Do you ever get the urge to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life? To enjoy some respite from rushing around? To feel liberated from crowds of people, technological distractions, traffic jams and the general stresses that come with living in the modern world? Even if just for 24 hours?
As I jumped in the car to catch my first CalMac ferry of the day, I immediately felt the weight of the world rise off my shoulders as rapidly as the blazing sun was emerging on the horizon. This had to be a good omen for the weekend ahead and my own much needed 24 hour escape to the little Hebridean haven of Colonsay.
Heading off alone to a quiet island with a population of only approx 135 inhabitants is a very appealing prospect to me at the best of times; when the sun shines and the sky is a perfect blue, it offers the alluring promise of a peaceful paradise.
However, as is often the case in Scotland, it's just as much about the beauty of the journey as that of the destination. With three very different CalMac ferry crossings, through some of the most scenic west coast waters, I spent much of my time on deck breathing in the salty air and surveying the several other islands we passed by as seabirds glided effortlessly along the air currents before diving-bombing into the frothy waves below.
As my final ferry of the day reached Port Askaig for a quick stop-off I was able to enjoy a different view of Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, two of the distilleries I had visited earlier in the year during a whisky tour of Islay.
Soon after departing Islay my GPS showed that we were fast approaching Colonsay and I excitedly peered ahead to catch my first glimpses of the island, with the distinctive point of the Lord Colonsay Monument visible on a hill top as we neared the ferry terminal at the main settlement of Scalasaig.
Driving off the ferry I was greeted by one of the locals who handed me a pack containing lots of information about the island. This was a first for me and I was highly impressed at both being personally welcomed and the initiative of providing tourists with local information to encourage them to make the most of their time during their stay. This is fantastic proactive approach to tourism from a small community and something which many places in Scotland could learn a thing or two from!
Between my welcome pack and pre-trip research, I had a pretty good idea of the things I wanted to do and see to make the most of my short stay on Colonsay. I may only have had just over 24 hours to enjoy my Hebridean freedom, however time seems to stretch when you embrace the slow pace of island life and I always find a minute standing immersed in rugged remoteness seems much more productive than an hour spent negotiating my usual never-ending to do list.
Luckily Colonsay is a small island and easy to explore by car or bike, with one main road circulating the sites. This was my first visit to this little strip of land, where free roaming sheep far outnumber the people and the next landmass after the craggy rocks and sandy beaches on the west coast is Canada.
This is how I chose to relax on the Isle of Colonsay...
After departing the ferry I made a quick stop at Colonsay Brewery before it closed for the weekend to pick up some gift packs to take home and I may have sneaked in an extra bottle for me to enjoy that evening! Well what better place to enjoy the local brew?
With just one road there wasn't too much risk of getting lost as I made my way to Colonsay House and my accommodation for the night. My short drive and first introduction to the island consisted mainly of a welcoming mass of white, woolly balls on legs. Lining the verges, congregating in fields, strolling towards me on the road and peering over hilltops, I was starting to wonder if sheep were the real rulers of this empire.
By the end of my trip I had developed a real fondness for my new fleecy friends.
Colonsay House and Gardens
Colonsay House dates from 1722 and the south wing has been converted into holiday apartments which is where I was spending the night. With a view overlooking the pretty gardens it would have been a shame not to visit and I had just enough time to quickly explore before they closed.
One thing I particularly wanted to see in the grounds of the house was the mysterious carved stone statue which stands next to a well dedicated to St Oran. It is believed to date from the 7th or 8th century with what is thought to be a head of Christ at the top and a fish tail at the bottom. The gardens are well worth visiting with lots of floral colour, butterflies and quirky objects.
My next stop was the nearby Kiloran Bay which I had read was the best beach on the island but I still let out an audible 'WOW' when I got my first view of this perfect crescent of golden sand fringed by clear turquoise, blue water. The evening was still unseasonably balmy so I wasted no time in discarding my shoes and pressing my feet into the surprisingly warm sand, it really is the simple things in life that bring me the most pleasure!
Other than an unexpected cow which leisurely strolled by while glancing at me with disdain for spoiling her tranquility, I had the place entirely to myself.
After walking the length of the beach I came across another bay, with the more typical white Hebridean sand; I really could have sat on the rocks here for hours and had to reluctantly drag myself away for fear of running out of time to explore the rest of the island.
Colonsay Golf Course
Making the most of the light evening, I followed the circular road around the island, past abandoned buildings, the occasional settlement and an endless stream sheep. Spying another sandy bay with a cute vintage orange VW campervan parked in an enviable position, I decided to pull over to capture a few photos. As I tramped through the machair I began to wonder why there were numbered signs dotted around and quickly realised what I had mistaken for some rough grass was in fact a natural golf course which has remained unchanged since it was first played on in 1775! Now I'm not a golfer but I can totally appreciate the uniqueness of the course.
Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust
As the sun was beginning to disappear on the horizon I stumbled across a little cottage with an 'exhibition open' sign propped invitingly along the roadside. Being the curious type I couldn't drive by and pulled over to take a peek inside. It turned out to be the home of the Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust with interesting displays and artifacts covering the long history of the island dating back to the Bronze Age. I was particularly fascinated by the huge whale bones casually resting on the floor!
As with many little remote Scottish island museums, it never closes and visitors are trusted to leave the place as they found it, switching off the lights as they leave. I find it a breath of fresh air in the modern world that places and communities like this still exist.
Lord Colonsay Monument
The following morning I decided to walk up to the Lord Colonsay Monument which had greeted me from a distance as I sailed towards the island the previous day. I wasn't too sure how to get there other than I had to start off by following the path opposite the hotel. It turns out there are no official directions to the monument because there is no official route. After following the initial track I quickly realised that the only way to reach the hilltop was by going off road and aiming towards the red granite obelisk while avoiding the grazing sheep and their multitude of post-grazing secretions!
According to what I've read the monument was erected in by local people in memory of the laird, Duncan McNeill, 6th of Colonsay, as he did not remove any of his tenants during the Highland Clearances.
As it was a clear day I enjoyed superb views over Scalasaig and across to Jura and Islay.
Walk to Oronsay
One regret I have is not managing to walk to the neighbouring island of Oronsay (also spelled Oransay), which is linked to Colonsay by a tidal causeway. Unfortunately low tide coincided with my ferry back to the mainland but I did manage to follow the receding tide to get frustratingly close to the rocky shore of Oronsay.
The main reason I wanted to visit was to see the remains of the 14th Century Augustinian Priory but I guess I will have to return when the tide will be in my favour.
The hotel is the social hub of the island and the only place I could get WiFi, an unfortunate necessity of being a travel blogger. A nice atmosphere and relaxing decor make it a pleasant spot to sit with a coffee, grab a beer or chat to the locals, They also advertised a pre-ferry meal deal which I took advantage of before my evening trip back to the mainland and I must say the food was excellent and plentiful!
With just enough time to do another quick lap of the island before my ferry arrived, I made the most of the still sunny evening to take plenty of photos as a reminder of my stress free 24 hours on idyllic Colonsay.
If you ever feel the urge to escape but worry that a mere 24 hours will never be enough to completely de-stress, I suggest hopping on the next ferry to Colonsay where the natural beauty and simplicity of life is real tonic for the soul.
Have you been to Colonsay? Did you find it relaxing? What else would you recommend to do?
My relaxing trip to Colonsay was part of a CalMac #Isleathon campaign to visit and showcase as many Scottish islands as we could over one weekend.
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