Gem of the sea
What is it about Colonsay that draws the visitor back to it, again & again?
Is it the miles of pale sandy beaches and sparkling clear waters, the rugged cliffs or the rolling machair? The still, shimmering lochs, the stunning sunsets, the flora and fauna or the unpredictable weather? Is it the remoteness, the two hour ferry crossing or just the unspoilt beauty?
At just 10 miles long and 2 miles wide, with a population of a little over 100, Colonsay sits on the edge of the Atlantic, with only the Du Hirteach lighthouse standing between it and Canada. Islay and Jura lie to the south, with Mull to the north. The island is rich with history. Legend has it that Colonsay was the first place St Columba arrived when he set out from Ireland in 563AD. However, he found that the coast of his homeland was still visible from the hills, so he moved on north to Iona and founded his monastery there.
Things to do
Active and outdoors
There are no end of possibilities. Colonsay boasts an 18 hole links golf course, endless sea for surfing, body boarding or swimming, miles of quiet roads & tracks to explore by bicycle and when on foot there are MacPhies to bag (Colonsay’s equivalent of the Munros), rocks to scrabble, cairns and duns to discover, and more sedately, a walk over the tidal causeway to Oronsay.
Families and Groups
There are long and un-crowded sandy beaches for swimming, kites, picnics and sandcastles. Quiet roads and tracks for walking & cycling, with hills and forts small enough for climbers with big ambitions but short legs. Family friendly facilities abound, from DVD night in the Hotel, to Saturday Ceilidhs, to the summer Sports Day and Regatta.
Birds and wildlife
The list of the rare and interesting is extensive. Expect to see chough, corncrake, buzzards, red shank, golden eagle, sea eagle, curlew, kittiwakes, lapwing, shags, guillemots, fulmars, hen harriers and even the occasional red kite. There are otters & seals. The Oronsay rocks of Eilean nan Ròn or Seal Island are an important Grey Seal breeding colony, and the varied wild goats (said to be descended from the survivors of the Spanish Armada ships wrecked in 1588) wander & graze the hills at will. The now rare Marsh-fritillary butterfly can be found in several places on the island, attracted by the wet meadows and the abundance of its foodplant, the Devil’s-bit scabious.
History and archaeology
There are the Iron Age forts and duns which dominate the Colonsay skyline still. Evidence of human activity goes back to 7,000 BC and all over the island you can find traces of Colonsay's long history, from the 14th century ruined Augustinian Priory in Oronsay to the abandoned fishing village of Riasg Buidhe, which was inhabited up to 1918.
Botany and geology
The variety is huge. For the uninitiated, the red fuchsia and honeysuckle growing unchecked in the hedgerows, the smell of the wild garlic, the bluebells and primroses in spring; the heath orchids, wild roses, yellow flag irises, and the purple cushions of heather covering the hills in late summer. For those with a special interest, the hills, machair and shore contribute their share of botanical beauty throughout the year. Rarities include the Sea Samphire and Marsh Helleborine and the very rare Orchid, Spiranthes Romanzoffiana. Ice erosion during the period of glaciation and the fluctuating seas levels during this time produced raised beaches, cliff lines and caves in Colonsay, which are preserved above the present sea level and therefore ideal for closer examination.
Relaxation and escape
An abundance of nature can be viewed from the garden chair and the serene atmosphere of the island. On days when some activity is necessary, there are walks which require little physical exertion and plenty of sandy beaches for strolling along. Beachcombing and rock pooling are also a satisfactory way of passing an afternoon, with much treasure to be found. A trip to the bookshop, tea in the pantry, or a drink & meal in the hotel can also help to break up the peace and tranquillity of the day!