I love a Scottish island escape. What’s not to love about beautiful beaches, blissful solitude, friendly locals, native wildlife, fascinating history and delicious food, fresh from Scotland’s bountiful natural larder. In my last post I shared the fabulous Isle of Colonsay with you. This time I’m taking you back to the Inner Hebrides to share the highlights of an autumn 2019 break on the Isle of Tiree.
Getting to Tiree
The Isle of Tiree is reached via ferry from Oban on Scotland’s West Coast.
We had to check in for our 3 hour 50 minute crossing at bleary eye o’clock and by 7:10 a.m. were bound for the most westerly of the islands in the Inner Hebrides.
It was a dreich morning, but cosy aboard the ferry. CalMac do a fab Scottish breakfast, so we were tucking into haggis, tattie scones and slice sausage by the time Lismore Lighthouse came into view.
There was something really comforting about seeing the intermittent blink of the lighthouse through the gloom.
Where we stayed on the Isle of Tiree
There’s a variety of tourist accommodation on Tiree, ranging from small hotel to glamping pod. We stayed at Rockvale Guest House by Balephetrish Bay. It was a lovely rural location a few miles from the ferry terminal at Scarinish.
We were delighted with our choice of accommodation. The boy was too, when he discovered a personalised goody bag waiting for him on arrival.
Our ground floor room was modern and spacious, with a sofa to lounge on and an en-suite with a bath. I love a bath for soaking tired muscles after a day spent rambling. One of the highlights of our stay at Rockvale Guest House were the daily visits from the home baking fairy, who left us scrumptious flapjacks to tuck into.
Mornings at Rockvale started with a tasty, cooked breakfast. We feasted on porridge with banana and chocolate, poached eggs with spinach and mushrooms and smoked salmon and scrambled egg – all excellent.
Evenings were spent unwinding in the guest lounge, drinking wine and watching fabulous sunsets.
Now you know how we got to Tiree and where we stayed, here are some of the things we enjoyed doing while we were there.
Bagging a modest peak or two
Billy Connolly once described Tiree as being “like a bloody billiard table”. And it is, with the exception of a couple of modest hills.
While on the island we definitely weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to bag a view with minimal effort.
Beinn Hynish – 141 metres
Mr G had been banging on about climbing Beinn Hynish (the highest point on the island) from the minute we set foot on Tiree. I suggested he bide his time and wait for a blue sky day, as sunshine was forecast. Tiree is one of the sunniest places in Scotland, so I was hopeful the forecast would be correct.
Reluctantly he agreed and his patience paid off. We tackled the ben on a gloriously, sunny day – our last on the Isle of Tiree.
Setting off up a single track road, we twisted and turned our way towards the summit of Ben Hynish. The incline was gradual, not relentless (my type of hill). The higher we went, the better the view was. We stopped frequently to snap photos, so were never going to bag the hill in record time. That didn’t bother us though, as we were outdoors, there wasn’t another human to be see and the sun was shining.
Our progress up Beinn Hynish was hampered further, near the summit when we stopped to swing imaginary golf clubs at a giant ‘golf ball’. Mr G is handy with a golf club, but there was no way he’d be teeing off this bad boy.
Once on the summit and with the golf ball (a civil aviation radar station) behind us, we were rewarded with an amazing view. We could even see the mighty Skerryvore Lighthouse standing on its rocky skerry 11 miles out to sea.
Buzzing after finding a bit of elevation, we were raring to bag another Isle of Tiree summit.
Beinn Hough – 119 metres
Beinn Hough is the second highest point on Tiree and like Beinn Hynish the summit is reached via a tarmac track. This was my favourite of the two island peaks we bagged. Not only was the view from the top phenomenal, but the hill had two high points joined by a pass (bealach na beinn). Beinn Hough offered far better rambling potential than its modest height suggested.
The view from the top was expansive, taking in the Outer Hebrides, Inner Hebrides and the Mainland. We could see the entire length (10 miles) and breadth (5 miles) of Tiree.
The boy seemed to like the view too. He stood admiring it, before settling down to bask in the autumn sunshine.
We joined him.
After a short breather we made our way across the bealach towards the other high point on Beinn Hough.
It was topped by a small concrete building which had been used as a RAF observation post during WWII.
With a 360 degree panoramic view, it was easy to see why the RAF had chosen the spot.
Wildlife watching on the Isle of Tiree
Besides bagging hills, we also enjoyed a spot of wildlife watching while on Tiree.
The Brown Hare is one of my favourite native beasties and I was in luck, as they’re abundant on Tiree. We spotted them all over the island, but each new sighting was a thrill. They’re such beautiful creatures.
The island was teeming with geese too, resting as they made their way to spend winter in warmer climes. It was wonderful to watch them flying overhead.
Tiree is a twitcher’s paradise. We spotted loads of birds besides geese during our time there, including the Oystercatcher, Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake.
Seals are a common sight on our travels, but that doesn’t make watching them any less enjoyable. We discovered several good seal spotting locations dotted around Tiree. One of our favourites was near Balephuil where we were able to observe a colony of Harbour Seals swimming and basking in the autumn sunshine (all from a safe distance, so as not to disturb them).
