The writer Lawrence Durrell called it ‘islomania’, a condition he described as ‘an affliction of the spirit’ that led sufferers to find islands ‘irresistible’.
He caught the bug on Corfu, but I defy you not to turn into an islomaniac after a visit to one of the many beautiful islands off the coast of Scotland.
There are no fewer than 790 of them, most to be found off the west coast, but others comprising the Shetland and Orkney Islands to the north. And let’s not forget that cluster of ten isles and atolls in the Firth of Forth on the eastern coastline.
There are no fewer than 790 Scottish islands, most to be found off the west coast and others to the north. Pictured is the ancient abbey on the island of Iona
They come in all sizes, from Lewis and Harris (841 square miles), to tiny outcrops such as Inch Kenneth (55 hectares), in whose only habitable dwelling the Hitler-loving socialite Unity Mitford died nine years after attempting suicide following her homeland’s declaration of war on her beloved Fuhrer.
And Scotland’s islands offer something for everyone: walks along thrillingly beautiful beaches, unrivalled opportunities to observe rare breeds of birds in their unspoilt natural habitat and visits to ancient castles whose dungeons hold sinister secrets.
Many are home to archaeological treasures such as Neolithic carvings, prehistoric mummies and, on the Orkney island of Papa Westray, the oldest preserved house in northern Europe, which dates back to 3,500BC.
If you get tired of sightseeing, there are plenty of opportunities to put in a round of golf, followed by a dram of locally distilled whisky, accompanied by a nibble of artisan cheese.
Islay is the place to go for a dram thanks to its past as a barley-growing centre and its excellent pure water sources plus plenty of peat
The sinking of the SS Politician — the ship at the centre of Compton Mackenzie’s famous novel about Scottish islanders plundering thousands of bottles of Scotch — actually occurred off Eriskay, but Islay is the place to go for a dram. Thanks to its past as a barley-growing centre and its excellent pure water sources plus plenty of peat, the island had everything required to make top-notch single malts. Today it has no fewer than nine working distilleries.
Don’t miss: The walk from Port Ellen to Ardbeg, which offers the chance to call in at the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries.
Where to stay: Doubles from £110 at No 1 Charlotte Street, Port Ellen (no1charlottestreet.com)
How to get there: Fly Loganair from Glasgow (return from £120) or Edinburgh (return from £290). loganair.co.uk. Ferry from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Port Ellen or Port Askaig. calmac.co.uk. Like the next seven islands — all in the Hebrides — ferry ports to Islay are easily accessible from Glasgow by train or car.
Go Skye high
The Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillin range near Glenbrittle on Skye, the biggest island in the Inner Hebrides
The biggest island in the Inner Hebrides, Skye has 12 Munros — the name given to mountains in Scotland more than 3,000ft in height — and one Michelin star restaurant, making it the perfect stop-off for hikers and foodies alike.
Don’t miss: The Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillin range near Glenbrittle. With their multiple waterfalls and vivid blue-green water the pools have become an internationally renowned must-see.
Where to stay: Doubles from £110 at The Skye Inn, Portree (theskyeinn.com).
How to get there: Ferry from Mallaig or drive north to Kyle of Lochalsh and cross to Skye via the Skye Bridge. calmac.co.uk
South Uist, pictured, which is one of the last surviving strongholds of the Gaelic language in Scotland
As one of the last surviving strongholds of the Gaelic language in Scotland and a place where the crofting industries of peat-cutting and seaweed gathering are still an important part of everyday life, you won’t get a more authentic insight into island life than on South Uist.
It also has the oldest golf course in the Outer Hebrides at Askernish, as well as being the only place in Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found, so budding Nick Faldos and Tony Robinsons will enjoy it, too.
Don’t miss: The 20-mile stretch of white powder beach on the west coast, which is home to one of the UK’s most important breeding populations of wading birds.
Where to stay: Doubles from £90 at the Lochboisdale Hotel (lochboisdale.com)
How to get there: Ferries from Mallaig and Oban (winter only) to Lochboisdale. (calmac.co.uk) It is also accessible via causeways from Benbecula and North Uist. Fly Loganair from Glasgow to Benbecula from £170 return. loganair.co.uk.
The main island of Hirta on St Kilda. It is the westernmost island of the British Isles and the last inhabitants voted to leave here in 1930
The last 36 inhabitants on St Kilda, the westernmost island of the British Isles, voted to leave in 1930 after concluding that their way of life was no longer sustainable.
It brought to an end 4,000 years of human settlement sustained by exploiting the island’s dense colonies of gannets, fulmars and puffins for food, feathers and oil. Today it is home to almost a million seabirds, including the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins.
Don’t miss: The ruins of the UK’s most remote village.
Where to stay: The only accommodation is a campsite on the main island of Hirta – at £20 a night.
How to get there: Ferry from Stein Jetty on Skye — be warned, it costs £470pp for a return trip!
The colourful houses of Tobermory on Mull, which have become famous thanks to the CBeebies children’s TV show Balamory
Made famous by the CBeebies children’s TV show Balamory, based around the pastel-shaded houses of Mull’s main port of Tobermory, Mull has something for everyone, from beaches and mountain walks to pony trekking and cycling.
