Isle of Colonsay – exploring a Hebridean gem

While the planet battles an invisible foe, travel has rightly been put on hold. Now, more than ever, we need a little escapism. Luckily, the world is our virtual oyster. Call me biased, but I can think of nowhere better for a spot of armchair tourism than Scotland. So, grab yourself a coffee (or something stronger) and join me for a jaunt to the Isle of Colonsay.

Getting to the Isle of Colonsay

It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Colonsay from Oban. We sailed on a midweek crossing, at 12:10pm, which meant we could enjoy lunch at sea.

We love CalMac’s onboard grub and their Cajun chicken burger didn’t disappoint.

CalMac Mariners Restaurant

After lunch, Mr G went outside to see if he could spot any wildlife. It was a lovely afternoon, but the sea was choppy and getting choppier by the second – spotting anything would take a miracle.

CalMac, Isle of Colonsay ferry

Before long, he staggered back inside, asking casually “Do you get seasick?”. No” I replied. “Me neither” he said, his face ash grey. He then disappeared into the loo and that was the last I saw of him for a good half hour.

Our accommodation – The Colonsay Hotel

Feet back on dry land, Mr G’s colour returned.

Our accommodation was a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal, so we decided to check-in before exploring.

The Colonsay Hotel is located in Scalasaig, the island’s main settlement. Besides being home to the only hotel on Colonsay, the village also has a post office/general store, micro brewery, gin distillery, bookshop, cafe, gallery and craft shop.

The hotel has eight guest bedrooms (two are dog friendly), a bar and restaurant.

On arrival, we were informed we’d been upgraded to a room with a sea view – yay.

The Colonsay Hotel, Isle of Colonsay

Day 1 – exploring the Isle of Colonsay
Kiloran Bay

After unpacking, we were champing at the bit to visit a beach. Colonsay is only ten miles long and two miles wide, but it has several stunning beaches.

One of the most popular is Kiloran Bay. The golden, sandy beach is backed by high, grassy dunes and fringed by a rocky coastline.

We arrived to find it deserted. Ahhh, blissful isolation.

After a day spent travelling, the boy was feeling a little stir crazy. He raced round the beach like a whirling dervish. We went at a more leisurely pace.

Colonsay is full of hidden history, dating back thousands of years. One of the most significant finds on the island was discovered at Kiloran Bay in 1882, when a Viking grave was unearthed on the dunes. In it was a warrior, his horse and weapons. They’d been covered by an upturned wooden boat, nine metres long.

Kiloran Bay, Colonsay

Colonsay House Gardens

Leaving the beach, we stopped off at Colonsay House nearby. The elegant Georgian mansion owned by the 5th Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, has a pretty garden which is open to the public. Inside the garden stands an early Christian cross, known as the Riasg Buidhe cross. It dates to the 7th or 8th century and once stood beside an ancient chapel. It was moved to Colonsay House for safekeeping in the 1870s.

I’ve seen many carved crosses on my travels, but the Riasg Buidhe cross is the strangest. It has a face (possibly representing Christ) and and is really odd looking.

The boy seemed to like the wee mannie though.

Riasg Buidhe Cross, Isle of Colonsay

Time to unwind at our island retreat

Exploring done for the day, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon tipple by a roaring fire, followed by a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.

The Colonsay Hotel

The highlight for me was my starter of quinoa and pomegranate salad with halloumi and yoghurt dressing – it was super tasty.

Mr G waxed lyrical about his main – pan fried halibut, lemon crushed potatoes with dill, tomatoes and white wine velouté.

The Colonsay Hotel

After dinner, we walked the boy under a sky filled with twinkling stars.

It was the perfect end to the day.

Day 2 – Exploring the Isle of Colonsay

Our second day started with coffee and a lovely breakfast of freshly baked croissants, muffins and a hearty bowl of porridge with honey and banana.

Once sufficiently fuelled, we were ready to explore.

The Colonsay Hotel

Hike – Kiloran Bay to Balnahard

Loving remote beaches, we decided to do a 7.25 mile hike from Kiloran Bay to Tràigh Bàn (white strand) at Balnahard and back.

We set off across the machair at Kiloran, me zigzagging wildly to avoid cows.

Once we’d passed the coos, I relaxed and we enjoyed our first fab view of the hike.

Isle of Colonsay

Kiloran Bay from above – wow.

Kiloran Bay, Colonsay

Tearing ourselves away from the view, we continued along a track which cut through a rocky landscape.

We soon ground to a halt again. This time to watch wild goats grazing on a hillside. I love goats, so was in my element. 

