Looking for a holiday to reset after a long winter? Spring is a great time of year for a Scottish island holiday.
The most rejuvenating of seasons brings more hours of precious sunlight, vibrant greenery to the landscapes, and all kinds of newly awakened wildlife. In short, spring is the perfect time to admire the beauty of Scotland’s islands during a quieter time of year when tourist numbers are usually much lower.
If you dream of wandering along empty beaches and gazing at the ocean from dramatic viewpoints without another person in sight – this is the season to visit.
What’s more, an island-hopping break in spring is a great idea from a practical viewpoint. Ferry and flight services are in operation while local businesses and restaurants are open for business.
Ready to start planning your spring island holiday? Check out these five ideas for an enchanting island break.
1. SKYE IN SPRINGTIME
Wild walks, magical beaches and seals
THINGS TO DO
- Hiking – the lure of Skye’s landscapes is impossible to resist. Take advantage of the milder weather and follow the 3.8km signposted path from the car park on the main road north of Portree which signposts the route up the craggy pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr. This is also a good time of year to tackle the Black Cuillin, a mountain range feature 12 Munros. Be warned: unless you are an experienced mountaineer, it is advisable instead to explore the island’s many low-lying walks and coastal trails. Popular walks include the routes to the Point of Sleat and the ruined village of Boreraig.
- Beautiful beaches – spring is the prime time to visit Skye’s loveliest beaches. If you’re lucky, you might find you have some of them all to yourself, such as the spectacular Claigan Coral Beach. Located north of Dunvegan near Claigan, it is among the hardest to reach but well worth the trek along a 1.8 km footpath through fields of sheep and cattle.
- Seal spotting – spring is a great time to see wild creatures of the Hebrides in their natural habitat. Take a wildlife boat tour around the south-west coast of Skye to see grey and common seals alongside puffins and kittiwakes gathering on the cliffs.
- Dinosaur tracks – did you know you can see the footprints of dinosaurs left 175 million year ago at An Corran on Staffin Slipway beach? Experience the child-like joy at find these ancient claw-shaped imprints measuring a foot in length. You can also see prints left by another prehistoric beast at nearby Duntulum Beach. Mind-blowing! Visit Staffin Dinosaur Museum to learn more.
- Camping and foraging – have a wild adventure and spend a night or two under the stars learning to fish and forage for your super during the day. With Skye Ghillie you can learn how to survive off the beaten track and learn everything from how to harvest fresh mussels to how to cook them over an open fire. There are also more options for camping and glamping on Skye.
If you time it just right at the Uig Hotel you might be able to see your fresh seafood being landed by a local fisherman. While on Skye be sure to sample not just generous seafood platters with langoustines caught fresh that day, but also local venison and a dram or two of the finest malt from Talisker Distillery. Don’t forget to try the Misty Isle gin of Isle of Skye Distillers Shop, and Skye Gold, one of the island’s home-brewed craft ales.
A Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry runs daily from the port of Mallaig in the west Highlands to Armadale in Sleat on the south of Skye and takes 30 minutes. You can reach Mallaig by road or train. The privately-operated Glenelg ferry connects Glenelg on the mainland with Kylerhea on Skye and takes 20 minutes.
The Skye Bridge is a road bridge spanning Loch Alsh between the mainland village of Kyle of Lochalsh which is connected to Scotland’s rail network, and Kyleakin on Skye. There are bus services that connect Glasgow and Inverness to the island, also.
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2. WHISKY GALORE ON ISLAY
Whisky, festivals and bluebells
THINGS TO DO
- Tour the whisky distilleries – Islay boasts no fewer than eight distilleries that produce some of Scotland’s finest and most distinctive malts. Book a tour of one or more of these revered institutions to learn about the centuries-old art form of whisky distilling.
- Walk Islay Festival – spend a week in April exploring Islay, Jura and Colonsay on foot and take in cliff-top vistas, ancient brochs and RSPB reserves. The walks vary from leisurely to strenuous and are the best way to enjoy the scenery of Islay and its sister islands. The Walk Islay festival is also an opportunity to explore the remote eastern peaks of Islay on a walk to Sgorr nam Faoileann and Glas Bheinn.
