glimpse of white sandy beach and I was captivated. It was promptly added to my long list of places to see.
Luckily we managed to visit for a couple of nights last September. The scenic ferry crossing from Tayinloan on the Kintyre Peninsula to the Isle of Gigha only takes 20 minutes.
To say Gigha is compact would be an understatement. It’s seven miles long and a mile and a half wide, with a solitary single track road running its length. I hope this blog will show you that great things come in small packages, and maybe even prompt you to add Gigha to your ‘must see’ list too.
Gigha is an easy island to explore in a weekend, which is great as you leave feeling you’ve managed to do it justice. It’s the perfect remote escape if you love the great outdoors, unspoiled scenery, history and good food. You can hire a bike and cycle on an almost car free and relatively flat road, or a canoe and paddle around the beautiful clear waters. We explored the island on foot, using the car only to cut down on time spent getting between points of interest.
On arrival our first port of call were the beaches at the north end of the island.
The boy was in his element and enjoyed a bout of loopy, fast running.
The beaches were lovely – unspoiled, rugged and blissfully people free. They were a hit with all three of us.
A box ticker for me was the fact that you didn’t have to look far on Gigha to find history. It has a ruined medieval chapel, complete with carved grave slabs, as well as several interesting standing stones.
I loved the Stone of Tarbert (Carragh an Tairbeirt), which sits by the roadside at the north of the island. It’s sometimes known as the hanging stone as it’s rumoured to have been a place of execution in medieval times. I prefer another version of a story associated with its origin.
Once upon a time there was a giant who lived on the Kintyre Peninsula on the Scottish mainland. The poor soul was plagued by terrible toothache. One day the pain got so bad that in despair, he tore out his aching tooth and hurled it across the sea to Gigha, where it landed, embedding itself in the ground.
The stone definitely looks like a giant tooth, so I’m inclined to believe this is the true story behind the Stone of Tarbert!
On both days of our stay we ate lunch at The Boathouse which sits by Ardminish Bay. I’d read great things about the place and I wasn’t disappointed. It was excellent – people and friendly, relaxed and most importantly the food was delicious.
While on Gigha we stayed at the Gigha Hotel, eating our evening meals there too. The food was simple, fresh and tasty. The hotel was a chilled out, haven which boasted stunning views of the mainland – it was the perfect island base.
An eventful hike
We spent our second day on Gigha exploring the south of the island. I’d researched some island walks before our visit, using my hiking bible the Walk Highlands website. You won’t be surprised to hear that the walk I liked the sound of best incorporated a beach and standing stones.
I omitted to mention to Mr G that the walk had been flagged as boggy/muddy in parts. I’d walk barefoot over broken glass to reach standing stones. Mr G would rather not! We’d fallen out a year earlier on the Isle of Jura, when I’d led us into the mother of all bogs to reach a stone I’d spotted from the car, and insisted we pull over for.
The start of our walk along minor road and farm track was good underfoot. So far so good – no bog, no mud. And then I saw them, not the stones but a herd of cows blocking our path to the beach. I always thought cows were lovable, docile creatures until I started hiking. Then I started to read horror stories about ramblers being chased and trampled by them. I had visions of them charging my beloved wee dug. I wimped out and turned on my heels, deciding to cut the beach visit from our hike. Mr G grumbled but followed.
We headed in the direction of the stones, skirting gingerly around the far edge of a very boggy field. “Gosh it’s a bit boggy” I said, hoping I sounded suitably surprised. Then came the mud – mud, mud and more mud. Slippery, deep and unpleasant. Damn website, you’d think they’d have mentioned this I fake ranted. Mr G was fast losing patience when I noticed a mini version of the stones we were looking for. “We must be close” I said “look that’s a miniature version of the stones up there on that wee hill.”
It did strike me as odd, that they’d have a miniature version of them. Then I realised that the pint-sized monoliths before us were ‘the’ actual stones. For scale, see if you can spot the Wee White Dug lurking in the photo above!
In Scotland we have a word which perfectly describes a feeling of disgust – scunnered. Scunnered is what I was when I realised I’d trekked through the equivalent of a wet weekend at Glastonbury to reach some knee-high stones.
As I snapped photos of them, my feelings towards them softened. They’d stood for thousands of years watching over the island. Their names Bodach and Cailleach translate from Gaelic as man and woman. It was once thought they were responsible for Gigha being a green and fertile island. Islanders are said to have taken them offerings to appease them, and guarantee the continued fertility of the island. Others believed them to be terrifying creatures that came to life at night and roamed the heath.
They sit in a beautiful, peaceful spot with fantastic views so are well worth a visit, despite their lack of stature.
If you’re wondering who’s who, Bodach has the big lumpy head.
After our second enjoyable lunch at The Boathouse we spent the afternoon exploring more of the island. Mr G was a good lad and let me visit the ruined medieval chapel AND go in search of the Ogham stone – yet another standing stone. This time inscribed with what’s thought to be Pictish writing.
Later, we found a pretty little sandy bay near the hotel which appeased Mr G after missing the beach earlier due to coogate!
We finished our day out with a walk in the extensive Achamore Gardens – a mysterious, leafy haven which must look spectacular in summer when in full bloom.
All too soon our short stay on Gigha was over, and it was time to leave the little island paradise.
As we were checking out of our hotel the receptionist shared a wonderful story about two Frenchmen who’d just checked out in front of us. They’d bought an old sailing boat from a salvage yard in France and renovated it. They’d just sailed in the tiny wooden boat from France to Scotland, and were en-route to the Jura Distillery on the Isle of Jura. Their plan was to have it made into whisky barrels. I love stories like that, people living a life less ordinary, and turning it into a great adventure.
As we sailed away from Gigha on the ferry, taking in some final views of the island I spotted the Frenchmen hopping aboard their tiny Jura bound sailing boat and smiled.
Until next time ……