I thought I’d delve into the trip archives again share a little Scottish gem with you – the community owned Isle of Gigha.
Gigha first caught my eye in 2014 as I sailed by it on my way to Islay. A glimmer of white sandy beach from the ferry and I was captivated. It was promptly added to my never ending list of places to see.
Mr G, the Wee Dug and I finally got around to visiting last September. The short 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 the length of the island. It has a population of approximately 160. I hope this blog will show you that great things come in small packages and prompt you to add Gigha to your ‘must see’ list too.
Gigha is an easy island to explore and there’s lots to see and do, especially if you love the great outdoors, unspoiled scenery, history and good food. You can hire bikes and cycle on an almost car free and relatively flat road, or canoes and paddle around the beautiful clear waters.
Our first stop on arrival were the beaches at the north end of the island for a good old nosey around.
The boy gave Gigha a big paws up with a spot of fast running on beach number one of the trip.
The beaches were gorgeous – unspoiled, ruggedly beautiful and blissfully people free.
We all loved the Twin Beaches, which are two beaches that sit back to back, separated by a narrow strip of land.
A real box ticker for me was the fact that you didn’t have to look very hard to find history on Gigha. It has a ruined medieval chapel complete with some fairly well preserved, carved medieval grave slabs and several interesting standing stones.
I loved the Stone of Tarbert, or Carragh an Tairbeirt in Gaelic. It sits by the roadside at the north of the island. It’s sometimes known as the hanging stone and is rumoured to have been a place of execution in medieval times. I prefer another version of a story associated with it though.
Once upon a time there was a giant who lived on the Kintyre Peninsula of the Scottish mainland. He was plagued by terrible toothache. One day the pain got so bad that in despair he tore out the aching tooth and hurled it angrily across the sea to Gigha where it landed, embedding itself in the ground.
It certainly looks like a giant tooth to me so I’m inclined to believe that this is the true history behind the Stone of Tarbert.
We ate lunch on both days of our stay at The Boathouse which sits by Ardminish Bay. I’d read great things about this place and wasn’t disappointed. It was excellent – cosy, relaxed, dug friendly and the food was delicious.
You can camp at The Boathouse too and use their on-site shower and toilet facilities.
During our visit we stayed at the Gigha Hotel. We ate there both evenings and found the food simple, but fresh and tasty. The hotel has great views, looking back across to Kintyre on the mainland.
We spent our second day on Gigha exploring the south of the island. I’d researched some island walks using my bible the Walk Highlands website. You won’t be surprised to hear that the walk I liked the sound of most involved a trek to see a beach, then a couple of ancient standing stones.
I omitted to mention to Mr G that Walk Highlands had flagged this walk as boggy/muddy in parts, as I’m willing to walk barefoot over a bed of broken glass to reach standing stones. Him not so much – as in, not at all willing! He’d almost lynched me two years earlier on the Isle of Jura when I’d led us straight into a bog to get near 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 easy and fine underfoot. So far so good – 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 big creatures until I started hiking. Then I 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 around, deciding to cut the beach visit from our morning hike. Mr G grumbled but followed.
We headed in the direction of the stones, skirting around the far edge of a boggy field. Gosh it’s a bit boggy I mentioned as if I was shocked by that revelation. Then came the mud fest – mud, mud and more mud. Slippery, deep and unpleasant. Blasted 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 nearly there I said, as look that’s a mini version of the stones up there on that wee hill.
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 very wet weekend at Glastonbury to reach some knee high stones.
As I snapped some photos of them my feelings towards them changed. They’d stood there for thousands of years keeping watch over the island. Their names Bodach and Cailleach translate from Gaelic as man and woman. It’s said they were responsible for Gigha being a green and fertile island and that islanders once took them offerings to appease them and guarantee the continued fertility of Gigha. Some 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 a nice afternoon pottering around the island. Mr G was a good lad and let me explore the ruined medieval chapel AND go in search of the Ogham stone. Another standing stone. This time inscribed with what’s believed to be Pictish writing.
Later we found a lovely little sandy bay near the hotel which appeased Mr G after missing the beach earlier due to the coos!
We finished the afternoon with a walk in the extensive Achamore Gardens. A beautiful, mature leafy haven which must look spectacular in summer when it’s in full bloom.
All too soon our short stay was over and it was time to leave the little island paradise that is Gigha.
As we were checking out of the hotel the receptionist shared a wonderful story about two Frenchmen who’d just checked out in front of us. They’d bought an old wooden sailing boat from a salvage yard in France and renovated it. They’d sailed it from France, and were bound for the Jura whisky distillery on the Isle of Jura where they wanted to have the boat made into whisky barrels. I love stories like that – people living life to the full and turning it into a great adventure.
As we sailed away from the island, taking in some final views of Gigha I saw them board their tiny wooden sailing boat bound for Jura and I smiled.
Until next time ……