- Islay Festival of Music and Malt – this lively music and whisky-themed festival is held during the last week of May and features a programme jam-packed with Gaelic music and singing, piping, ceilidh dancing and the finest single malt whiskies in the world.
- Bluebells – these delicate drooping flowers are a common sight across the island in springtime. Head to Bridgend Woodlands which is renowned for its dazzling displays of snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells. Choose from a myriad of footpaths through woodlands including the 4 mile walk along the River Sorn which arrives at Islay Woollen Mill.
- Spot birdlife – in spring Islay is teeming with birdlife. The sky is filled with darting and swooping corncrakes, swallows, martins and warblers, while the shoreline is home to waders such as snipe, lapwings, redshanks and curlews performing their elaborate mating rituals. RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve is a good place to observe them.
Delicious refreshment can be found in unexpected places on Islay. Try lunch at the Old Kiln Café at Ardbeg Distillery and make a pit-stop or two at the Celtic House Coffee Shop and the Ceramic Café at Persabus Farm.
Islay is also the main gateway to Jura where you can enjoy even more whisky! The ferry crossing takes just 5 minutes and runs regularly throughout the day.
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3. TIREE – THE SUNSHINE ISLE
Sunny days, surfing and bike rides
THINGS TO DO
- Cycling – the mostly single-track roads of Tiree make the island perfect for road cycling. The most westerly of the Inner Hebrides is just twelve miles long and three miles wide, and very flat. But its relatively small size has no bearing on the breathtaking views waiting round every corner. For more information visit Blackhouse Watersports and Bike Rental.
- Surfing – Tiree is perfectly positioned to catch the swell of the North Atlantic which creates optimum surf conditions for much of the year. Peak surfing seasons falls between July and August but in spring you can still expect high winds, powerful waves and miles of pristine, empty beach. As an added bonus, Tiree also receives the most hours of sunshine in the UK. Visit Blackhouse Watersports for details on private lessons.
- Birdwatching at the Reef – this flat expanse of Machair (a low-lying fertile grassy plain) located at the heart of Tiree attracts a record number of wading bird species including ringed plower, dunlin, redshank, snip and lapwing.
- Pony trekking – What could be more heavenly than riding horseback on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Hebrides on a fresh spring day? Join Tiree Trekking for an hour-long trek along the sugar-white sands of Balinoe Bay with aquamarine waves lapping the shore.
- Arts and crafts – the remote beauty of Tiree is hugely inspiring to artists and craft-makers. You can admire their creations in independent studios and galleries located across the islands. Browse handmade jewellery at Dot Sim Studio, original paintings and ceramics at Dorinda Johnson, and re-purposed glass artworks at Tiree Glass.
The food and drink scene in Tiree is not extensive but of high quality. Local favourites include the roasted coffee at Yellow Hare, mouth-watering pizzas made using handmade dough at Beachcomber Craft Café, the distinctive ales at Ceabhar Restaurant, and the freshly landed seafood for sale at Tiree Lobster and Crab.
Caledonian MacBrayne operates ferry services between Oban and Tiree, with most of these running via Coll. The direct crossing between Oban and Tiree takes approximately 3 hours 20 minutes, while the crossing via Coll takes approximately 4 hours. Visit the Caledonian MacBrayne website for more information.
Tiree Airport is a small airport which currently offers flights to Coll, Oban and Glasgow International Airport.
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4. AN ISLAND DAY TRIP ON CUMBRAE
Watersports, golf and family fun
THINGS TO DO
- Millport promenade – the tiny island of Cumbrae is less than 10 minutes by ferry from Largs, North Ayrshire. Get acquainted with its one and only town and wander along the Victorian promenade of Millport lined with palm trees overlooking yachts berthed in the sheltered bay.
