Beautiful Tiree: The Hawaii of the North

Sunset at Balephetrish

The beautiful Scottish island of Tiree is often referred to as the ‘Hawaii of the north”.  It is the most westerly island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides and requires around a 4-hour ferry ride from Oban. Not only does Tiree have miles of shimmering white sand, but thanks to the gulf stream, Tiree experiences more hours of annual sunlight than any other location in Great Britain.  This means the water surrounding Tiree is warm and full of exciting sea life which we got to experience first-hand on our ferry journey.

We started our staycation in the picturesque seaside town of Oban. Oban is a gateway to the Isles, and I would recommend staying at least a night or two to get a taste of what this busy wee town has to offer. The bustling ferry terminal provides links to many of the Scotland’s most loved Islands. We recommend you book direct and in advance as all routes have been particularly busy this year. You can book all ferrys here. Oban and its surrounding area has so much offer visitors and it is a fantastic geographical base.

Sunset Oban
Sunset in Oban

McCaigs Tower

A personal favourite spot of mine is McCaig’s Tower which sits at the top of the hill proudly overlooking its town. The short walk from the carpark is more than worth it as you are rewarded with views over the bay to Atlantic Islands including Mull. There is also a longer walk from the centre of Oban that is well signposted. The tower was built by local banker John Stuart McCaig in 1897 to provide work to locals and as a lasting monument to the McCaig family.  The grounds inside the tower are well looked after and on a nice day it would be perfect place to have a picnic. It has seating and a viewing platform.  By night the tower is illuminated by colourful lights.

Famous Cat

There is a famous Maine Coon cat called Parsley who lives in Oban. He attracts tourists from all over the world to the seaside town.  He has over 8000 Facebook followers and I was lucky enough to meet him at McCaig’s Tower on one of my visits.  So, keep an eye out for him.  He’s been known to travel all around Oban in one night and has even been spotted in one of the local pubs. 

Parsley Obans famous cat
Oban’s famous cat – Parsley

Seafood Capital

Oban is known as the ‘Seafood capital of Scotland.” Its active fishing harbour provides freshly caught  seafood to the many restaurants and food places in and around Oban.  Next to the ferry terminal is the distinctive green and white of Oban Seafood Hut. I never visit Oban without stopping there.  It is affordable with fresh quality seafood prepared on the spot.  The Seafood Hut is famous for their seafood platters which can be enjoyed while overlooking the fishing boats at Oban Bay. I’d also recommend a crab sandwich – I often get one to keep for my ferry journey.  The hut is wheelchair accessible and outdoor seating is available.

Seafood platter Oban
Seafood platter for 2

Paddle board to Castle Stalker

We decided to explore an area 25 miles North of Oban before we set off for Tiree. We headed for the picturesque Castle Stalker which is on a tiny tidal islet on Loch Laich. The castle dates back to 1320 when it was built by the Clan MacDougall. Read more about the castles history here.

There is a small parking area and from here it’s just a short walk to the water’s edge.  We carried our paddle board down, put on our life jackets and were ready to do a short paddle across to the Castle.  It’s roughly about 100 meters in distance and took us 10 minutes to reach it.

Castle-stalker
Castle Stalker

The water was clear with lots of seaweed and remained shallow for some distance from the coast. As we got closer to the castle it became deeper, but we could still see the bottom as the water was so clear.  I used my GoPro to get a picture of a jellyfish next to my board.  The castle is privately owned and there was a family enjoying a morning coffee so I didn’t go onto the island. I just admired it from my paddle board.

Baskin Sharks

After our paddle it was time to set sail for the “Hawaii of the North”. It was a beautiful day as we boarded the ferry to Tiree. 

Ferry coming into Oban
Calmac Ferry at Oban Bay

The ferry stops at Coll first before continuing onto its neighbour Tiree. We were told by a member of staff that Baskin sharks had already been spotted that day so we were keen to sit on deck and keep an eye out!

We were shocked after hearing a commotion to look over and witness a basking shark skimming the top of the water. This was between Coll and Tiree and we found out there is a company in Coll that takes you out and lets you swim with these wonderful creatures. We also spotted dolphins and seals in the water. It was an amazing experience to have on the ferry.

