For many, the ideal holiday involves great scenery, tasty local food and drink, enjoying fresh air in the outdoors, and perhaps spotting wildlife in its natural habitat. What if you could experience all this before even reaching your destination? Well, travel to a Scottish island by ferry, and you’ll find that the holiday begins on board.
What’s more, VisitScotland has teamed up with Caledonian MacBrayne and NorthLink Ferries to offer 4,000 pairs of return ferry tickets to lucky prize draw winners in the UK this March.
Check out our tips below to discover just some of the great things you can get up to during your journey.
We’ve asked for some top tips from Barry, the Master of the M.V Finlaggan, which sails from Kennacraig in Kintyre to Port Ellen, or Port Askaig on Islay.
Name and position: Barry, the Master of the M.V Finlaggan
Length of service with CalMac: 10 years
What has been the best thing you’ve ever seen on your ferry route?
A fully grown stag swimming in front of the vessel crossing the Islay sound on its way from Islay to Jura.
What should passengers look out for, while travelling on your ferry route?
Beautiful scenery, wildlife such as seals (in Port Ellen Bay), whales, basking sharks, dolphins, not to mention sea eagles and vast number of deer on Jura – the islander population is 200, whilst the red deer numbers are estimated to be 5,500.
If you could visit any of the Scottish islands, which would you visit and why?
Arran is a great place to visit with a young active family. Loads of outdoor sports such as mountain biking, hill walking, kayaking, etc. Barra and Harris for some of the best beaches in the world.
There are more than 23 destinations which can be reached by ferry in Scotland, and whether you pick the short hop from Kennacraig to Islay, the route from Oban to Coll, or book an overnight cabin on the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the experience will start your holiday or day trip with a sense of adventure.
Leave Oban, which is known as the Gateway to the Isles, for islands such as Tiree and South Uist, and you can’t help but admire the view of the town, the prominent lighthouse on Lismore, and the majestic Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull.
Take the CalMac route to Barra in the Outer Hebrides, and you’ll pass the wildly and remote Ardnamurchan Point, which is the most westerly spot on mainland Britain, as well as the Isle of Rum, which is a National Nature Reserve and home to many red deer.
Did you know…
CalMac have recently become the first ferry company to be Taste Our Best accredited.
On seven of their ferries you can browse the Mariners Restaurant menu in the knowledge that the majority of the produce is Scottish.
Tuck into treats including Barra-landed haddock, smoked salmon from Argyll Smokery in Dunoon, and ice cream made on Arran.
And there’s plenty more wildlife to see from other ferries too; look out for some of the 36,000 gannets at Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast, or spot dolphins and whales in The Minch on route to the Outer Hebrides.
You can even discover what’s lurking on the sea bed of The Minch as you travel on board the CalMac MV Isle of Lewis between Ullapool and Stornoway. Head to the family-friendly Geo Sail talks and you’ll also learn about the islands which can be seen from the ferry, and how each has its own unique geography and character.
Pass by the mighty Old Man of Hoy sea stack near Kirkwall, Orkney on the NorthLink Aberdeen to Lerwick route and keep a look out for seals as you arrive at Lerwick harbour. Even if you can’t spot them from the deck, you can watch the live camera feed, which is available on board during breeding season, during June and July for common seals and between October and November for grey seals.
Need any more inspiration? Take a look at our blog, which features 18 brilliant things to do on Scotland’s Islands, find more images in our islands gallery, and enter the Brilliant Island Moments prize draw now (UK only) for your chance to win.