- Cycle the island circuit – Cumbrae is only 10 miles in circumference so the best way to explore is by bike. Bring your own aboard the ferry or hire one in Millport and circle around the entire island in an afternoon.
- Play a round of golf – tee off on the 18-hole heathland course at Millport Golf Club. Laid out in 1913 by the legendary golf architect James Baird, it enjoys stunning expansive views of the Firth of Clyde.
- Aquatic adventures – the warming effect of the Gulf Stream makes the coastal waters around Cumbrae perfect for a day on the water. In fact, there are few places in the UK which offers as wide a selection of water-based activities as the sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae in Millport. Choose from yacht cruising, dinghy Sailing, paddle sports, jet skiing, and more.
- Rock pooling – among the many child-friendly activities available in Cumbrae including crazy golf and the model railway exhibition, one of the island’s most popular activities during the spring and summer months is hunting in the rock pools around Crocodile Rock and the Marine Parade area for crustaceans and other aquatic life.
No visit to Cumbrae would be complete without a visit to the Garrison House Café. Housed inside a beautifully restored Georgian barracks , this family-friendly eatery boasts an appetising menu featuring delicious smoothies, succulent burgers and freshly brewed coffee.
As mentioned, Cumbrae is just a short ferry crossing from the town of Largs on the Ayrshire coast which is around 1 hour from the centre of Glasgow to Largs by car. A train service runs hourly from Glasgow to Largs and a bus service is also available
Once you arrive at the Cumbrae ferry slip there is a bus service which meets every ferry to transport visitors to Millport in around 10 minutes.
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5. NORTH UIST
Pristine beaches, golden eagles and fantastic fishing
THINGS TO DO
- Traigh Iar – this pristine stretch of white beach enclosed by sand dunes and fertile machair is one of the many beautiful beaches in North Uist. Sheltered from high winds, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic. At low tide you can walk to the formerly inhabited Island of Vallay.
- RSPB Balranald reserve – this idyllic Hebridean expanse of rocky shoreline, sparkling sand dunes and verdant marshland is home to thousands of birds during the spring. At this reserve look for oystercatchers, Greenland barnacle geese, corncrakes, oystercatchers, and golden and white tailed eagles soaring high overhead.
- St Kilda Viewpoint – hike up the hill at Clettraval located on the west coast of North Uist on clear spring day and gaze out through the binoculars across to the St Kilda archipelago.
- Fishing – North Uist attracts anglers from around the globe. The standard of fishing on North Uist is often cited as some of the best in Scotland with the crystal-clear estuaries, lochs and rivers teeming with brown trout, salmon and sea trout.
- Uist Sculpture Trail – explore the island by following a trail of seven outdoor artworks created by local artists. Set against a backdrop of sky, sea and rugged island terrain, these striking objects are places to rest, contemplate and enjoy the splendid solitude.
Westford Inn and Langass Lodge both boast excellent restaurants that pride themselves on serving delicious local fare, while the Claddach Kirkibost Café is a great place to drop in for cup of tea or coffee and slice of home-baked cake. There is also the Berneray Bistro which serves fresh seafood dishes including crab, langoustines, lobster and scallops – depending on availability.
Caledonian MacBrayne operate a ferry service from Uig on the Isle of Skye, to Lochmaddy on North Uist which takes around 1 hour 45 minutes. It also provides a ferry service from the Isle of Harris to North Uist from Leverburgh. The serves terminates at the Isle of Berneray and take around 1 hour.
Caledonian MacBrayne also run a ferry from Oban to Lochboisdale on South Uist. South Uist and North Uist are linked by roads. The ferry crossing from Oban to Lochboisdale takes 5-6 hours.
The nearest airport to North Uist is Benbecula Airport. There are currently scheduled flights from Benbecula to Barra Airport, Stornoway Airport and Glasgow International Airport.
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Spring is a brilliant time to explore Scotland’s islands, offering a pleasant respite for the much busier summer months. But they also fantastic destinations to visit in autumn and winter. Take a look at more island hopping holidays for more inspiration.