Balephetrish Bay

We arrived at the ferry pier in Scarinish which is the main village on the island.  We made a very short journey to our croft site where we would spend the next 2 nights wild camping.  There are a number of croft sites around Tiree and it is recommended to book one of these in advance.  Tiree’s landscape is beautiful but fragile and the landscapes can become damaged very easily.  It’s important to stick to designated croft sites to help protect the beauty of the island. For a small fee of £12 per pitch per night we were not disappointed! 

We choose croft site 6 – Balephetrish house. It overlooks Balephetrish Bay and we were treated to some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen! We had a BBQ each night and enjoyed marshmallows on the campfire as we watched the sun go down. It was the perfect setting and luckily there was no dreaded midges to bother us (the wind keeps them away).

Sunset at balephetrish bay
Sunset at Balephetrish

Natural rock arches and pools

Next to our camping spot there was some spectacular rock formations that were mostly visible when the tide went out.  There was two natural rock arches, carved by the sea which you could go under and explore.  This was one of my favourite places.  As the tide came it would fill up with water. As the sun began to set, I watched the pools fill up as the spray of crashing waves splashed me. 

There are lots of sandy coves and hidden rock pools here which are filled with sea life.  I put my GoPro in to take a picture of a rock pool and a crab attached itself to my camera.  It was fascinating exploring all the nooks and crannies although I don’t think the crab was impressed!

Ringing Stone

I woke up early the next morning and decided to walk 2km north along the coast to try find a massive boulder covered with 53 cup markings.  This has been named the ringing stone due to the metallic sound it makes when the stone is struck by an object. The stone has religious significance dating back 4000 years.  An old folk story says this boulder was thrown by a giant from Mull and if it is ever removed from the island then Tiree sink into the sea and be lost forever.

I enjoyed the coastal walk, that passed through a few farmers’ fields before reaching a small beach. Here, I was treated to several seals in the water. Their heads bobbed in and out of the sea as they enjoyed the morning sun.  One even looked like it was smiling.

Road trip around the Island

Tiree is a small island measuring 10 miles by 5 miles. It has a population of 653 people.  It is mostly flat with only a few small hills and is possible to explore on foot, by bike or car.  We opted to drive an anti-clockwise loop of the island, stopping whenever we saw anything that interested us.

Cornaig Watermill

Our first stop was the water mill at Cornaig. It was commissioned back in 1771 by the 5th Duke of Argyll and was in operation from 1802 to 1945. The mill was restored in 2006 by a local skilled metal worker. I read that the wheel can be seen in action most afternoons in summer. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see this! This watermill is on private property so please respect the area if stopping. Millhouse farm next to the water mill is usually a hostel and can be booked for travellers looking for budget accommodation. This year due to Covid restrictions it is hired out to 1 group at a time.

Water mill at Corniag
The Cornaig Water Mill

Wind Surf School

We next stopped at Loch Bhasapol which hosts the winding surfing school of the island.  The loch is flat and shallow with a sandy bottom.  Tiree is the perfect destination to try windsurfing as statistically it is the windiest and sunniest place in the UK.    Wild diamond offer 2 hour sessions to beginners including all equipment hire for £40.  There is also a public bird hide on the loch. This is a great place to sit and enjoy a variety of wildlife.

Surfers Paradise

There are lots of excellent beaches to surf on Tiree.  Balevullin is one of the most spectacular ones and is a spot where both beginners and experienced surfers head to.  The waters are warmed by the Atlantic gulf stream.  The beach hut in Balevullin offer surf lessons for £40 inclusive of all equipment.  Every October the Tiree Wave Classic water-sports festival takes place here.

Blackhouses

As we drove around the island we were treated to views of traditional blackhouses.  For those not familiar with a blackhouse it’s a traditional type of house which was common in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.  Tiree is a good place to see them as they boast the highest concentration of traditional thatched houses in Scotland.

Blackhouse Tiree
A blockhouse on Tiree

Blackhouses were similarly built across Scotland but Tiree had its own unique design which consisted of two stone walls packed with sand in the middle, a thatched roof and white painted exterior walls. There was no chimney for the smoke to escape so it would escape through the thatched roof slowly blackening the interior. This is a strong theory as to why they got their name.  

