Today, I’m going to share a lesser known Scottish gem with you – 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 lengthy list of places to see.
Discovering the Isle of Gigha
We eventually spend a weekend on the Isle of Gigha in September 2015. The island is reached via ferry from Tayinloan on the Kintyre Peninsula. The crossing takes only 20 minutes.
While on the Isle of Gigha we stayed at the Gigha Hotel (the island’s only hotel). We ate our evening meals there too. The food was simple, fresh and tasty. The hotel was a relaxing, haven which boasted stunning views of the mainland. It was the perfect island base.
To say the Isle of 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. Maybe it’ll even prompt you to add the Isle of Gigha to your ‘must see’ list.
Gigha is an easy island to explore if you only have a couple of days to spare. It’s the perfect remote escape for lovers of the great outdoors, unspoiled scenery, history and good food. You can hire a bike on the island and cycle on a near car free (and relatively flat) road, or a canoe and paddle in the island’s clear waters. We explored Gigha on foot, using the car to cut down on time spent getting between points of interest.
Exploring the Isle of Gigha – day 1
Beautiful island beaches
On arrival, our first port of call were the two beautiful 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 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 does look like a giant tooth. I’m inclined to believe this is the true story behind the Stone of Tarbert.
Exploring the Isle of Gigha – day 2
An eventful hike to visit standing stones
We spent our second day on Gigha exploring the south end of the island. I’d researched some island walks before our visit. You won’t be surprised to learn that the walk I liked the sound of most incorporated a beach and standing stones.
I omitted to mention to Mr G that the walk would be 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.
Too many coos
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. Wimping out, I 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 around the far edge of a very boggy field. “Gosh it’s quite boggy” I said, hoping I sounded suitably surprised. Then came the mud – mud, mud and more mud. Slippery, deep and unpleasant. 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 “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 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 though, 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 believed they were responsible for the Isle of Gigha being a green and fertile island. Islanders are said to have taken them offerings to guarantee the continued fertility of the island. Others say they’re terrifying creatures that come to life at night and roam the heath.
They sit in a beautiful spot with fantastic views, so are worth a visit, despite their lack of stature.
If you’re wondering who’s who, Bodach has the big lumpy head.
Lunch on Gigha – The Boathouse
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 dog friendly, relaxed and most importantly the food was delicious.
More history, a wee beach and garden
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 ended our day of island exploring with a walk in the extensive Achmore Gardens – a mysterious, leafy haven which must look spectacular in summer when the garden’s in full bloom.
Goodbye Isle of Gigha
All too soon our short stay on the Isle of Gigha was over. It was time to say goodbye to 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 then sailed to Scotland on it. They were now 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 boat and smiled.
Until next time …