Why you should visit the Isle of Gigha.
I ventured from the city to the Hebridean Isle of Gigha purely on public transport with a Citylink Explorer Pass. My overnight adventure involved yurt glamping, cycling in the rain, bonnie beaches, and a delightful dinner at The Boathouse.
Gigha is a gorgeous wee slice of island paradise. It is the most southerly of the Hebridean isles, yet surprisingly is not as well-known as its neighbours. Located just off the Kintyre Coast with Islay and Jura in the distance, Gigha can be reached in a mere 20-minutes by ferry from Tayinloan. This ease of exploration continues on-shore, as the island measures just 7 miles long, and 1.5 miles at the widest point.
While there are enough points of interest on Gigha to keep the restless entertained, the island is prime relaxation territory. I had 24 hours to dip my toes in, and get to know Gigha. I can tell you right now, that my first impression was a good one. Here are six reasons why you should visit too.
1. The Boathouse.
The Boathouse Restaurant is what put Gigha on my radar in the first place, so it was top of my list when visiting the island. The Boathouse is a family-run island institution with a glowing reputation, thanks to the talents of the Head Chef Gordon. Perched on the picturesque shore of Ardminish Bay, visitors gravitate towards The Boathouse, seeking the top-notch fresh seafood for which it is famed.
The restaurant is quaint and subtly nautical, with white stone walls and wooden beams overhead. The atmosphere felt like a Saturday on a Tuesday; all the tables were full, and the cosy interior was filled with chatter and compliments for the food. I could see the sea from where I was sitting, and the food was absolutely amazing. The Boathouse is an absolute gem, and a real pull-factor for tourism on the island.
What I ordered:
- Gigha Lobster, parma ham, macaroni & smoked cheese
- Grilled halibut with avocado, apple, raddish, chilli & orange crispy pancetta and walnut arancini
- Banana & toffee parfait, peanut ice-cream and lime syrup
2. Yurt Experience.
The island’s main town of Ardminish is just a 10-minute walk from the ferry. The local school, pub, post office, and shop can be found here, as well the quirkest accommodation on the island; a Mongolian Yurt. Glamping is always my preferred way to stay in a destination, so this colourful abode instantly caught my attention. Run by friendly locals Joe and Hannah, the yurt has been welcoming guests to the island since March 2015.
The space sleeps four, and is kitted out with all the necessary comforts and utensils. There are charging points in the adjacent shed, a gas stove, BBQ, and some resident chickens for company and… eggs!
After a quick tutorial from Joe – and perhaps a couple of less-than successful attempts – I soon had flames flickering in the wood-burner. To fully set the scene, the rain was truly torrential, and was battering against the yurt with wind-assisted force. Meanwhile, I was wrapped in a blanket inside, contently basking in the warmth from the fire, while listening to the soundtrack of the weather. I fell asleep to the same sound, and was sad to vacate the following morning. I highly recommend the yurt to anyone who fancies an alternative experience on the island.
3. Twin Beaches.
Joe and Hannah who run the yurt, also own the village shop and bike hire. Given my limited time on the island, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible. I set off on two wheels in search of two beaches at the north of the island. I’m sure the Twin Beaches need little explanation. They are, of course, a duo of back-to-back beaches, with classic Hebridean aesthetics. Bagh Rubha Ruaidh is south facing, and Bagh na Doirlinne looks north – top marks if you can pronounce them!
I did my usual and was too busy daydreaming to notice the sign down to the beaches, and continued cycling until I reached the very north of the island. This wasn’t a terrible mistake, as I sat pondering life – and a return visit to Islay (which I was looking at) – for a while, before retracing my wheels in search of the sandy shores. The beaches were totally worth the wee detour, and the diagonal rain which I tiresomely cycled face-first into.
4. Achamore Gardens.
The Achamore Estate sits around 1 mile south of the island’s main town. Gigha was once owned by the Scarlett family, and it was Captain William Scarlet who built Achamore House in 1884 and planted much of the woodland. The gardens didn’t truly flourish however, until after green-fingered Sir John Horlick bought the island in 1944. The Gulf Stream’s influence on Gigha provided optimum conditions for Horlick’s rhododendrons and other sub-tropical plants. The 50 acres of garden were soon bursting with colour, and attracting visitors from far and wide.
The island itself is very peaceful, and the gardens are even more so. It’s easy to become cocooned by the calmness of nature. I did notice that the gardens are evidently crying out for a bit of a TLC to get them to their former glory, and I’ve read that plans are afoot to address this, thanks to the Achamore Gardens Trust which was set up in 2017.
Up the hill behind the gardens is the ruin of Kilchatten Church from the 13thcentury. There numerous old tombstones in the burial ground, as well as more recent war graves. It always tugs at my heart strings when I see how young some of the men were when they lost their lives after being sent off to war. Their resting place is very serene, with stunning views over the Sound of Gigha.
5. Good, honest treats.
I’m a sucker for any sort of honesty system on the islands, and it’s an absolute bonus if it involves sweet treats. When I spied this tempting display on my cycle to Achamore Gardens, I obviously had to stop and make a wee purchase. Surprisingly, the packet of shortbread made it all the way home to Edinburgh with me – albeit broken – however the homemade tablet was used as fuel for the remainder of my cycle to the north of the island and back.
6. Drinks with the locals.
I resisted the temptation to retire to the yurt after my dinner at The Boathouse, and decided to pop into the bar in the Gigha Hotel for “one” wee nightcap. John Martin, a local pipe player and legend of a man, bought me a dram, and I ended up chatting to him and his nephew Greig until after dark. During such encounters, the conversation inevitably swerves towards local tales and stories from our shared love of Scotland. The traditional-style bar is a proper wee gathering place on the island, and the walk back to the yurt with only my phone for light was a pretty comical experience.
The following morning, I dropped by Gigha Gallery before the ferry, for a far more innocent beverage in a tea cup. I chatted to the lovely Phillip over my tea and cake, who has moved to the island from Oxford. The gorgeous paintings on exhibit were by Erni Upton; I loved the colours and island scenes. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to visit the craft shop next door so this is top of the list for my next visit.
- The bus from Glasgow to Tayinloan (where you catch the ferry) costs £34.90 per adult and £24.60 per child and takes around 3 hours and 40 minutes. View the full Citylink timetable
- The ferry to Gigha is £5.20 for foot passengers. You can view the summer timetable here
- The Boathouse is the place to eat on the island, but the Gigha Hotel also serves food
- There is a wee café at the ferry terminal in Tayinloan. I had a great lorne sausage and egg roll from there before heading to Campbeltown. For more info visit their Facebook page
My trip to Gigha was sponsored by Scottish Citylink as part of my adventure from Glasgow to Campbeltown. As always, all content, opinions & chaotic behaviour are my own.