Would you enjoy living under the same roof with livestock?  This was the way of life at the time. Families would live at one side of the house with their livestock at the other end.  Tiree has about 12 remaining blackhouses on the island.

Crossapol Beach

It was a breath-taking moment as we drove around the corner and Crosspol beach came into view.  It’s a long sandy beach with almost a mile of seaweed free shore.  It is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Its shallow waters and beautiful shoreline make it popular with swimmers, walkers and water sport enthusiasts.

Tiree Music Festival

The Tiree music festival has to be one of the most beautiful festival locations in the whole world.  The Scottish folk music festival is held next to Crossapol beach.  The maximum number of tickets available are 2000, and you must be quick if you want to go as it always sells out in record time. The ticket cap ensures the festival is small and intimate so that the island can cope with the increased number of visitors.

Scarinish

The main village on the island is Scarinish and amenities can be found here including a small co-op supermarket (it’s worth checking the opening times in advance), post office, bank, history museum, toilets, fresh seafood shop, police station and Scarinish hotel and restaurant. The old harbour in Scarinish was built in 1771. Tourist trips and fishing boats still use the old harbour. The ferry terminal is also located here.

We stocked up on supplies from the local supermarket and visited the fresh seafood shop. They can also cook the seafood for you on request.

Mary Stewart Shipwreck

The wooden skeleton of a 21 metre sailing boat named Mary Stewart remains on the beach at Scarinish harbour.  It is thought it was either ran aground or was laid up in 1938 and has disintegrated since then.  We were able to find a picture of the boat taken in 1950 to compare with some from our visit in 2021.

Gott Bay

Gott Bay is Tiree’s longest sandy beach at approximately 2.5 miles.  Every beach on the island is picturesque but Gott Bay really is something special.  This was our final stop of the day. The tide was completely out and we walked along the beach mesmerised by its pristine white sands and crystal clear waters. 

Gott Bay
Walking along Gott Bay

Windsurfing, sailing, and sand yachting take place here, and as the bay is quite sheltered it is more suited to beginners.  The lack of wind made it a great spot for us to enjoy a swim in its calm and shallow waters.

Kayaking at Balephetrish Bay

We got back to our croft site after a fantastic day exploring the island!  We had a BBQ on the beach and went into the sea to swim and paddle on our inflatable kayaks.  The water was calm and shallow, so it was the perfect spot for us although we were careful to keep away from the rocks at the side.

If using inflatable kayaks or swimming outdoors please be aware of the risks involved.

The sunset that night was absolutely beautiful. What a perfect end to our day!

Balephetrish rock arch at sunset
Sunset at Balephetrish

Climbing Hynish

I woke early the next morning to go on a solo walk up Hynish – the highest peak on Tiree at 141 metres.  There is a golf ball structure at the top which is an important radar station that scans the skies for 200 miles.  There was so much wildlife on my walk including hares, geese and some highland cows.   I would recommend doing this 3 hour walk while in Tiree. There are amazing views of Tiree and beyond from the top!

I used the walkhighland route for my hill walk and recommend following this route. It starts and finishes at the Hynish centre. The buildings here comprise of a dock, workshops and lodging for those that were involved in building the Skerryvore lighthouse. 4300 blocks were shaped here by workers for the lighthouse that was completed in 1842. The story of the Skerryvore lighthouse exhibition can be found here too.

Journey back to Oban

There are two cafes situated at the ferry terminal so we went for lunch before boarding the ferry back to Oban.  There was a seating area outside the café where we enjoyed our food and our last hour of Tiree sunshine.

We were grateful for the showers on board the Calmac Ferry as it had been a few days since we last had one.  We showered and relaxed until we got back to Oban.

The trip to Tiree was everything we had hoped for and more. We were fortunate to get amazing weather which definitely accentuated the beauty of the island. It also allowed us to witness some of the most beautiful sunsets I think I will ever see. I would highly recommend a trip to the Huwaii of the North for anyone who enjoys the beauty, tranquillity and peace of Scotland’s Islands. I will certainly make a return trip in the future.

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