Whether in winter or summer, there is something magical about Islay – an atmosphere unique to the Inner Hebrides and enhanced by glorious and varied scenery, a rich history and culture – to say nothing of lots of whisky distilleries! The most southerly of the Inner Hebrides, Islay is an island of varied and attractive landscapes with a beautiful coastline of sea lochs, spectacular cliffs and long, wide, deserted sandy beaches. Inland are upland heather moors and hills, actively worked peat bogs and freshwater lochs, while gentler views are produced by mature sheltered woodlands and extensive areas of farmland.
Nearby, to the north-west, Jura is a much more rugged island with far more Red Deer than people! The open upland wet heath is dominated by The Paps – stark peaks of rock and moorland rising majestically to over 2,000 feet. In sharp contrast are the formal gardens of Jura House.
Colonsay is a much smaller island with pretty, neat cottages and crofts, imposing cliffs and fantastic white sandy bays – and not a deckchair in sight! To its south, connected by a causeway at low tide, is Oronsay – an RSPB reserve with a remarkable ancient priory with some superb examples of carved Celtic crosses.
Base yourself in Islay and take day trips to Colonsay and Jura. Over 30,000 Barnacle Geese and 15,000 Greenland White-fronts arrive en masse at the beginning of October and the sight and sound of vast flocks of these birds coming in to roost in the late afternoon is unforgettable.
Throughout the year Islay is a stronghold in Britain for the attractive but endangered Chough and it also boasts healthy raptor populations – it’s not unusual to see seven species of raptor in one day. Add to the excellent birdwatching is the opportunity to see otters, deer, seals and dolphin, all mixed in with the rich history and heritage, and you have a wonderfully relaxed holiday full of diverse interest.
Skye is probably the most scenic and varied of all the Scottish Hebridean islands as well as the best known. Steeped in romantic history, including the famous episode of Bonnie Prince Charlie going “over the sea to Skye”, the island is still home to The Lord of the Isles, The Lord Macdonald of Macdonald, and the past is all around you.
Scenically stunning, the majestic Cuillin Hills rise dramatically from sea level and dominate the landscape. The Trotternish peninsula has the largest landslip in the British Isles whilst the Sleat peninsula, known as the Garden of Skye, has areas of natural woodland and gentle hills. In the north west are magnificent cliffs with attendant seabird colonies in season. Add to this small beaches and rocky coves and there is a lifetime of exploration available.
Just 20 minutes away by ferry is the island of Raasay, completely different in character but equally lovely. Here we find a blend of beauty and tragedy as we look for Golden Eagles, Peregrines and Otters and learn of the terrible clearance of the village of Hallaig. Go on a boat trip to Loch Scavaig and Loch Coruisk which can surely be classed as one of the most spectacular in Britain.
It's quite extraordinary that a group of islands so close to the Scottish mainland could be so totally different in character and atmosphere not only to Scotland itself but to the west coast islands as well.
Orkney is unquestionably unique and it has something for everyone. Take in all aspects of the islands from their remarkable archaeological sites such as Skara Brae which dates back to 3,200 BC and was not rediscovered until a storm uncovered it in 1850 to birds and flowers on the delightful island of Papa Westray. Look at crafts on the islands where there is so much talent: Orkney chairs, jewellery and the fabulous Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. Walk along cliffs pink with sea thrift and packed with birds and delight in the peaceful atmosphere of St Magnus Cathedral.
Many people visit Orkney for a short stay and are frustrated that there is so much more to the islands than "Mainland". Visit Hoy where you are able to see the famous Old Man of Hoy (a rock stack, not a person!) and also Shapinsay, Rousay and Egilsay where much work is being done to re-establish the population of corncrakes.
When you arrive in St Mary’s, you get out of the helicopter and step back in time. One of the great triumphs of the Scillonians is that they have managed to adapt to modern day living and to welcoming visitors without allowing it to affect their islands or their lifestyle. So it is that a holiday in this beautiful group of islands is full of interest, particularly for those who like birds, flowers and islands in general, and is also utterly peaceful and relaxing.
Stroll around and start soaking up the atmosphere and taking advantage of the excellent opportunities to enjoy a wide variety of natural history from seabirds to moths and everything in between.
Visit all the main islands, each of which has its own character and atmosphere. Perhaps the best known is Tresco with its famous Abbey Gardens where, thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream, sub-tropical plants grow in the open; meanwhile you will find Britain’s most south-westerly point at the end of Wingletang Down on St Agnes – even the names of these places are soothing! Go to St Martins with its sandy beaches and cliff scenery and to Bryher (which means “Place of the Hills” in Celtic), the smallest of the islands but one where you could spend days taking in the magnificent views.
There is a tremendous variety of birds, as there so often is on islands. Waders, woodland and garden birds are to be found all over with the occasional birds of prey overhead, and in mid April, lookout for the odd migrant. The Isles of Scilly are famous for turning up some extraordinarily unlikely birds!
The words "Fair Isle" conjure up romantic images of a remote island, of woolly jumpers, of exotic birds, of dramatic seabird colonies. The reality is just as good – in fact, it's better! Although in essence remote, the island is less than half an hour's flight from Shetland Mainland and, when you get there, you find a warmth of welcome typical of that which island communities give to their visitors.
Shetland itself comprises over 100 islands of which only 14 are inhabited and it stretches some 100 miles from the southern tip up the island of Unst which .
Go from Shetland's most southerly extremity – Fair Isle – right up to the north where we stay on the island of Unst and look over to Britain's most northerly point – the Muckle Flugga lighthouse. On Fair Isle, enjoy the birds for which the island is famous and also look at other aspects of island life and meet the local people.