Exploring Argyll and its Islands

 

Argyll is an area on Scotland’s west coast with a distinct regional identity thanks to its geographic isolation from the rest of Scotland. Sheltered by mountains and lining the coast, Argyll includes the windswept Herbrides islands of Mull, Iona, Islay and Jura.

Oban is the starting point for most trips to Argyll and the Herbrides, as it’s the largest port in the area – though it’s still quite small with only 8,000 people. Oban is a popular resort town, and it’s a good place to stay for a few days before or after any island-hopping adventures. There are hotels, bed and breakfasts and self-catering in Oban, so travelers should have plenty of options available to them.

A colorful sunrise over the harbor of Oban.

A colorful sunrise over the harbor of Oban.

Just off the coast of Oban lies the Isle of Mull. Ferries transport visitors to the town of Craignure in about 40 minutes, and from there most choose to make their way overland to the island’s capital of Tobermory, which is about 20 miles north. The town, with its colorful homes on the waterfront has plenty of charm, and is surrounded by some spectacular countryside. The Isle of Mull is actually quite large and travelers wishing to explore it should allocate at least a few days.

The quaint village of Tobermory is the largest settlement on the Isle of Mull.

The quaint village of Tobermory is the largest settlement on the Isle of Mull.

One of the main reasons travelers visit the Isle of Mull, however, is the Isle of Iona, which can be found on the other side of the island and just off the southwestern coast. This small island is known for its small abbey that has been of great religious significance for almost 1500 years. Pilgrims and day trippers still visit the island in huge numbers, so travelers hoping for the authentic, isolated experience should consider staying the night.

St. Oran’s Chapel on the Isle of Iona is a royal burial ground dating back to the 10th century.

St. Oran’s Chapel on the Isle of Iona is a royal burial ground dating back to the 10th century.

From March to October travelers in Oban can also travel via ferry to the remote Isle of Islay with CalMac Ferries. Here, amongst the villages with all-white buildings and the long stretches of deserted beach, the main draw is the island’s famed single-malt whiskies. There are about half a dozen distilleries on the island and almost all offer tours that allow visitors to get a sneak peek into the whisky-making process.

A remote beach on the Isle of Islay.

A remote beach on the Isle of Islay.

Just across from the Isle of Islay is the even more remote Isle of Jura. One of the least accessible islands in Scotland, Jura only has one road, along its east coast, and just a few bed and breakfasts. Travelers wishing to visit its west coast can hike across the island and across its three paps – mound-shaped mountains – to enjoy some solitary time in the wild. Ferries run regularly between Islay and Jura.

A CalMac ferry off the coast of the Isle of Jura.

A CalMac ferry off the coast of the Isle of Jura.

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