The Inner Hebrides are a collection of about half the Scottish west coast islands, covering an area of about 150 miles north to south. Many parts of the mainland itself are culturally part of the "islands" and are sometimes more remote than the islands themselves.
For the visitor, there is beautifully fractured coastline, adding interest to the eye and photograph. It is reminiscent of Maine and Nova Scotia, to whom it was once joined. It is an area that humans settled at least 7000 years ago and for some very good geographical reasons - it has a sweet-spot of environment.
The two Islands of Mull and Iona (which we visit) are rightly well-known: Iona is in the geographical and spiritual centre of the region and it is still a place of pilgrimage; the Isle of Mull is the seat of Clan Maclean and internationaly known for its Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles and, in the waters around, most of the Common Seal population of Europe breeds. On the mainland parts of the region, some of the peninsulas are so remote that they act as islands. It is a landscape that is mostly sea and a seascape that is full of islands.
This is a Slow Scotland™ tour, inspired by the Slow Food movement, the opposite of fast food: Scotland enjoyed with time, richly and in good company.
How this operates in a tour: Rather than attempting to see all of Scotland, we will stay in one area, covering shorter distances in a deeper, more intimate way by walking, riding or sailing.
This is why it's a Connoisseur's Tour: because you'll be visiting wonderful places that you have probably never heard of (rather than Edinburgh Castle, Isle of Skye and Loch Ness). We aim this tour at the traveller who is or desires to be a Scottish Connoisseur.
The trip goes into some of the more remote parts of the western county of Argyll with a focus on the landscape and the ancient sea-kingdom of the Lordship of the Isles. There will be up to three small-boat trips (weather depending) and three ferry trips - it is a sea-kingdom after all. The focii include wildlife, history and walking the land.
We travel west from Edinburgh through the Trossachs. This is an area that inspired John Ruskin and the pre-Raphaelites to paint landscape. We'll stop at one of the best documented fairy hills in Scotland (and yet I've never met any other visitors there). By day's end we'll be in Mid Argyll in an area that is culturally highlands, but geographically has a more gentle landscape, green hills, salt-water inlets and forests.
We'll spend two days exploring the Kilmartin Glen and North Knapdale, areas that I know very well, for I used to live here. Neolithic remains will occupy a whole day for us: standing stones, a henge, burial chambers, 5000 year old rock-art. You'll learn about archaeo-astronomy and perhaps gain an insight into the thinking of our forebears.
A second day will take us out into the North Atlantic Oak Woodlands (as important as the Amazonian rainforests), to abandoned villages, remote and uninhabited peninsulas. And as we go, we'll come across beautifully carved Celtic crosses from the 8th to 12th centuries.
Today we'll go amongst some of the islands, either by boat or on foot, weather depending. You'll be in an area that even the locals call "Nether" meaning beyond. Expect as much sea as land, cliffs and shingle beaches, two hundred year old slate workings, wide westerly vistas, rushing tidal channels...
You'll meet locals that live in fringe communities on remote peninsulas and small islands. Their lifestyle revolves around fishing, farming and tourism.
Relocating to our next centre of interest, Iona, we will stop en route in the fishing harbour and ferry town of Òban to stock up on mainland things before heading to an-island-off-an-island.
We'll take the ferry then make our way slowly across the Isle of Mull, enjoying the wide vistas, bare hills, deer, Duart Castle, seat of Clan MacLean, and we might be lucky to spot a golden or sea eagle and some Hielan' Coos.
Two full days exploring Iona. This 3 by 1 mile island has been a place of pilgrimage for more than 1000 years. Whatever your spiritual or religious orientation, you cannot fail to be affected by this sacred isle.
There are no visitor cars on the island: walking and cycling are the usual method of transport. Most visitors, myself included, report that there is a different pace of time on the island.
We'll visit the stunning beaches on the island with views across the every-changing sea to the neighbouring rocks, skerries and islands. You'll have time to walk the labyrinth, visit the restored and functioning abbey, the fairy hills and the Well of Youth and make St Bridget's Crosses from the local luachar. You'll also have time to just sit and be. If the weather is with us, we'll take one or two trips by boats to visit uninhabited islands and remote coastlines, hopefully Staffa and The Tresnish Isles.
We'll relocate to the Isle of Mull by taking the fabulous single-track road up the west. It hugs the western cliffs and shore of Mull. Speed is not an option. We'll stop at Calgary beach, a small, almost uninhabited bay, whose beauty inspired the naming of a Canadian city. A good way to see this island is by pony, so, all things permitting, we'll do that for an hour or so (optional and weight limit applies).
Visiting an abandoned village from the 19th century will give you a poignant reminder that the population of mull is a third of what it was 150 years ago. For a change of pace, we'll visit the excellent Calgary Art in Nature gallery and cafe to see this landscape through the eyes of many artists.
We'll spend a half day in the capital town of Tobermory, perhaps visit the distillery or eat some fabulous sea food, hike along the shore a bit, meet some locals, buy the famous Mull Cheese or something from the bakery or chocolate shop.
By the time we leave Mull, we'll have visited between 4 and 7 islands and seen dozens more. We'll make our way back to Edinburgh, stopping along the way at a Celtic saint's healing pool, the ancient and pretty town of Dunblane and the Kelpies. We'll get back to Edinburgh about 5pm.Note: the itinerary is always developing, right up to the last minute, so we may adjust the order of things or change some items to take advantage of weather and local opportunity. The itinerary will be fairly close to the above description. Rest assured that where ever we take you, it will be just right!
£2300 per person, sharing double room,
£2700 solo traveller, single room
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What's included in the tour price:
Not included in the above price:
|* Everything you need to know about accommodation, deposits and payments is on the TnC page (new window), which you should read before booking, while questions about almost everything else tour-related are answered in the FAQ section (new window) of that page.|
You'll be guided by Scot AnSgeulaiche, with either Sam or Hamish or both making an appearance.
As with all our tours, they are active. We spend most of the day on our feet (rather than in a vehicle) with the activity level ranging from strolling through towns to hiking at a good pace into remote glens. A good yardstick to check whether the walking and hiking on the tour will be comfortable for you is the time of your one minute mile walk on the flat: test yourself. If you can walk a mile in 17-20 minutes, you will find the tour about right.
Other physical requirements: Guests will carry their own luggage between vehicle and accommodation. In some remote places, the next toilet break might be two hours away, with only Nature's Bathroom as your fallback. When you apply for a place on the tour, you will be asked for some health and medical details. This is used by the guides to assess whether you will be comfortable on the tour.