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Monday, 05 May 2008

Isle of Gigha: A Pocket-Sized Hebridean Gem

Written by Persephone Vandegrift
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The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore Gardens

Photo by Peter Taylor

This little Scottish island can quickly steal your heart away, and for many it has. Nestled on the west coast of Scotland, between the islands of Islay and Jura and the mainland of the Kintyre peninsula, Gigha (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ - Gee-ah), has an extensive history contained with its six mile long and one and a half mile wide stretch of land.

The ferry from Tayinloan on the mainland is less than a half hour journey to the terminal at Ardminish. One of the many things Gigha gives you is the island experience without the overwhelming journey to get there. If you are driving to Gigha, the journey around Loch Lomond and down the A83 towards Tarbert is unforgettable. But stepping onto Gigha itself is a treat for both the soul and the feet.

Why do visitors return to Gigha?

The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore Gardens

Photo by Peter Taylor

It could be the natural grace of the people and the land itself. Or perhaps it’s the opportunities to camp, stay in a Bed & Breakfast, rent one of the several cottages overlooking the sea, or another tucked away in a quiet den of trees that warrant the addiction. Maybe it is the assurance of a delicious meal at the award winning Boathouse Café, or a romantic dining experience at the Gigha Hotel. Up for a walk around the enchanting Achamore Gardens, anyone? Or test out your new driver on the nine hole golf course? A walk up to the North end will reward you with magnificent views of the Paps of Jura and the splendid outline of its Islay neighbor. It looks like you could reach out and touch them both. But the breadth and beauty of the sea is a visual reminder that indeed you can not, so you might as well take a picnic, and a camera, and utterly enjoy the tranquility you will find by witnessing such a sight!

What is there to do on a small island?

Walking along the main road, which runs from the south to the north end of Gigha, one can observe the working farms and sense the attachment the people here have to the land. Many families here are direct descendants of the original settlers of Gigha. There is a vibrant sense of history on this little island dating back to the Bronze Age. Viking influence can also be seen in the burials left behind in the North end of the island. There are several standing stones to inspect, as well as oral history ready to be bequeathed by some of the locals.

The views from the 13th century designed Kilchatten Church are breathtaking. The ruins of the church are delicate but much has been done to keep a few walls intact and the grounds clean. It is a small area but full of well preserved grave-slabs of some of the original inhabitants. There is an undisputed sense of sacredness about the place set on the side of a hill overlooking Kintyre. A few yards up from the church ruins stands the ‘Ogham Stone’, a Pictish influenced monolith that is roughly translated as Fiacal, son of Coemgen.

Take a tour of the Achamore Gardens, famous for the variety of splendid Rhododendrons and gentle strolls that can zip you into an extraordinarily fragrant world.

Walk to the South Pier and watch the fisherman tie up and unload their catch of the day. The view over to Cara, Gigha’s little sister island, is also another sight that should not be missed. It is easy to allow the imagination to become as windswept as the environment.


The Gigha Path Network has recently been established to guide and encourage the idle stroll or seasoned walker. The paths will take you up to the north of the island where you can explore the fisherman’s caves, down to the edge of the sea to frolic with the seals, alongside the remnants of the Old Mill, and up to the highest point on Gigha called ‘Creag Bhan’. The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore GardensSurrounded by Islay and Jura on to the West and the top of the Isle of Arran on the East, who would ever want to leave such a heavenly place.

Bring your golf clubs to experience Gigha’s nine hole golf course. It isn’t as easy as one might think on this well maintained island course! The sea views can be very distracting.

Visit Smashing Glass, a gallery of hand-made jewellery using beach glass and other gems; knitwear, pottery, soap, candles and other local artwork. Smashing Glass also runs weekend craft workshops and music sessions. www.smashingglass.com is where you will find these treasures and more.

Want to try your arms at kayaking or explore the sea bed in a wet suit and snorkel? Gigha Boats is located right next to the Gigha ferry slip and provides the tools for these excursions for one hour or an all day hire from 9-6pm. www.gigha.net/gighaboats

Every second weekend in September is the Gigha Music Festival. Enjoy the weekend full of live music from the well known, to up and coming singers and bands. What better way to relax and dance the hours away than on a Hebridean island surrounded by excellent people and music!

