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Island hopping in the summer: 5 memorable Scottish ferry journeys

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Scotland by ferry
Explore the best of Scotland with a ferry trip this summer. Photo: © hidden europe

The bible tells us that Scotland has 163 islands that are more than 100 acres in size. The bible, in this case, is Hamish Haswell-Smith’s remarkable book The Scottish Islands. Of those 163 islands, about half are populated by humans (and rather more than half are populated by sheep). About four dozen Scottish islands are served by regular scheduled ferry routes. So it’s no surprise that ferries are big business in Scotland—a key element of the national transport infrastructure.

Ferry details

To really catch the flavor of Scotland, it’s good to take a boat or two during your travels. The high season sees augmented schedules on many routes, as well as one or two unusual ferry links that only run in the peak season. Here’s the gen on five fine Scottish ferry trips for this summer.

Bicycles are carried for free on all five routes mentioned here. Cyclists should always mention the need for bike space when making a booking. For foot passengers advance booking is possible, but by no means essential on most of the routes mentioned below. The one notable exception is Route 5 (to Jura) where seats must always be booked in advance.

1. A Viking voyage: Shetland to Orkney

We were blessed with good weather when we sailed from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands to Orkney. It is a perfect journey for a mid-summer evening, when you can expect superb views of Fair Isle. It is a route that runs year-round, but during the high season the frequency rises from twice to thrice weekly. Departures this summer are at 5.30 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Lerwick.

Single fare: £17.10
Crossing time: 5 hrs 30 mins
Cars carried: YES
Operator: NorthLink Ferries

Oban Bay ferry

The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry cruising through Oban Bay. Photo: Ian Britton

2. Island hopping: Kennacraig to Oban

The bus journey from Kennacraig (a small port towards the northern end of the Mull of Kintyre) takes less than three hours and is a very fine ride through stunning Highland scenery. But there is another option. During the high season, there is a twice-weekly ferry from Kennacraig to Oban. It stops at the islands of Islay and Colonsay, affording along the way very fine views of Jura. The service operates until late October.

Single fare: £15.45
Crossing time: 6 hrs 25 mins
Cars carried: YES
Operator: Caledonian MacBrayne

3. Away from Kintyre: Campbeltown to Ardrossan

As last year, Caledonian MacBrayne are running an occasional service from Campeltown (at the southern end of the Mull of Kintyre) to Ardrossan (on the mainland south-west of Glasgow) until late September 2014. The Saturday sailing from Campbeltown is really one for early birds (it leaves at 7am), but in good weather it’s a fine way to see the Firth of Clyde. It skirts the south coast of Arran, making a stop at Brodick.

Single fare: £9.80
Crossing time: 3 hrs 40 mins
Cars carried: YES
Operator: Caledonian MacBrayne

4. Out to the Outer Hebrides: Oban to Castlebay

There are plenty of boats to the Outer Hebrides, with Caledonian MacBrayne offering a good range of services from Oban and Ullapool (both on the mainland) as well as from the port of Uig on the Isle of Skye. But there is one sailing in particular in the current schedules which warrants attention this summer. The Thursday morning sailing from Oban to Castlebay (on the island of Barra) takes an unusual routing via the islands of Coll and Tiree.

Single fare: £14.25
Crossing time: 6 hrs 45 mins
Cars carried: YES
Operator: Caledonian MacBrayne

Jura ferry

The view from the Jura Passenger Ferry. Photo: bazzarrgh

5. The back route to Jura

There was a time when the only way to Jura was via the island of Islay. But nowadays there is a seasonal direct service to Craighouse on Jura from Tayvallich on the mainland. It’s not cheap, but this community-run venture gives fast access from the Scottish mainland to one of the remotest parts of the Inner Hebrides. The service runs twice daily from Mondays to Saturdays except Wednesdays. There is also one run on a Sunday. The route operates until the end of September.

Single fare: £20
Crossing time: 1 hr
Cars carried: NO
Operator: Jura Passenger Ferry

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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