After leaving the bearded ones, we made good progress.

Just before we reached our destination, we stopped at the site of a medieval nunnery. All that remains of Cille Chatriona is a rocky outline, but for a history geek like me, they were a magical pile of stones.

Nunnery ruins, Balnahard

And speaking of magical – Tràigh Bàn on a beautiful spring morning. The green of the machair, golden sand and turquoise sea. There’s nothing to rival the incredible colours of the Hebrides.

The SS Wasa was towed to Tràigh Bàn after catching fire en route to Sweden in 1920. The wreckage still lies on the beach. After inspecting it, we headed off to do what we love best.

For Mr G that involved climbing, then waving manically from a lofty vantage point.

And for me, it involved gazing out to sea, hypnotised by the sound of the waves.

Balnahard, Colonsay

Followed by a paddle to cool my weary feet.

Balnahard, Isle of Colonsay Balnahard, Isle of Colonsay

Leaving the beach, we turned to retrace our steps back to Kiloran.

On the machair, just off the Balnahard track is a stone outline of a whale. Visitors have added rocks to it over the years, so only a little of the body and tail remain unfilled. We stopped to add stones to it, then climbed a hill for an aerial view.

Balnahard whale

And what a view it was – all 360 degrees of it.

Isle of Colonsay Scottish travel blog

It’d been a brilliant hike, but hanger was setting in for Mr G.

He needed food, and he needed it fast.

Lunch – The Colonsay Hotel

Thankfully, the hotel was serving lunch, so we found a table in the lounge and ordered soup (carrot and ginger), sandwiches (club) and a pot of coffee.

It was good to sit down, after spending the morning on our feet.

Lunch, hit the spot perfectly and the coffee boosted our flagging energy levels.

The Colonsay Hotel

Ancient stones, chapel ruins and aeroplanes

After lunch, we headed back out to explore.

Our first stop was to view a pair of Neolithic stones at Kilchattan. The stones (the remains of a stone circle) are known as Fingal’s limpet hammers. They got their name, because they resemble the tools used to dislodge limpets from rocks. The Fingal in question was a Celtic giant. His name crops up all over Scotland, usually connected to far fetched shenanigans.

Standing stones, Isle of Colonsay Standing stones, Isle of Colonsay

Opposite the stones stands a tiny ruined chapel dedicated to Saint Cathan.

Did I pass up the opportunity to visit the pre-Reformation ruin? What do you think?

Kilchattan Old Parish Church, Colonsay

Finished with history for the day (much to Mr G’s relief), we drove to Colonsay Airstrip for a nosey.

We arrived just as a flight was preparing to take off. We watched as the tiny yellow plane, shot along the runway, before climbing into the air and disappearing over a hill.

If you live for adventure, you can fly to Colonsay from Oban with Hebridean Air Services, instead of catching the ferry.

Maybe one day, I’ll brave a peek at the Hebrides from the sky.

Isle of Colonsay airstripColonsay airstrip

Time to unwind at The Colonsay Hotel

We spent our second evening on Colonsay as we had our first – with drinks in the hotel lounge, followed by another fab meal in the restaurant. Mr G had enjoyed his lunchtime soup so much, that he had it again for dinner. I would have too, if I hadn’t been enticed by terrine (an excellent choice).

After dinner, we combined the boy’s evening walk with another spot of star gazing.

The Colonsay Hotel

Day 3 – Exploring the Isle of Colonsay

We woke on the last day of our Hebridean escape and were delighted to discover it was going to be another gorgeous day.

After feasting on bacon butties, croissants, muffins and coffee for breakfast, we were ready to embrace the great outdoors.

Hike – Crossing The Strand to Oronsay

Popping into the village post office to check the tide times, we decided to start the day with a hike across a stretch of sand (passable at low tide) known as The Strand. It would lead us to the Isle of Oronsay.

Crossing at low tide, we’d have an hour for a potter, before we’d need to return to Colonsay to avoid getting stranded. Oronsay requires a good few hours to explore properly, as it’s home to a medieval priory, an amazing collection of carved stones and a bird reserve. We love visiting tidal islands though, so even a flying visit to Oronsay would be right up our street.

The Strand, Colonsay

Using vehicle tracks as our guide, we headed across The Strand, me at a blistering pace, in case the tide decided to trick us with a stealth attack.

Mr G, trod cautiously – a pointless attempt to keep his feet dry.

Isle of Oronsay

Once on Oronsay we wandered by the shore, before turning to walk back across The Strand to Colonsay.

This time the boy led the way. He was in his element. It was a joy to see him so free and happy.

