The ultimate Colonsay day trip
The Inner Hebridean isle of Colonsay lies off the west coast nestled in between Mull and Islay. During the Summer months, our service from Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula stops off at Islay before sailing onto Colonsay. The vessel returns back to Kennacraig at night, allowing the opportunity to ditch the car and enjoy exploring this remarkable island on foot. Travel writer Robin McKelvie was keen to experience the trip for himself - it's definitely a trip for the bucket list.
How do you fancy experiencing the Inner Hebrides in a day without the car? I'm serious. That is what I set out to do on the 9.45am CalMac ferry from Kennacraig. You don't need to make a reservation online for your journey - foot passengers can turn up at Kennacraig Ferry Terminal on the day you wish to travel - as long as you are there to purchase your ticket thirty minutes before the sailing leaves. Colonsay for me is a bijou island that is like an Inner Hebrides in miniature, with many of the best bits of this spectacular archipelago rolled into one easily manageable whole. So the Inner Hebrides in a day it was.
An Island Hopping Journey to Colonsay
If you love island hopping you will love Colonsay. It's quite simply one of the best West coast day trips there is. You don't 'just' get to savour one glorious isle, but as always with CalMac the journey is definitely part of the fun. Before I'd even reached Colonsay we'd funnelled up the Sound of Islay, cutting a swathe between the whisky drenched isle of Islay and the rugged wildscape of Jura, famous for the mighty Paps of Jura mountains, which rose up in photo snapping beauty to starboard as we cruised by.
We even got to berth briefly at Islay in the pretty wee haven of Port Askaig, which we reached bang on time at 11.50am. As we pulled up there was serious excitement on deck as a couple of porpoises skipped past us in the foaming currents. Another highlight as we left was cruising past Caol Ila, a spectacular whisky distillery on Islay that sports huge windows so you can peer right in from the decks of the ferry to see the magic at work in the hulking copper stills.
Arriving in Colonsay
Soon we arrived in Colonsay with that sense of promise that only an island offers. The approach was typically Hebridean, the brilliant blue of the Atlantic Ocean suddenly letting us snatch wee glimpses of approaching land. First a low crumple of hills, then a beach and then wee houses, signs that this is one of the 800 or so Scottish isles where man still clings on to a remote life. Bijou Colonsay only measures 8 miles by 3 miles after all.
It seemed like every man, woman and child on Colonsay were out to greet the ferry on an island with less than 200 inhabitants. I soon learned, though, that they are an industrious bunch farming renowned oysters, which are exported all over. Colonsay is also the smallest island in the world with its own brewery, with Colonsay Brewery conjuring up some remarkable beers and ales. It didn't end there as being an island with its finger on the pulse I learned that the brewery have a gin on the market too. In 2016 the brewery launched Wild Island Gin, which is made using botanicals foraged from Colonsay.
Exploring Colonsay on Two Wheels
I wasn't hanging about to enjoy a drink just yet, that could wait for the ferry back across to the mainland. I had serious sightseeing in mind. You can just ramble all over Colonsay - you definitely don't need a car. I chose to hire a bike and swooped off into the low, rolling hills leaving the modern world and the whirr of mobile phones well behind. The traffic free roads were bliss and I wished I'd brought my wee girls along for a family adventure.
First up was a cultural and indeed horticultural stop. Colonsay House was an unexpected gem, a grand edifice rising out of the wilderness that is most famous for its grounds. On the flora front they boast one of Scotland's finest collections of rhododendrons. Considered a pest in other parts of Scotland here they are celebrated. As are trees. While the old joke about standing up if you get lost in a Hebridean forest rings true on some isles it doesn't work on Colonsay as the island is peppered with rich woodland.
Colonsay's Rich Wildlife
The Inner Hebridean isle also boasts an impressive treasure trove of fauna too. On a previous trip to Colonsay on a morning swim I chanced upon an otter out doing his morning rounds. This time I witnessed another of Scotland's wildlife 'Big Five', a mighty golden eagle soaring high above on the thermals as I pedalled along. Colonsay is also home to wild goats and is a great place to try to track down that most elusive of British birds - the corncrake.
Bees too are not just a pest on Colonsay. Indeed I learned that the only native Scottish species of honey bee calls the island home. The species has been protected by special decree by the Scottish Government since 2013, but I was pleased that does not stop the delicious fruits of the bees' labours being enjoyed in the form of the delicious Colonsay Wildflower Honey.
Colonsay's Beautiful Beaches and Fun Festivals
Fortified with a scone from the Garden Café at Colonsay House - looking back I wonder how the scone would go with that delicious local honey instead of jam- I headed for one of my favourite beaches in Scotland. That is really saying something as I reckon Scotland has the best finest stretches of sand in the world. Kiloran Bay is a stunner, the sort of place that you hurl your bike down and race off as soon as you clap eyes on it. I know that for a fact as the German couple cycling ahead of me did just that. I didn't mind as they enjoyed their picnic on one half of this sweeping sandy bay, while the seals and I minded our own business savouring the other.
You can always escape the maddening crowd on Colonsay, but there is a real sense of community spirit too. This comes across strongly in the Colonsay Festival of Spring, which in 2018 runs from April 30 to May 20. You can look out too for the Colonsay Music Festival in autumn and the Colonsay Book Festival, which is held in spring too with the local Colonsay Bookshop in the thick of it.
A day on an island does not sound much, but I squeezed what felt like a rewarding island hopping holiday into my CalMac away day. I enjoyed that delicious Colonsay ale as I cruised south towards the Sound of Islay and the welcoming arms of Kennacraig, reaching the mainland bang on time at 10.50pm. I felt like I'd had a real taste of the Inner Hebrides in one day - you can too. What are you waiting for? View the timetable here and start planning your own Colonsay day trip. Remember to tag @calmacferries in your Instagram snaps of your journey!
Follow Robin and his travels on twitter @robinmckelvie