Munros? Bag the MacPhies of Colonsay and Oronsay instead!

Bagging each of Scotland’s 282 Munros is perhaps the greatest physical challenge the country has to offer. But there are other ‘bagging’ experiences to be had that require a lot less time and commitment. The MacPhies of Colonsay and Oronsay are the perfect example. A MacPhie is defined as a point over 300ft on the islands and there are 22 of them which can be bagged in a single 20-mile walk, making it possible to complete the challenge in a day.

There’s no official starting and finishing point for bagging the MacPhies and no official record for completing the walk, but it’s always interesting to know how other people tackled the challenge and how long it took them. A fit person might complete it in something like the 6 hours and 44 minutes it took one Eric Brown in 1996, but you’d have to be going some to match the 3 hours 56 minutes managed by elite fell runner Jethro Lennox in 2002. A more recent single-day bagger of the MacPhies was the adventurer Mark Beaumont, who completed the challenge on the last day of his Wild About Argyll adventure. Of course, there’s no pressure to bag the MacPhies in a single day. Why not linger and discover the magical atmosphere as well as the fascinating history, flora and fauna of this tranquil island pair?

Colonsay and its much smaller conjoined neighbour Oronsay are Inner Hebridean islands separated only at high tide. If you’re planning a MacPhie-bagging trip you’ll need to know the tide times as one MacPhie is located on Oronsay. The islands lie about 15 miles south of Mull while to their south and east lie Islay and Jura. If you’re MacPhie bagging on a clear day you might just be able to make out the coast of Donegal in Ireland to the south west. At roughly 10 miles long by 2 miles wide it’s a compact island grouping that’s home to just 135 or so people who constitute one of the remotest communities in Scotland.

Despite its small size you’ll find a great range of accommodation on Colonsay. The Colonsay Hotel was built in 1750 and has managed to retain much of its original charm. Sitting in an elevated position above the harbour at Scalasaig, the hotel commands great sea views over to neighbouring Jura. For those on a budget the Backpackers’ Lodge located in the middle of the island offers accommodation for up to 16 people, in two separate buildings. A little over a mile from Scalasaig, and comprising a Victorian former gamekeeper's house and two traditional stone bothies, it’s a quiet and secluded location from which to explore the island. For families and those seeking self-catering accommodation, there’s a good choice of holiday cottages to let which are either restored crofters’ cottages, Victorian farmhouses or former estate houses. Scattered throughout the islands they sleep between two and 14 guests and most offer spectacular sea views.

With all that sea air and exercise, whether bagging the MacPhies or simply enjoying the unspoilt landscape, visitors to Colonsay will invariably find themselves working up a healthy appetite. There are various options for eating out on the island but the undoubted hub is Colonsay Hotel with its gastro pub style dining experience featuring delicious local produce. With its bar, log room, conservatory or restaurant you’ll always find a warm welcome and convivial company. The Pantry, located just 200 yards from the pier in Scalasaig, offers breakfast, lunch and evening meals and bakes its own bread, scones and cakes. You can enjoy lunch and afternoon teas in the Garden Café at the Colonsay House Gardens. Delicious home baking and freshly made sandwiches and cakes are served up on Wednesdays and Fridays from 12.00 to 5.00pm.

Find out more about things to see and do on Islay, Jura and Colonsay.