Our picks: 10 walks on Scotland’s west coast islands

Every Journey Starts a Story

There’s little that can match the magic of visiting an island. Places are transformed by the feeling you get when you have to board a ferry and cross the water to reach them. Nowhere is this more true than with the Scottish islands, which have some of the finest mountain and maritime landscapes in Europe, teeming with wildlife including whales, dolphins, otters and spectacular seabird colonies. There are endless layers of human history to uncover too, from the prehistoric remains such as the standing stones at Callanish, evidence of the long era of Norse rule, the richness of Gaelic culture and the human tragedy of the Highland Clearances.

In this article, sponsored by Scotland’s Hebridean and Clyde ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), we pick 10 of our own favourite walks from the islands off Scotland’s west coast. CalMac is the UK’s largest ferry operator, running 29 routes to over 50 destinations over 200 miles of Scotland’s west coast.

The West Side coast walk: Isle of Lewis

The walk

This fine walk explores a hidden side of Lewis, along the clifftops and above the stacks and bays of the coastline between the thatched cottages of the restored blackhouse village of An Gearrannan and the crofting community of Bragar. The power of the waves when we visited really added to a feeling of timelessness, only further enhanced with a stay at the thatched hostel. Although linear, the walk is well served by buses; and can be shortened by heading inland to reach the main road at a number of points.

Getting to Lewis

The largest of the Hebrides (together with Harris with which it forms a single landmass) can be reached directly using the CalMac ferry from Ullapool to its capital, Stornoway. Alternatively there is a shorter ferry crossing from Uig on Skye to Tarbert on Harris, linked to Lewis by road.

Rubha nam Faing and Portnahaven: Islay

The walk

At the furthest end of Islay’s Rhinns peninsula, this walk explores the coastline north of the picturesque village of Portnahaven. You’ll discover beaches of sand and pebbles, deep water-filled geos (inlets), fascinating birdlife, and usually seals hauling themselves up on rocks or bobbing like floating bottles in the water. The walk was made magical for us when we heard the haunting song of the seals, carried over the water.

Getting to Islay

Islay has two main ferry ports, Port Ellen and Port Askaig, both of which are linked by CalMac ferry to Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula. Port Askaig also has ferry connections to the islands of Colonsay and neighbouring Jura.

Tràigh Mheilein & Crabhadail: Isle of Harris

The walk

Harris is justly famed for its stunning beaches, with Luskentyre the best known. Our personal favourite of the walks taking in some of the best of Harris’ sands is this rugged circuit – a true Hebridean classic. Visiting no less than three spectacular beaches – Hùisinis at the start, then the stunning and secluded sweep of Tràigh Mheilein overlooking Scarp, and finally Crabhadail, surrounded by the island’s wonderful mountains. It was so peaceful when we visited that it made it hard to imagine the 1930s madcap experiment to delivering the mail to Scarp by firing it across the straits in a rocket.

Getting to Harris

Harris can be reached directly by CalMac ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbert. For those visiting several islands, you can also visit it from Lewis to the north (having used the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway), or from Berneray to the south (ferry from Berneray to Lochmaddy). Berneray is linked to North Uist by a road causeway.

Hough Bay and Beinn Hough: Tiree

The walk

Ask most people about the landscape of Tiree and after waxing lyrical about the countless wonderful beaches, they may mention that the island is quite flat and fertile, with flower-covered machair bordering the sea. In fact Tiree has several small but rugged hills, and this walk combines one of these high points with a couple of those perfect sandy bays. We simply couldn’t resist going for a paddle – it’s always so refreshing to get your boots off.

Getting to Tiree

Both Tiree and neighbouring Coll are served by CalMac ferry from Oban; it’s also possible to use the ferry to cross between the two islands.

Beinn Mhòr, Hecla and Beinn Corradail: South Uist

The walk

This rough, tough but magnificent hillwalk requires experience and excellent navigation skills, but for those equal to the challenge, these rugged mountains offer great rewards. Beinn Mhòr itself has a spectacular summit ridge and the other two peaks ooze character, as well as being stunning viewpoints. The route can easily be shortened to include just Beinn Mhòr before returning the same way – but make no mistake, it’s still a toughie! Watch out for these ponies though – one was pretty determined to eat my hat!

