The Isle of Gigha is clearly visible from the Kintyre peninsula and a short 20 minute ferry ride across the Sound of Gigha is all that separates the two. The close proximity doesn't stop me feeling the same excited anticipation that always precedes an island adventure, or from standing on deck braving the gusty wind and regular soaking from sea spray as the main settlement of Ardminish draws closer.
This is an Island I have been meaning to visit for a while and a last minute decision to pop over and fill a free day in my diary sees me making my way to the little lump of land that the Norse King Hakon originally named Gudey, meaning the Good Isle or God's Isle, and which the Gaels later adjusted to Gigha (pronounced Geeea).
There aren't many Scottish Islands that you can feasibly visit and explore in 1 day but the community owned Isle of Gigha is the ideal destination for those looking to experience a little piece of Hebridean paradise in a short amount of time thanks to its close proximity to the mainland and bijou size.
It is the most southerly Hebridean Island and only 7 miles long by 1 1/2 miles at its widest point, with one main road dissecting its length. Having the car meant I could explore most of the island in an afternoon, however it is equally doable in a day by bike (bike hire is available locally) or on foot.
There are not many man-made attractions on Gigha but the beautiful natural scenery is enough to make a visit worthwhile and although there are no museums, the history of the island is told through the objects that intertwine the landscape from the standing stones to the modern 'Dancing Ladies' wind turbines.
White Beaches and Turquoise Water
If the very mention of 'Hebridean island' conjures up an image of flawless white sandy bays, clear turquoise water and rugged coves, you'll be pleased to know Gigha won't disappoint with its own bite sized slices of paradise. Being only 1 1/2 miles at its widest point and 1/2 mile at its narrowest, you are never far from the coast and at certain places you can even admire the tempting stretches of sand along both sides of the island at the same time, talk about a dilemma!
Views to Islay and Jura
You can almost smell the waft of whisky from Islay and reach over to touch the Paps of Jura which both sit teasingly close off the west coast of Gigha. If a visit to this miniature Hebridean oasis leaves you hankering for more, then gazing across at its imposing relatives is guaranteed to add to your island wanderlust and immediately booking you next ferry trip.
I have got to admit I am a bit of a sucker for the honesty tables that I often find on my travels around Scotland, so I was delighted to find one on Gigha and instantly knew that my purse was about to get a bit lighter. This type of small scale entrepreneurship means everyone is a winner; I can get my hands on a unique souvenir or some tasty local produce and the maker gets all the profit. In this case I picked up a lovely card with an image of one of the perfect local beaches, which now sits on a shelf in my living-room and reminds me of my lovely wee day on Gigha. (Top tip - If you are travelling around Scotland it is always wise to have some spare change as you never know what goodies you might come across).
Every time I see one of these tables it also reminds me that they can only exist because people are generally good and trustworthy and I hope that never changes.
Kilchatten (St Cathan's) Church
Sitting slightly uphill with an open view to Kintyre, the now ruined Kilchatten Church dates from the 13th Century although it became derelict in the 18th Century. Thanks to careful conservation work, the building has been partially preserved and retains some interesting lancet windows and grave slabs which date from the 15th Century or earlier.
I always get goosebumps visiting sites like this where the stones are full of stories and history oozes from every uneven surface and although there is not much left of the original building it is still an atmospheric place to visit.
Just past Kilchatten Church you will find the Ogham Stone which has a Pictish inscription although I personally couldn't make anything out. It is said to be a grave stone with the name of the deceased and his father and is thought to date from the earliest settlement of the Scots in Dalriada.
Probably the best known attraction on Gigha is Achamore Gardens. Before the community bought over Gigha it had many private owners over the years and in the 19th Century it was bought by the Scarlett family who built Achamore House and began to create a garden which included hybrid Rhododendrons. In 1944 Colonel Sir James Horlick (of the malted drink family) worked alongside garden designer Kitty Lloyd Jones to develop the grounds even further, introducing rare and unusual plants from around the world. After the community buy-out in 2002, the islanders took over the management of the acclaimed gardens.
Before my visit I read an interesting blog post by Laura at Laretour who had just visited Achamore and found the gardens now looked abandoned and on my visit I found the same sad signs of neglect. My spooky experience was very similar to Laura's and if you want to find out more she has written a whole blog post on the 'Mystery of Achamore Gardens', lets hope it is just a temporary situation as the gardens are a massive asset to the island.
The Druid or Hanging Stone
As you head towards the northern end of the Island you cant miss the large standing stone by the side of the road known by several names, each with there own associated legend. Sometimes called the Druid Stone, it is said to have been used in Druid ceremonies; also known as the Hanging Stone, it was said people who were found guilty at the nearby Court Hill had their heads positioned in the cleft of the stone before being left to hang to their deaths. The legend I like best is that of a giant on Kintyre with toothache who pulled out the painful tooth and threw it across the water where it landed on Gigha, resulting in the stone also being known as the Giants Tooth.
The Gigha Cairn
Just at the cut off to The Boathouse Cafe Bar lies an ever growing pile of colourful stones known as the Gigha Cairn. Designed as a physical marker of the community takeover of the island, the first stone was laid by Jim Wallace, the deputy First Minister at the time, who took it from the site of the new Scottish Parliament building in Holyrood. Since then colourful rocks from around the world have been added and if you're planning a visit you might want to contribute your own addition.
I certainly found it possible to see much of the island in a short space of time although if I had another day I would have followed some of the walking trails, which gives me a reason to return...
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