The Isle of Gigha, Argyll, Scotland
Evening view towards Kintyre
Beach on the eastern shore of Gigha
Rhododendron, Achamore Gardens
Gigha is situated just west of the peninsula of Kintyre, in the West of Scotland. It is the most southerly of the Hebridean islands, and at just 7 miles (11km) long is one of the smallest of Scotland's inhabited islands.Unlike most of the other islands off the west coast, it has no mountains, and the highest hill rises only to 100m (330 ft).
Nevertheless, the position of the island means that there are great views across the Sound of Gigha to Kintyre in the east, and the mountains of Arran beyond. In the west there are equally impressive vistas across the Atlantic towards the island of Islay, and the Paps of Jura.
The climate tends to be a little drier and sunnier than the higher ground elsewhere along the west coast, although it is a breezy place.
We enjoyed watching the many sea birds, although we weren't sure what species they all were. There also seemed to be quite a number of wildflowers, as well as plenty of gorse bushes that were a blaze of gold during our visit.
Although Gigha may seem relatively inaccessible today, in the Viking period, when most travel and trade was by sea, it would have been close to an important communications route up and down the west coast of Scotland. A number of carved stones give clues about early cultures. The ruined church at Kilchattan dates from the 13th century, with some very old gravestones in the churchyard.
The Giant's Tooth - also known as the Hanging Stone - is perhaps the best known of the prehistoric monuments on the island. It certainly looks like an enormous incisor embedded in the ground, but as the latter name suggests, it is believed it was used as a place of execution at one time. Today the Giant's Tooth is featured in the Heritage Trust's emblem.
Like other parts of the Highlands and Islands, Gigha was owned until recent times by a Laird, and the island's infrastructure and economy were underdeveloped. Then in 2001 the island came up for sale, and with support from the Scottish Land Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise the community was able to take ownership on 15 March 2002. The press release issued at the time is also available.
This has marked the start of a renaissance for the island, with concerted efforts led by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust, supported by Argyll and the Islands Enterprise, to improve conditions for the residents and attract more people to live there.
The population had fallen over the years to 120, but a housing association is now developing 18 new houses on either side of the hotel. This will enable people living with their parents to have their own home, and will mean that others who want to move to the island can do so.
The Heritage Trust operates the Hotel and a number of self-catering cottages, but has sold Achamore house to repay the loan required for the purchase. The Trust has an excellent website providing lots of information on the island, community ownership and the facilities available for visitors. There's a page covering the hotel and other accommodation.
In December 2004, Scotland's first community-owned wind farm opened at the south end of the island, and the three wind generators are a prominent symbol of the regeneration of the community. Revenue from sale of the electricity will be reinvested into other development projects.
The children at the primary school have played their own part in promoting tourism by putting together an activity pack for other children visiting the island. It's designed to give them a real experience of the island and understanding of the community and its history, even if the weather is unfavourable. The packs can be bought at the shop and the hotel.
There's a close link between what the community is trying to achieve in Gigha, and the ethical principles of this website - encouraging walking and tourism to help support the sustainable development of communities around the world, often in remote but beautiful locations. Gigha makes a great place to start.
The village of Ardminish could fairly be described as dispersed. A road leads from the ferry terminal up past a shoreline restaurant called the Boathouse, and a couple of houses, then past the school, to the one road junction on the island. Situated at this T-junction is the island post office and shop, with the church ahead up the hill. The hotel is a hundred yards or so to the south (left), and new craft units and a Heritage Trust office have been built alongside. Further south again lies the main group of houses, in two rows on either side of a sloping green. Next comes the fire station, and beyond a belt of woodland stands the village hall with a football pitch on one side and Achamore gardens on the other.
Achamore Gardens is a popular and well-known tourist attraction, covering 50 acres, well-known for its collection of rhododendrons and other exotic plants.
The road runs another mile or so to the south pier. In the other direction it's around 5 miles from the T-junction to the north end of the island, passing the 9-hole golf course and dairy farms.