Getting to South Uist

South Uist has a direct CalMac ferry to Lochboisdale, running from Mallaig in the summer and Oban in the winter. There is also a ferry from Barra to Eriskay, which has a road causeway to South Uist. Further causeways to the north link to Benbecula, North Uist (with a ferry link to Uig on Skye), and Berneray (with a ferry link to Lochmaddy on Harris).

Carsaig to Lochbuie coastal walk: Isle of Mull

The walk

We first visited Carsaig on Mull’s southern coastline to begin the very challenging walk to its eponymous arches. However, it was this unsung walk in the opposite direction, linking through to Lochbuie, that we remember the most – part way along we were stunned to see a magnificent sea eagle swoop low overhead. The superb route along the foot of the cliffs has something for everyone; grassy pastures, fine woodland, impressive cliffs with basalt formations, a sea-stack, caves and waterfalls galore.

Getting to Mull

The main route to Mull is the CalMac ferry route from Oban to Craignure in the southeastern corner of the island. There is also a much shorter crossing to Fishnish from Lochaline on the Morvern peninsula, which is more convenient for those approaching from further north. Finally, there’s a summer service from Tobermory to Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran

The walk

Arran has wonderful granite mountains, and a long distance path that leads right around the island, but we’ve picked out a much shorter walk. With the remains of no less than six stone circles, we found Machrie Moor to have an amazing atmosphere. After gazing up at its great monoliths, it’s a place you’ll never forget. This out-and-back walk visits several groups of ancient and mysterious standing stones set against a huge moorland backdrop.

Getting to Arran

The main CalMac ferry service is from Ardrossan in Ayrshire to reach Arran’s capital, Brodick. There is an additional service linking Lochranza in the north with the Kintyre peninsula.

Kiloran Bay and Carnan Eoin: Colonsay

The walk

Kiloran Bay is deservedly Colonsay’s most celebrated beach. We began the walk with a crossing of its spectacularly yellowish sands, and as the tide was out, explored the caves at the far end. The route continues with a rougher climb up to the highest point on the island. The colours of the water over the sand, turquoise in the sun, were sublime.

Getting to Colonsay

Colonsay is served by a CalMac ferry from Oban. There’s also a service which connects to Port Askaig on Islay, and makes it possible to link to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula.

Lì a Tuath (North Lee): North Uist

The walk

The two Lee hills – Lì a Tuath and Lì a Deas – are prominent landmarks on the island of North Uist, rivalling the higher Eabhal. Lì a Tuath is the more shapely of the pair and is a magnificent viewpoint. Its twin peaks are climbed on this waymarked route, approaching across the boggy moors. We’ll never forget the unique view over the countless lochans of the island – seemingly more water than land.

Getting to North Uist

The main CalMac ferry service to North Uist runs to Lochmaddy, connecting to Uig on Skye. Causeways link the island to its neighbours to the north and south, enabling you to reach the ferry link from Berneray to Harris, or from Eriskay and South Uist to link to Barra.

Sgòrr an Fharaidh and the Finger of God: Isle of Eigg

The walk

Whilst Eigg is famous for its rock peak An Sgurr, we’ve picked a more obscure hill, rising above Cleadale in the northern part of Eigg for an unexpectedly spectacular short hillwalk. A very steep ascent leads up to a grand walk along a fine escarpment, with views down over fabulous rock scenery to the beautiful beaches at bays of Laig and the Singing Sands, with the mountains of Rum and Skye making a fine backdrop. The highlight is the pillar of rock has been dubbed the Finger of God; as we ate lunch overlooking it, a raven took to the thermals.

Getting to Eigg

Eigg is reached using CalMac’s Small Isles ferry service that sails from Mallaig and offers links with Rum, Canna and Muck on different days. Note that visitors cars are not permitted on this service, but you can take bikes and kayaks.

It couldn’t be easier to #StartYourStory now all CalMac ferry routes are available to purchase online. 

Every journey starts a story, start yours now:

Book online before you sail

Enjoyed this article or find Walkhighlands useful?

Please consider setting up a direct debit donation to support the continued maintenance and updates to Walkhighlands.

Share on 


You should always carry a backup means of navigation and not rely on a single phone, app or map. Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is every walker's responsibility to check it and to navigate safely.