The Strand Colonsay The Strand, Colonsay

Hungry after our walk, we headed back to Scalasaig in search of sustenance. We found it at The Pantry. Battenburg cake and coffee – a winning combination.

We left the village to find somewhere scenic to enjoy our treats and walk off the calories.

Walk – Traigh An Tobair Fhuair

We found the perfect spot by the island’s golf course and had our coffee and cake served with a bonnie sea view.

Elevenses finished, we scrambled up a small hill with a wartime lookout hut on the summit.

Scottish travel blog Isle of Colonsay

It was such a gorgeous day that we could even see Dubh Artach Lighthouse built by Thomas Stevenson, sitting on its tiny rocky skerry 18 miles out to sea.

Can you see it?

Inner Hebrides

After bagging our mini summit we went for a wander on the beach. The beach name, Traigh An Tobair Fhuaireach translates from Gaelic as beach of the cold well.

Cold or not, the boy wasn’t going to miss a chance to paddle in the sea.

Isle of ColonsayBeach Colonsay

Lunch – The Pantry, Scalasaig

Back in Scalasaig we stocked up on locally produced gin and honey at The Pantry and as our elevenses had been so tasty, we ordered a takeaway lunch too.

My baked potato was served with a side salad, so as far as I’m concerned it cancelled out the Battenburg calories. I’m not so sure the same could be said for the mouth-watering ice cream milkshake I also devoured.

The Pantry, Colonsay

Hike – Riasg Buidhe Village

The day was getting away from us, but we had time for one last hike on the island.

I knew it was a boggy one, but told a white lie to Mr G and said there was a path. There wasn’t. There probably had been a hundred years earlier, but it would have long since disappeared.

As we picked our way through bog and bracken towards the sea, Mr G mumped, moaned and tutted.

I knew he’d stop once we reached our destination and he did. He loved it.

Riasg Buidhe Village

The village of Riasg Buidhe was abandoned in 1918. All that remains of the once thriving fishing village, is a row of tumble down cottages and some scattered ruins.

It’s a wild and beautiful place. Melancholy too, but oh, so peaceful.

Riasg Buidhe VillageRiasg Buidhe Village

The village name Riasg Buidhe means yellow mash in Gaelic – it was well named.

We lingered in the village far longer than we’d planned, enjoying the stillness and watching a family of wild goats with an adorable kid.

A medieval chapel and graveyard once stood beside the village – the original home of the strange carved cross now located in the garden of Colonsay House.

Leaving the village to trample back across bog and bracken, I hoped Mr G’s good humour would last until we reached the car. It didn’t.

Watching the sunset over Kiloran Bay

Our time on Colonsay was drawing to a close and what a wonderful close it would be if we could track down a sunset.

Kiloran Bay seemed like the perfect place to look for one, so we drove to the spot where our island adventure had begun.

Kiloran Bay, Isle of Colonsay

Under a rose coloured sky, we ran across the machair and up and down high, sandy dunes looking for the perfect spot.

Scottish travel blog

And we found it – Colonsay didn’t let us down.

Kiloran Bay, Isle of Colonsay

Back at the hotel, we spent another lovely evening relaxing.

A new day dawns – time to say goodbye

Colonsay had one last treat in store for us before we hopped on the 7:30am ferry to return to the mainland.

Getting out of bed, I opened the curtains and was greeted by the most dramatic sunrise I’ve ever seen.

Wowzer.

I say one last treat, but it was actually two, as the staff at the hotel waved us off to catch the ferry with takeaway bacon and egg butties, warm croissants and muffins – such a nice touch.

And with that, we hopped aboard the ferry and said goodbye to the wonderful Isle of Colonsay.

The Colonsay Hotel, Isle of HotelThe Colonsay Hotel, Isle of Colonsay

Colonsay will always have a special place in our hearts. It was our last Scottish trip before the UK went into lockdown. For three, carefree days we escaped from the c word and lost ourselves in a tranquil Hebridean gem.

Hopefully, we’ll all be free to ramble again soon.

Until then, stay safe …

If you liked this blog, you may also enjoy the following Scottish island posts:

The Isle of Bute

The Isle of Arran

The Isle of Rum

29 thoughts on “Isle of Colonsay – exploring a Hebridean gem

  1. I loved every word of this great post Samantha. I definitely hope I can get to experience the isle for myself one day. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Lovely piece but, as someone who lived on the west coast of Colonsay for 40+ years, I think you have your lighthouses mixed up. The one in you photo is Dubh Artach. You can’t actually see Skerryvore from there but you can occasionally see the sweep of the light on a clear night. Great pictures, thanks.

