5 ways to escape from it all on Colonsay!
How much can there be to do on an island group that’s 10 miles long by two miles wide and home to around 130 people? Well…how long have you got? Colonsay and its tiny, conjoined neighbour Oronsay, separated only at high tide, are packed with things to see and do. Abundant wildlife thanks to an astonishing diversity of natural habitats, stunning sandy beaches each with its own character, fascinating archeology which bears witness to a history of human habitation dating back over 9,000 years – it’s all here. But let’s break it down, starting with those wonderful stretches of golden sand.
Ask people how they like their beaches and most will say that ‘empty’ and ‘unspoilt’ are high on their list. That’s exactly what you get on Colonsay. You’re unlikely to run into a crowd anywhere on the island. Even at the height of summer you’ll have every chance of finding solitude and space for quiet contemplation on Colonsay’s blissful strands. The sandy beach at Kiloran is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. Sitting snugly in a horseshoe-shaped bay, this large expanse of sand at times feels the force of Atlantic breakers and is a popular spot with surfers. At other times you may just find that you have one of the loveliest beaches in Scotland all to yourself! Otherwise, explore the coastline and you’ll find plenty of sandy bays lapped by turquoise waters, as well as rocky inlets and secret coves.
A glorious garden
Colonsay House Gardens is home to one of the finest collections of rhododendrons in Scotland. It’s a spectacular sight when they’re in full bloom. The gardens, mainly dating from the 1930s, range over 20 acres and are home a wide variety of other trees and shrubs, including many exotic species from the southern hemisphere. If you’re not horticulturally inclined, you’ll still appreciate the peace and tranquility of the gardens and grounds. It’s a great place to walk your dog! Grab light meals and refreshments, including fresh home baking, at the Garden Café on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
Stunning standing stones
A visit to the Lower Kilchattan Standing Stones cannot fail to fire the imagination, if only to wonder how and why these stones were erected and by whom. They’re known locally as Fingal’s Limpet Hammers, and they do indeed resemble the tools used by Neolithic inhabitants of Colonsay used for knocking limpets off the rocks on the shoreline. Examples of these tools were found on Oronsay and are believed to date from between 6,000 and 3,500 BC. The stones themselves are huge, standing 8 and 10 feet high and 45 feet apart. They’re all that remain of a stone circle which has largely disappeared.
The remoteness of Colonsay means there’s very little light pollution. Stargazers will be treated to some spectacular night skies, especially in winter. On a crisp, cold, clear night the panoply of stars will take your breath away! Kiloran Bay is one of the best places from which to observe the night sky and it’s best to look north where light from the mainland is less visible. You might even be lucky and catch a display of the northern lights. On any clear night you’ll have a good chance of spotting shooting stars.
For something a bit different, why not discover some of Colonsay’s caves? There are caves at the north end of Kiloran Bay which are relatively accessible and easy to explore. A visit to the New Cave at the southern end of the beach will require a bit more planning. Also known as Uamh Ur and the Crystal Spring Cavern, this is a large three chambered cave which displays evidence of occupation up to and including the Iron Age. There are caves elsewhere on the island, most with permanent residents, be they birds, bats or insects, so try to keep your impact on these environments to a minimum. Cave exploration on Colonsay doesn’t require specialist knowledge and equipment, but it shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Don’t go alone, notify a third party about your plans and take a torch (and at least one back-up torch) as some caves are in total darkness.
After all that excitement – or relaxation – you might need a beer or two to help ease your way into the evening. Fortunately, you’re in luck as Colonsay has its own brewery! In fact, Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery, so it would be a shame not to sample one of its three core beers in situ. The Colonsay Brewery’s IPA, 80/- and Pig’s Paradise Blonde are each brewed using natural Scottish ingredients, including the island’s pure Hebridean water. With that kind of head start, how could they go wrong? Slàinte mhath!