Isle of Jura from the Isle of Islay

© About Argyll Walking Holidays

Isle of Islay

Islay, Jura & Colonsay Walking Holiday

A wonderful opportunity to explore three islands of the Hebrides, each with something special to offer: Islay, famous for its malt whiskies and birdlife; rugged Jura, where deer outnumber people many times; and remote and peaceful Colonsay.

Hiking vacation to the isles of Islay, Jura & Colonsay, Scotland

Islay, once home of the MacDonald 'Lords of the Isles', is famous for its malt whiskies and bird life, as well as for its farming, fishing and shooting. Hills, moors and machair are edged by an infinitely varied coast, with rocks, beaches and dunes, salt marshes and cliffs. Good walking country. Machair is fertile ground on wind-blown shell-sand; well-drained and not acid, it can support a lovely short green turf with flowers.

Jura, nearly as large as Islay, is wild and infinitely more rugged. Its distinctive landmark hills - the Paps - are visible from vantage points all over Argyll, and from places as far apart as Ben Nevis and the Irish coast. Red deer outnumber people here many times over.

Colonsay, with neighbouring Oronsay, is perhaps the most peaceful and remote of all the inner Hebrides. The ruined but inspiring 14th century Oronsay Priory, with its 4m tall 'high cross', is accessible from Colonsay across the tidal Strand. The American author, John MacPhee, wrote his excellent book, 'The Crofter and the Laird', about his return to Colonsay, the land of his forebears.

We will stay on Islay, the largest of these islands where four of our walks are located, and make excursions to Jura and to Colonsay.

Geology and scenery of Islay, Jura and Colonsay

Islay has a complex geology, with major differences between the land west and east of a fault between Lochs Gruinart and Indaal. Westwards the rocks are extremely old metamorphosed sediments. The low platform of both Colonsay and this western peninsula, dotted with lochs and knobbly little hills, is reminiscent of the Outer Hebrides.

East of the fault, the slightly less ancient rocks are also mainly metamorphosed sediments - part of structures that continue north-east through Jura and on into the Grampian highlands. Islay's highest hill areas are of quartzite, like the Paps of Jura. Across the centre of eastern Islay, a weak belt of phyllites gives the low land of 'the Glen'; much of it peat-covered.


Now apparently peripheral to the mainstream of Scottish life, these islands were focal points of human activity back in the days when land transport was difficult and the seas were the sensible way to travel (not to mention an accessible source of food). Oronsay has several shell mounds surviving Neolithic and Bronze Age times, while on Colonsay and Islay a wealth of burial cairns, rock carvings and standing stones are preserved.

Iron Age times may have brought intensified social and political conflict - the evidence is there in the remains of many fortifications, in all, around 80 on Islay alone. More peaceful activity is commemorated in the remains of several Early Christian chapels and crosses, of which Kildalton is the most outstanding.

Islay played its part in the evolution of a united Scotland and also in resisting it. The very name 'Scotland' derives from the Roman name for the Iron Age Celtic people who, by the 6th century, occupied both Ulster and Argyll (Irish and Scottish Dalriada). Islay would have been one of the richest parts of Scottish Dalriada, from where came the first king of a united nation in the 9th century.

Later, though, especially from the 13th to the 15th centuries, the centralising Scottish state was very effectively resisted by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles - by then practically an independent kingdom. Their power base was at Finlaggan.

In between times, as elsewhere along the western seaboard, Islay underwent a series of Viking raids. Unlike most of the mainland, these raids were followed by extensive Norse settlement and a period (from 1098 to 1263) under the Norwegian crown. Evidence survives in numerous place names of Norse origin.

Modern Islay is a land of farms and of beautiful and distinctive planned villages whose whitewashed houses are a particularly attractive feature. These characteristics, differentiating the island from others in the Hebrides, are partly the result of its geology, topography and relative fertility, but also partly of the management policies of a succession of landowners.

Day-by-day Programme
  • Saturday: Glasgow - Isle of Islay
  • Sunday: From Machir Bay to Saligo Bay
  • Monday: The Oa peninsula
  • Tuesday: Sgorr nam Faoileann
  • Wednesday: Colonsay en Oronsay
  • Thursday: Ardnave Point and Finlaggan
  • Friday: Jura
  • Saturday: Isle of Islay - Glasgow

  • From £1405 per adult

    Departure days

    • Monday
    • Tuesday
    • Wednesday
    • Thursday
    • Friday
    • Saturday
    • Sunday

    May — September

    Contact details

    About Argyll Walking Holidays

    Letters Lodge South
    PA27 8BZ

    Tour information


    • Glasgow


    8 Days


    • Boat
    • Driver guide
    • Minibus
    • Walking


    • Bespoke
    • Private
    • Small Group (1-16)


    • English


    • Adventure
    • Geology
    • History
    • Island Hopping
    • Landscapes
    • Walking
    • Walking/Hiking
    • Whisky
    • Wildlife

    Covid 19 Facilities

    • COVID-19 measures in place
    • COVID-19 refund and cancellation policy in place
    • COVID-19 risk assessment completed
    • COVID-19 staff training completed

    Tour prices

    From £1405 Per Adult

    Book now

    Prices are subject to change depending on season

    Tour Stops

    About Argyll Walking Holidays

    Tour company information

    About Argyll Walking Holidays

    About Argyll Walking Holidays offers guided walking holidays and hiking tours in beautiful but undiscovered parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. We will take you to quiet, remote corners that can only be reached on foot, enabling you to enjoy the solitude of Scotland's secret places. With About Argyll you can discover more about the history and culture, nature and landscape of what is one of the world's most excitingly varied small countries. We offer both scheduled walking holidays and bespoke private guided hiking trips.

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