Don’t miss: The 13th-century Duart Castle, which has appeared in many films and TV series, including Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Where to stay: Doubles from £110 at the Park Lodge Hotel, Tobermory (park-lodge-tobermory.co.uk).
How to get there: Ferries from: Oban to Craignure; Lochaline to Fishnish; and Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to Tobermory. calmac.co.uk
Iona, pictured, which is known as Scotland’s ‘cradle of Christianity’. It also has many beaches and opportunities for walking, fishing and boat trips
Iona, known as Scotland’s ‘cradle of Christianity’, is where Saint Columba settled in AD563 to build Iona Abbey and spread Christianity to the Celts.
But there’s more to the island than religion. It also has many beaches and opportunities for walking, fishing and boat trips.
Don’t miss: Iona Abbey, whose graveyard is the burial place of 48 medieval kings — and final resting place of John Smith, former Labour Party leader, who loved Iona.
Where to stay: Doubles from £80 at the Argyll Hotel (argyllhoteliona.co.uk)
How to get there: Ferry from Fionnphort on Mull. calmac.co.uk
Arran, pictured, has everything, thanks to a landscape that includes mountains, forests and beaches
They say Arran is the island that has everything, thanks to a landscape that includes mountains, forests and beaches.
Amateur naturalists should pack their binoculars to get the best views of Arran’s seals, otters, basking sharks, porpoises, and more than 100 species of birds, including the majestic golden eagle.
Don’t miss: The Pit, the underground prison in picturesque Lochranza Castle.
Where to stay: Doubles from £120 at the Glenisle Hotel, Lamlash (glenislehotel.com)
How to get there: Ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick, or Claonaig in Kintyre to Lochranza. In winter, the ferry from Kintyre leaves from Tarbert (Loch Fyne).
Eigg, pictured, is an island that was bought by Keith Schellenberg in 1975. When he ran out of money, the islanders clubbed together to buy back the island for £1.5million in 1997
Eigg became a cause celebre after a saga involving Keith Schellenberg, a dashing, Yorkshire-born businessman and former Olympic bobsleigher, who bought the island in 1975. But when he ran out of money, things went downhill and in 1997 it was bought by the islanders themselves for £1.5 million.
Don’t miss: The spectacular views from the peak of the Sgurr, the mountain that dominates the island.
Where to stay: Doubles from £150 at Kildonan House (kildonanhouseeigg.co.uk)
How to get there: Ferries from Mallaig and Arisaig (April-September only). No cars allowed. calmac.co.uk
Fly VERY short haul
The beach on the island of Westray in Orkney. The shortest flight in the world takes place between Westray and Papa Westray. It lasts 58 seconds
Locals say that if you stick a spade in the ground on Orkney you’ll find an archaeological site, and the tiny islands of Westray and Papa Westray are no exception.
In 2009, the only Neolithic carving to have been found in Scotland was discovered on Westray. On Papa Westray, meanwhile, the Knap of Howar is the oldest preserved house in northern Europe, dating back to 3,500BC.
Don’t miss: The world’s shortest scheduled flight between the two islands. The record stands at just 58 seconds.
Where to stay: Doubles from £96 at the Pierowall Hotel, Westray (pierowallhotel.co.uk) or £55 at Beltane House community hostel, Papa Westray (papawestray.co.uk)
How to get there: Fly Loganair from the Orkney capital Kirkwall to Westray. loganair.co.uk
The Isle of May, pictured, which is located in the Firth of Forth. It is home to 120,000 puffins and large colonies of other birds
The only islands on the eastern coastline are the dozen in the Firth of Forth, of which the Isle of May — home to 120,000 puffins, and large colonies of guillemots, razorbills and shags — is the biggest.
Don’t miss: Scotland’s oldest lighthouse, The Beacon, which dates back to 1636.
Where to stay: There is no visitor accommodation on the island itself but both Anstruther (doubles from £80 at The Bank — thebank-anstruther.co.uk) and North Berwick (doubles from £110 at Quadrant B&B — quadrantbedandbreakfast.co.uk) offer a range of hotels and B&Bs.
How to get there: Ferries run from April to September, departing Anstruther on the north bank of the Forth and North Berwick on the south bank. isleofmayboattrips.co.uk.
HOW TO SPEAK AND EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Speak like a local
‘Ye mak a better door than a windae’
You’ll hear this if you’re in someone’s way.
‘I’m awa tae do the messages’
The person is off to do a grocery shop.
‘I’m tannin’ the bevy’
They’re hitting the drink.
‘I’m fair puckled’
The person is out of breath.
‘Haud ma chips a’v dropped the wean’
Someone hasn’t been paying attention.
‘I’m gettin’ some scran’
They’re starving and have ordered breakfast.
‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye’
Whatever is meant to happen to you, will happen to you.
Eat like a local
Rich and creamy soup concocted of smoked haddock, onions, potatoes, butter and cream.
The national dish is made of sheep offal mixed with oats, onion, suet and spices and traditionally cooked in an animal’s stomach.
Neeps and tatties
Traditionally served with haggis (and a dram of whisky), this side dish is a blend of swede, turnips and potatoes mashed together.
A Scottish meat pasty popular since the 19th-century.
A pudding made with raspberries, oats, cream, whisky and honey layered in a small dessert glass and chilled before serving.