The secluded isle of Gigha (pronounced geeya, with a hard g) is situated just three miles off the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula and is accessible only by ferry. Habitation of the island dates back approximately 5,000 years. In 2002 the residents took the rare initiative of purchasing the island communally. Gigha is now completely community-owned and operated.
The island’s landscape is comprised of low- lying rises, copses of deciduous and evergreen trees, low growing flowering shrubs and natural grasses that appear flaxen in the island breeze. It is a small island, just seven miles long and one mile across. The serpentine coast of alternating rocky coves, intimate quays and silver beaches is approximately thirty miles in length. Honeymooners who are looking for seclusion and isolation would find Gigha very accommodating.
Although small geographically, the island has a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy. Boasting beautiful views in nearly every direction, Gigha is a wonderful place for hiking, with 12 designated walks that are described in a “Walk Gigha” booklet available in local stores and hotels. The walks vary in length from one half to three miles and cover a range of terrain – from woodland, sandy beaches and rocky shores, to heather-clad hilltops.
For the aquatic newlyweds, the Gigha Boats Activity Centre rents sea kayaks, row boats, paddle boards and snorkel equipment. Wetsuit rental is also available and highly recommended as the water is considerably chilly year around. A locally-guided sea safari is also available to view the sea otters, dolphins and other marine wildlife that populate the shore.
If botany is of interest, then consider a leisurely tour of Achamore Gardens. With a mild, Gulf Stream influenced microclimate, the garden is ablaze with magenta rhododendrons, white azaleas and periwinkle hydrangeas in the summer. The 50-acre site boasts a long list of rare and unusual plants.
During your day of activities, walk or cycle to the Boathouse Café. The restaurant is an easy five minute walk from the ferry just off the east coast of the island. Situated in an unassuming, cozy, white-washed stone building, the restaurant’s menu is far more ambitious than its environs would fore- shadow. Delectable selections include: pan seared local scallops served on peashoots, drizzled with garlic butter; grilled local langoustine with a lime and chile butter; and Gigha halibut with a chorizo and pink peppercorn crust. The menu is teeming with locally raised fish and shellfish that are shipped all over the United Kingdom.
Although Gigha is probably better suited for a daytrip, there is a small selection of overnight accommodations. The community- run Gigha Hotel is a homely selection that provides adequate but very basic services. The restaurant inside of the hotel and the hotel staff truly are what set the facility apart. Achamore House, built in 1884, is a bed and breakfast situated within Achamore Gardens and is privately operated. Travelers also have the option of several self-catering cottages around the island.
For the next segment of your Scottish island-hopping honeymoon, take the two hour ferry to the historic and intoxicating isle of Islay (pronounced eye-la). The island is largely world famous for one thing – single malt whiskey. But, unless you are a Scotch whiskey aficionado, Islay’s enchantment lies in its ethereal landscape, abundant wildlife and ancient history.
Islay’s landscape is an area of pastoral scenery replete with adorable white sheep on emerald hillsides and dreamy low- slung clouds beyond – the stock images of postcards or decorative wall hangings at the dentist’s office. Except this isn’t a contrived photo shoot; it is beautifully real. The natural environment ranges from moorland, hillocks and gently sloping valleys to peat bogs, wetlands and coniferous woodlands and forests.
There are numerous freshwater lochs (lakes) and streams, and the roadsides blossom with foxglove, bluebells, wild fuchsia, yellow flag irises, rhododendrons and, of course, the fabled purple heather.
First on many itineraries is acquaintance with Islay’s eight whiskey distilleries. The oldest, Bowmore, was established in 1779. Each distillery offers tours of the whiskey making process complete with an obligatory dram of the smoky firewater that characterizes Scotch from this area.
Another major attraction to the island is the abundant wildlife. Islay is not only world famous for its spirits but also for its birding. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve is perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of Islay, offering stunning views combined with rare birds such as hen harriers, sparrow-hawks, peregrine, puffins and golden eagles.