    1. Hi Hughie, glad you like the post. Thanks also for identifying the lighthouse. I did wonder how on earth I could see Skerryvore. Will update the post. Away to google Dubh Artach. It’s a new one for me and I love lighthouses. 😍

  3. Lovely, I’ll dream of the day I can reach Colonsay either by ferry or plane – I don’t care which – I just want to go, there or anywhere. I returned home from Cologne on 16th March which seems a lifetime away and although I’m lucky to live in an idyllic part of the Yorkshire Dales and have a lovely home and garden, I can’t wait to wander once again, let’s hope it won’t be too long for us all xx

    1. Fingers crossed. Yorkshire is beautiful, so you’re lucky to be in lockdown there. It’s funny how long ago our travels seem now. Hopefully we’ll be free again before long. You absolutely need to visit Colonsay – it’s paradise. Stay safe. X

  4. In our lockdown we are entertaining ourselves watching the old series Hamish Macbeth and visiting your lovely country vicariously. Your wonderful post arrived after we finished the last episode.

    1. Aww we rewatched the series again recently. Love it. We’re currently watching Monarch of the Glen again. Archie was a BIG crush of mine back in the day. 😀

  5. I was hoping only yesterday that something would be sent through from you! Thank you! Colonsay looks amazing, photos of great colour and composition. I have seen people on you tube get over to Oronsay (sandra Cairney, she and her husband do trips out – fun to watch) but it did look like a rush to get back before the tide. Casper the star of the show. I am with you Sam as far as no sra sickness is concerned but when it comes to marsh/peat bogs Mr G is champion! Take care care everyone.

    1. Hi Janet, so glad you enjoyed the blog. It’s a stunning island. We were so lucky with the weather too. We loved the hike across to Oronsay and back. I do love a sandy causeway to cross. How long you get on the island just depends on the tide. I’m sure there will be many more trips across to come. Take care and stay safe.

      1. This isn’t really s reply to the above but I think I will have to visit Edinburgh one Easter because I saw a photo of an interesting bunny on the BBC news website photos of Scotland LOL.
        Also I somehow heard via the grapevine that Casper sneaked off one day, unless this is a fable:

        One day the Wee White Dug named Casper
        Trotted to the airport and flew out to Alaska.
        Upon arrival there
        Was scared out of his wits by a bear
        Then jumping on a plane he ended up in Madagascar!

        Madness I know 😊

  6. Thank you for such an uplifting blog. Seeing your wonderful photos and having a laugh at some of your comments really brightened my day.
    I love how you can let the dug run free at times – I wish I could trust my 2 westies but I doubt they’d come back!
    Stay safe. 🌞

    1. I’m so glad the post cheered you up. The boy’s good off lead but occasionally he tries to make a run for it. 😀

  7. Great write up about my home island and great pictures.My father still stays on Colonsay and his house overlooks Kiloran Bay which must be one of the best beaches anywhere.

    1. Thank you. What a place to grow up. It’s so beautiful and packed with history which is right up my street. Kiloran is stunning. Can’t think of a finer beach to live beside. 😍

  8. Delightful, Sam! The photos were absolutely stunning – and that sunrise! – as you say; “Wowser”! Just what we need at the present time to lift our spirits. I’m really pleased that you were able to experience it before the lockdown – for you – and for us – so that we could share it with you! A wonderful virtual experience brought to life by your usual wit and charm . A huge thank-you to you, Mr G and, of course, the Wee White Dug; I loved the photo of him standing on the sands with his name spelled out in the wonderful idyllic setting. Hope it won’t be too long before you’re off on your travels again.

    1. Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I have other trips I can write up on lockdown so will keep the idyllic virtual escapes coming. Fingers crossed we’re all safe to travel again in the not too distant future.

    1. So many superb photos, Sam! Thank you so much for the virtual trip without the sea or airsickness, that I know would level me! 😆

  9. We are not in lockdown but movement is somewhat restricted. Each of the States have just about returned to what they were 100 years ago before Federation, with Border Controls and 14 days quarantine before you will be allowed enter the State.. Loved all the photographs and seeing the Wee White Dug running about free was great and the meals were stunning – although I have to say that me looking at a photograph of Chicken Burger and Chips at 6am is not so good :o). Take care – Stay Safe..

    1. Sounds like you’re able to enjoy a bit more freedom than us at the moment. The boy loves an island with hills and beaches so was in his element, as were we. We’ll definitely be returning when we can. Take care.

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