If you are around in June or July, you can also take part, or witness, the annual Gigha Raft Race. All rafts are hand made, using materials that will hopefully float. Watching the efforts of the happy futile paddling their way out of sinking will provide you with laughter for years to come.

What type of accommodation is available?

Accommodation can be found in a variety of places. The area around the Boathouse Café is designated for camping, but please check in with the hotel first. The Boathouse provides showers and laundry services for the wayward camper, not to mention the chance to wake up to the sound of the sea lapping at the shore and the hungry search of gulls overhead.

The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore GardensThe Gigha Hotel itself offers Bed and Breakfast, a good night’s sleep, and a healthy pint in the pub. A plate full of Gigha Cheese and a thick slab of Gigha bread can be made even more enjoyable by sitting in the garden next to the hotel and watching the sailboats glide past. Please check out the www.gigha.org.uk website for updated news and events. Ferry schedules can be found www.calmac.co.uk/gigha


If you are looking for more of an independent holiday, the hotel is also the place to inquire about renting one of their self-catering cottages. The Ferryman’s and Ferry Crofts both overlook the sea, igniting that sought after creative inspiration or slowing the stress of life down. The Ardailly House sits towards the north of the island and offers unsurpassable views of Islay and Jura. South Lodge is a ‘mini’ Achamore House set back from the road and surrounded by trees, offering privacy and an easy walk down to the South Pier or up to Kilchatten Church.

The Achamore House also provides comfortable and spacious bed and breakfast accommodation. Set in the Achamore gardens, this 11 room manse built by Captain James Scarlett back in 1884, offers an enchanting setting and relaxing atmosphere. Refer to their website, www.achamorehouse.com , for detailed photos of the rooms, dining areas, gardens, and prices. The house is owned by Don Dennis, a businessman, who also operates Gigha Sea Tours Ltd., which offers a chance to sight dolphins and tour many other islands including Islay, Jura, Colonsay, Mull, Tiree, and Coll.

Tighnavinish, operated by Andy and Viv Oliver, is tucked into two acres of tranquility. Located a half mile from the ferry, it offers twin and double room en-suite facilities. A warm, home-cooked breakfast is a wonderful start to the Gigha day. For rates and availability, www.gigha.net is the place to find home away from home accommodation.

On a romantic note, there have been many weddings on Gigha. The Gigha and Cara Parish Church was built in 1923 and strategically sits on top a hill overlooking the peninsula. If you are considering where to tie the knot, Gigha offers that unique, memorable experience and the facilities to host it.

The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore GardensBecause of its size; when you are on Gigha in the midst of the bracken and the stones, it almost feels like it is your own private island. Spying on the seals on the west side of the island, to sunbathing on the sandy shores, to frolicking over the rocks, or casting a line in off the edge of the pier, Gigha has a little something for everyone. Instead of your car, bring your bike over, or rent one from Gigha Stores and Post Office or Gigha Boats.

The people of Gigha are proud of their heritage and their island, and are more than willing to share it with you.

Getting to Gigha

Citylink bus operates two buses a day from Glasgow bus station that will get you to the Gigha ferry on time. It is a four hour journey with one short stop in majestic Inveraray before it drops you off at the top of the road in Tayinloan that leads down to the Gigha ferry. By car it takes less than three hours, but you might consider leaving plenty of time for this journey as there are several places along the way you will want to stop and take in the indescribable views and welcoming smiles that await you.

For a tiny island, Gigha has the biggest heart. Be sure to keep the ferry schedule handy as it is very easy to slip into a daydream and miss the last ferry back to reality. Guess that means you will just have to spend the night…

The Isle of Gigha; a pocket-sized Hebridean gem, west coast of Scotland, scottish islands, Islay, Jura, Kintyre peninsula, travel Gigha, travel scottish islands, travel scotland, Kilchatten Church, Achamore Gardens

© Persephone Vandegrift

A published poet and playwright, Persephone Vandegrift resides in Seattle but has a traveling heart. She can be reached by email: pkimberlyv at gmail dot com

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012