There is very little traffic on the roads, making it a great place for cycling - you can bring your own bikes, or hire them at the shop or the hotel.
A booklet of 12 walks (with additional variations) has been put together by the Gigha Path Network Group, and it can be purchased in advance for £1.50 plus postage from the Heritage Trust Office at Ardminish (contact Lorna Andrew on 01583 505390 or e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org ). Not surprisingly given the small size of the island, none of the walks is longer than 3 miles / 2 hours, except for the full walk of Creag Bhan (the highest hill) and the Old Mill (6 miles). We enjoyed three and a half of the walks during our short stay.
The "half" was the walk from the South Pier along the shore to the Spouting Cave, which sounded good fun. We didn't quite make it there - although we enjoyed the shoreline with rocky outcrops and stretches of sand, we had to walk some of the way along the flat grassy raised beach, and it was pretty boggy - wellies are recommended! We turned back and the cows looked on as I sank up to my knee in the peat at one point (certainly Frances had a good laugh).
The other walks described here are highly recommended, and there were plenty more which we didn't have time to try. Nevertheless, we felt we had managed to get to know the island quite well during our short two-day visit.
The ferry from the mainland at Tayinloan to Ardminish sails in each direction every hour, with the crossing taking just 20 minutes. Tayinloan is on the long Kintyre peninsula, 18 miles south of Tarbert. This lively fishing harbour town makes a good place to stop over after a long journey, before catching the ferry the next morning. We had driven 150 miles from Dundee, taking in some of Scotland's finest highland scenery, from Loch Earn to Loch Awe and Loch Fyne, from Ben Vorlich, to Ben More and Ben Cruachan. It's worth taking time on the journey to enjoy the views and handle the many bends in the road.
We hit some pretty heavy rain in the middle section, but it dried up as we reached Inveraray at the head of Loch Fyne. During the final section down through Kintyre, our spirits were raised by the coverage of Dundee United beating Hibs in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup! On the evening we returned, Dundee United (at the bottom of the league) beat Glasgow Rangers (at the top), so the trip turned into a strange kind of Tangerine sandwich (Dundee United's colours).
Tarbert: harbour, hotel and walks
Tarbert is a lively little town with a harbour used both by fishing boats and leisure craft sailing around the Argyll coast and islands. There are plenty of shops, hotels and cafes, with the fish restaurant doing particularly good business whilst we were there. We drove a mile further to reach the West Loch Hotel where we were staying, and enjoyed a good evening meal in the busy bar-restaurant. The owners Alastair McTavish and his wife Anne have been running the hotel with the help of other members of the family since August 2004, and are putting a strong emphasis on using fresh local produce.
The next morning I ran out to the West Pier, where four fishing boats were tied up - apparently the pier gets very busy in the evening with lorries calling to pick up the catch from boats that spend most of the time out at sea. Two other boats have seen the last of their days at sea, and lie wrecked close to the shore. Around the other side of the loch is a golf course, and apparently there are walks that can be enjoyed over the hill above.
In Tarbert itself a sign facing the harbour points up steps "to the Castle", and I went up to see what it was like. The steps led to a short path through trees, then a Forestry Commission signboard. Wooden steps led up a grassy bank which was the start of earthwork fortifications. Beyond these, the stark but substantial ruins of the castle rose up behind a protective fence. Looking more closely at the signboard on the way down, I saw that there are a variety of short and longer walks in the area. One is a 9-mile walk over the hills to Skipness linked by ferry with Arran.
Contributed by: Andrew Llanwarne
(To order the stories by name, date, country or type click on the appropriate heading)
|Frances' side of the story - Isle of Gigha, Argyll, Scotland||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||15/09/2006|
|Achamore Gardens, Isle of Gigha, Scotland||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||15/09/2006|
|Creag Bhan Hillwalk, Isle of Gigha, Scotland||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||15/09/2006|
|Cnoc na Croise and Kilchattan Churchyard, Isle of Gigha, Scotland||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||15/09/2006|