And no Scottish road trip would be complete without stopping to say hello to an adorable heilan’ coo or two.
Or, to have your every move watched by curious sheep.
Visiting Tiree’s historic sites
The majority of our Scottish road trips involve, hiking, wildlife and history and Tiree was no different.
There were plenty of historic sites on the island to keep this history geek happy.
Dun Mor Broch, Vaul
I love a good broch (even more than a castle), so I was never going to visit the island, without seeing Dun Mor Broch. Parking at Vaul Bay we set off across one of the boggiest sections of terrain we’ve ever set foot on in Scotland (and that’s saying something). Mr G was not amused and complained about my history obsession ruining his footwear. Ignoring him, boggy doggy and I squelched on undeterred.
When we finally reached the broch, Mr G forgot about his soggy feet and started snapping photos of the remarkable Iron Age structure and the lovely Tiree coastline it was sitting on.
It’s thought the broch once stood around 8 metres high. Although it’s height has been much diminished over the years, it’s still an impressive structure. And when you consider it was built without any mortar to hold it together, it’s even more impressive.
The original purpose of brochs is lost in time, but there’s a theory they were defensive structures – the forerunner to the castle. To me, that seems plausible, given the thickness of the walls and the fact they have guard cells by the entrance.
What I love most about brochs, is that we’ll never really know why they were built, so they’ll always have an air of mystery to them.
The Ringing stone (Clach a’ Chiore)
One of most unusual historic sites I’ve visited in Scotland is Tiree’s ‘Ringing Stone’. The giant erratic was dragged to the Tiree shoreline from the Isle of Rum during the last Ice Age. The stone bears 53 carved cup marks of various sizes, believed to date back to 2,500 BC. When struck, the cup marks emit a metallic ringing sound (some more than others). The significance of the stone is unknown, but it may have been used for ceremonial purposes.
To reach the Ringing Stone, we had to limbo under an electric fence. Tiptoe through a field with two bulls in it, then another with cows blocking the path (bovines are my hiking Achilles Heel). After electricity and livestock came bog, followed by the needle in a haystack challenge of finding a stone on a rocky shoreline.
It was instantly recognisable though and was worth the effort it took to reach.
We had fun, tapping the cup marks with pebbles and listening to them ringing. Mr G was particularly taken by the stone and tapped away as happy as Larry.
And then, the stone struck back.
Tap, tap, tap, tap – ouch.
Luckily, he found it funny (despite his sore fingers). We were roaring with laughter as we squelched our way back through the bog, past the coos and bulls and under the electric fence to conclude our walk.
Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum
No trip to the Isle of Tiree would be complete without visiting the Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum at Hynish. The museum tells the story of Scotland’s tallest lighthouse (48 metres), which stands on a treacherous, rocky reef 11 miles off the coast of Tiree. Skerryvore blinked into life in February 1844. Since then it’s been a guiding light to many a ship, that may once have floundered on the skerry.
Alan Stevenson (it’s not a Scottish lighthouse, if it’s not a Stevenson lighthouse) designed the lighthouse, and he and the workers who built it (including 80 stonemasons) were based on Tiree. Their lodgings, workshops and the dock they used to transport building materials to Skerryvore have survived.
The museum gives a fascinating insight into the effort involved in building such a remarkable feat of engineering from a small Scottish island, and also what it was like to live and work at Scotland’s remotest lighthouse.
If you visit the museum on a clear day you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the iconic lighthouse rising from the sea.
Discovering beautiful beaches on the Isle of Tiree
The Isle of Tiree boasts 16 beautiful beaches, making the island a popular destination for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts alike.
Each beach we visited rewarded us with something different.
At Gott Bay we watched kite surfers having fun on the waves, their colourful kites fluttering in the wind.
Caolas was the ultimate in blissful calm. There we saw a fishing boat bobbing on an incredible turquoise sea and enjoyed views across to the islands of Gunna and Coll.
The boy loved Tiree, which was hardly a surprise given the number of fabulous beaches the island has to offer – Balephetrish and Hynish were his particular favourites. He was in seventh heaven, charging around with the wind in his hair and his ears pinned back.
The happy wee lad was a joy to watch.
Rainbows made a frequent appearance during our time on the Isle of Tiree. We were lucky enough to catch a couple of beachside crackers at Vaul Bay and Balemartine.
Who needs a pot of gold, when the best things in life are free.
Scotland’s beaches are littered with the remains of boats and those on Tiree were no exception. At Scarinish we discovered the remains of the ‘Mary Stuart’ emerging from the sand. The trading ship was laid up at Scarinish in 1938 and since then time and nature have taken their toll on her.
And with so many lovely beaches and crystal clear Hebridean water, who could resist a paddle on a visit to Tiree.
And there you have it – the highlights of a wonderful trip to Tiree. I hope you’ve enjoyed this armchair tour of the island.
Stay turned for more virtual tours of Scotland coming soon.
Until next time, stay safe …