When people think of Scottish islands, images of the sandy beaches of the Hebrides, the history of Orkney or the whisky distilleries of Islay might come to mind. However, not all of Scotland's islands lie out at sea and some are very easy to visit like Inchcailloch, one of 22 named islands in Loch Lomond.
Easily accessible by boat, Inchcailloch is a National Nature Reserve which sits between the Highland and Lowland landscape and offers some superb views along Loch Lomond. It might be miniature sized but its history and scenic walks ensure a rewarding visit.
How to reach Inchcailloch
There are 2 options for reaching the island, either by a 5 minute crossing from Balmaha Boatyard or from the pretty conservation village of Luss, which is the route that I opted for.
It takes 45 minutes to reach Inchcailloch from Luss on the Cruise Loch Lomond ferry but I really enjoyed the longer boat ride as we explored the waters around some of the other small islands, islets and crannogs that dot the loch, while listening to some fascinating commentary from our very knowledgeable captain. In fact I'd recommend the cruise even if you don't choose to get off at Inchcailloch.
If you travel from Balmaha you will get dropped off at the north jetty and if you travel from Luss you will get dropped off at the Port Bawn jetty in the south of Inchcailloch, because the island is so small the drop off point doesn't really make any difference.
The boat from Balmaha runs an 'on demand' service, however there are only a few seasonal ferries to the island from Luss each day so be sure to check the times for the boat back or you might get stranded!
History of Inchcailloch
Inchcailloch is Gaelic for the 'island of the old or cowled woman' and is named after St Kentigerna, the daughter of an Irish King and mother of St Fillan who is said to have set up a nunnery on the island. She settled there and died in 734 AD and the few remaining ruins of a church dedicated to her memory can still be visited. The church was built in the 13th century and along with its burial ground, is the only Scheduled Ancient Monument in or around the Loch Lomond area. It's amazing to think that every Sunday for 400 years, parishioners would row across to the island so they could worship there. The burial ground has some interesting old headstones with Macfarlane and Macgregor being popular names, in fact the uncle of the infamous Rob Roy Macgregor is buried here.
Although uninhabited now, for over 2000 years Inchcailloch was a farming community and there is still evidence of the last farming family that lived on the island until the early 19th century. As was common in Scotland during that period, small farms were cleared to make way for more profitable sheep farming or woodland planting. In 1796, 2000 acorns were planted on the island and this signaled the end of the long history of farming and in turn the habitation of Inchcailloch.
Today it is a National Nature Reserve with aged oak woods and a rich diversity of wildlife. If you are lucky you might spot the shy resident fallow deer among the trees and undergrowth, I only managed to spot some greedy mallard ducks!
There are 3 main walking routes around Inchailloch - the Low Path, the Central Path and the Summit Path. I started off following the Summit Path to the top of Tom na Nigheanan (hill of the daughter), the highest hill on the island which isn't actually that high but offers superb views at the top. Apart from a short, steep section at the start, it is a pretty easy climb and the reward for the small effort is definitely worth it.
After making my way down from the Summit Path, I followed the Low Path so I could explore the church and farm ruins. When I visited the island in July it was a paradise of green, with a carpet of giant ferns in every direction. I would love to visit during the different seasons, especially Spring when the bluebells are out in abundance.
Although I've visited Loch Lomond countless times, this was my first visit to the island and I really felt a million miles away from the bustling tourist spots. It was also nice to get a different perspective of a landscape I'm all too familiar with.
I managed to do both walks within the 90 minutes between ferries and still had a little time to spare although I would like to spend a bit longer next time soaking up the history and natural beauty along the other trails.
There are minimal facilities on Inchailloch and as there is no running water you will need to bring bottled water, There are compost toilets and a few picnic tables but there are no rubbish bins so be sure to take everything back with you.
There is a small campsite that is opened seasonally next to Port Bawn but you can only stay a maximum of 2 nights and there are no facilities other than the toilets. There is a fee to stay and you need to book in advance. To reduce impact on the environment, only a maximum of 12 people can stay per night. However, it is a pretty special location to spend the night and somewhere I would love to stay myself at some point.
I can't believe it took me so long to visit Inchcailloch and being there reminded me that no matter how many times I visit an area there is always somewhere new to discover. I just keep feeling that one lifetime is not enough to explore all the gems of Scotland although I'm on a mission to visit as many as I can!
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