The Scottish Islands – Rugged and Ancient Lands

The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye

The Scottish Islands lie north, northwest, and west of the mainland of Great Britain. Scotland is renowned for its rugged landscapes, rich history, and unique culture; its islands are no exception. These islands offer a diverse range of experiences for travelers and locals alike. From dramatic coastlines and breathtaking cliffs to ancient castles and traditional Gaelic culture, each island has its own distinct character. 

The first things that strike me about the islands are the following: Despite their remoteness, they have been inhabited not for centuries but for millennia.  Humans have been on these islands as far back as 8,000 years ago. The Shetland Islands are hundreds of miles from other mainlands. Can you imagine the type of watercraft these stone-age explorers used to reach these islands? Second, there is a solid Scandinavian influence here. Third, the resourcefulness of the people on these islands are remarkable. 

Here’s an introduction to some of the most prominent Scottish islands:

The Northern Islands

Orkney Islands: Situated off the northeastern coast, Orkney is an archipelago comprising around 70 islands. The islands are steeped in history, with ancient sites like Skara Brae, a well-preserved Neolithic village. Human habitation of the Orkney Islands goes back over 8,000 years, and Skara Brae is estimated to be 3,000 years old, which makes it older than either Stonehenge or the Pyramids. The settlement of Skara Brae shows that the inhabitants lived underground in a fashion that reminds you immediately of Tolkien’s Hobbit Houses.

Other ancient sites in the Orkneys are the Ring of Brodgar, which is a Neolithic stone circle, and the Maeshowe Burial Tomb.

The Orkney Islands were a base for Viking raiders on their way to mainland Great Britain, and the Islands were a part of Norway from 875 AD until 1472. 

Shetland Islands: Located northeast of Orkney, the Shetland’s are a cluster of around 100 islands. It’s renowned for its wildlife, especially seabird colonies, and the annual Up Helly Aa fire festival, where the Viking heritage is celebrated. The Shetlands are almost equidistant from Bergen Norway, and like the Orkney’s were actua;;y a part of Norway until 1472. 

The Northwest Islands

The Callanash Stones

Outer Hebrides: One thing seems inevitable in Scotland, you are sure to find either stone circles or castles, and the Outer Hebrides are no exception. The Outer Hebrides comprise a series of islands, including Lewis and Harris, North Uist, South Uist, and Barra. They boast white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, and ancient sites like the Callanish Stones.

Isle of Skye: One of the largest and most famous islands, Skye is known for its rugged beauty, including the iconic Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. It’s a paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts, offering stunning landscapes, waterfalls, and wildlife. The Isle of Skye also has the picturesque Eilean Donan Castle, and the quaint fishing village of Portree.

The Inner Hebrides

Islay: (Pronounced eye luh)Renowned for its whisky production, Islay is a whisky lover’s paradise. It’s home to several distilleries, each producing distinctive single malts, and offers a peaceful, picturesque landscape. The theory is that some of the early settlers on the island were Irish monks who brought their whiskey-making skills from Ireland. This may be a controversial topic in Scotland

Iona: This tiny island holds significant historical and religious importance. It’s known for the ancient Iona Abbey, a place of pilgrimage, and its serene atmosphere.

Arran: Often referred to as “Scotland in Miniature” due to its diverse landscapes, Arran offers a mix of high mountains, woodlands, and coastline. It’s easily accessible from the mainland, making it a popular destination for day trips. The history of this island mirrors many of the others. Habitation dates back over 4,500 years, and it was once under the control of Norwegian Vikings.

Getting There

For all Scottish Islands, there is a well-established network of ferries. For the major islands in these chains, there are small airports. And some of these larger islands are on the cruise itineraries for ocean cruises traveling between England and Scandinavia.

Want to know More?

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