If you have a need for sand in your toes, Islay has 130 miles of coastline with over 20 beach areas. Though chilly most of the year, romantic beach strolls and picnics are requisite for any newlywed couple. Other beach activities include kayaking, fishing, sea safari, swimming (when warm) and scuba diving among the 250 sunken vessels off the island’s coast. And, of course, there is all the assorted marine life to view – minke whales, orcas, grey seals and bottle- nose dolphins among many others. Inland activities include golfing, tennis, hiking, fly fishing, wildlife safari and biking. Falconry and clay pigeon shooting, along with wild- game stalking and hunting are also possible activities. Or, for those interested in more sedate endeavors, pottery painting, peat cut- ting and wool mill tours are also available.
To provide a historical framework to this enchanting island, its people and culture necessitates a tour of its historical landmarks and archeological remains. You will gaze upon carved stones, Celtic crosses, castle ruins and standing stones that date back to the Bronze Age in some cases. Of noted interest, the High Cross of Kildalton dates from the eighth century and is the only unbroken Celtic cross in Scotland.
Accommodations on Islay are numerous and varied. Choices include hotels, bed and breakfasts and vacation rental properties of various sizes and locations. The Harbour Inn Hotel offers a ‘Hebridean Honeymoon’ package with harbor views, fresh flowers, champagne and candle-lit dinners. The award-winning restaurant features such scrumptious dishes as seared Islay scallops, fillet of lemon sole, roasted loin and fillet of Scottish lamb and pan roasted loin of Highland venison.
A ten minute sail North on the Eilean Dhiura ferry across the sound of Islay is the whale-shaped island of Jura. Its name is of Norse origin and translates to ‘deer island’ – a befitting moniker as the island is home to 120 people, 5,500 red deer. For the honeymooners who would like to disappear into each other, remote Jura is the place to get lost.
Dominating the view of Jura from almost any direction are the three, distinctive and easily recognized Paps of Jura – small mountains ranging in height from 2,400 to 2,500 feet. The early Norse inhabitants coined the name because of their breast-like shape. Emanating from the Paps, green, undulating, mist-covered hillsides resemble the echelons of green ocean waves that lap onto the island’s shores perpetually.
Jura is twenty-four miles long, and in some places seven miles in breadth. It can boast of beautiful bays, tranquil lochs, pebble beaches and abundant streams. Rich coastal grasslands abut coniferous forests and wooded dales and glens. The Corryvreckan Whirlpool is a water phenomenon just off the northeastern shore of Jura. You can view the whirlpool by land or hiring a boat for the three hour tour. On the way out to view the whirlpool is Barnhill, a remote cottage where the novelist George Orwell spent much of the last three years of his life. Orwell was known to the residents of Jura by his real name, Eric Blair. It was at Barn- hill that Orwell wrote his famous novel, 1984, while critically ill with tuberculosis.
Heading back to your hotel, make sure and stop for Tea on the Beach at Inverlussa Bay. Locally regarded as the world’s first walkie-talkie café, you can enjoy tea, home- made cakes and fresh coffee along the sandy beach.
For those newlyweds looking for an ultra- posh, ultra exclusive experience, the Jura Lodge, operated by the distillery, can be rented for $4,000 for a three night stay. This luxurious lodge offers an eccentric display of color, décor and stylistic touches punctuated with hypnotic ocean views. It’s truly an opulent aberration from its unassuming Jura surroundings.
If for your honeymoon, you and your beloved are seeking a complete break from the stresses of wedding planning and, let’s face it, the big day itself, then the Southern Scottish isles might just be your dram of whiskey. Whether you are hopping between the sea-kissed islands or seeking silence and seclusion, Gigha, Islay and Jura will overwhelm you with their beauty and serenity. The biggest treasure awaiting you, however, are the Scots themselves. Sláinte!
By Roxana Ramirez