Lets go to the Isle of Kerrera Tea Garden.
Travellers gravitate towards the Scottish Hebrides like children to an ice-cream van. Scenery and serenity are a given, but many of the isles serve something that wee bit extra special. On this island, it’s the Kerrera Tea Garden: a magical oasis with vibrant flora, tempting treats and a nearby coastal castle.
Once again, I had misjudged the weather and was cursing my additional cargo of layers as I meandered round the island’s south west perimeter. I attempted to knot my jumper around the strap of my camera bag, and didn’t realise until much later that the hood and sleeve had been collecting an impressive smattering of mud for the remainder of the walk.
“It can’t be much further,” I wishfully thought. My stomach growled in agreement.
The sun drew back a thick curtain of cloud, releasing visions of brilliant blue and a sufficient waft of warmth to cut through the coolness of the coast. After two hours of brisk exertion, I was craving a pretty perch and some refreshments. A wee tantrum was pending otherwise.
Before long, I could hear a faint chorus of chatter, interspersed by the melodic chink of tea-cup and saucer. I had arrived at my destination.
Introducing the Isle of Kerrera.
Kerrera is a treasure of the Inner Hebrides, and it’s closer than you think. The northern tip is so clearly visible from the bustling town of Oban it’s a geological fluke that the island is not, in fact, a peninsula. Thanks to the novelty mini-ferry crossing from Gallanach and the island’s intimate proximity to the mainland, an adventure to the Isle of Kerrera is yours in just ten minutes.
Kerrera is beautifully untouched and blessed with bonnie vistas of the neighbouring isles and distant peaks. Spanning just four miles from top to bottom, Kerrera is optimum day-trip material, but could easily warrant a longer stay. There are no shops, pubs, hotels or modern distractions. Only the locals are permitted vehicular access on the bumpy, single track road; therefore, any congestion you’re likely to experience is that involving the resident sheep.
The island’s ease of access and scenic attributes are reason enough to visit; however, the Kerrera Tea Garden is the major pull-factor. It’s not just the icing – it’s the whole cake!
Kerrera Tea Garden.
Kerrera Tea Garden has been serving life-saving cuppas for more than a decade; however, it is the current owners Aideen and Martin who have made it what it is today. Over six years ago, fate guided their decision to move to the island. They were sailing round the back end of Kerrera on their friend’s boat, and it came up in conversation that the Tea Garden was up for sale. As they say, the rest is history! They now have a baby daughter Nancy (who I was lucky enough to meet), and they’ve never looked back.
When I arrived at Kerrera Tea Garden, the ‘Loo with a View’ was my priority. From there I practically skipped into the garden itself, where I bagged myself the last picnic table, partially bathed in light. I quickly studied the menu and specials board before ordering a cold can of fizzy rhubarb juice and Lorne sausage stovies. I sat with my face in the sun, cheesy grin intact, hopeful that my freckles might appear.
The scran was everything I wanted it to be: hearty chunks of Lorne sausage, carrot and potato, in a thick soup-like stock. Despite being sufficiently stuffed, I obviously arranged some additional space in my stomach for cake. I mean, who goes to a Tea Garden and doesn’t have tea and cake?! The tea was served in cute, kitsch crockery, and the carrot cake was moist, dense and delicious. To top it off, Aideen and the Tea Garden staff were so lovely. Happy days.
It was just as well I could offset my calorie intake with the few remaining miles to Gylen Castle, and back to the ferry!
Walking on Kerrera.
The Kerrera Tea Garden is located at the south of the island at Lower Gylen, and therefore requires a good old stretch of the legs to get there. On my most recent visit, I headed across the breadth of the island to walk the western side. The mountains of Mull were posing over the water, gnarly and majestic, with sporadic spotlights of sunshine for added effect.
As standard, my curiosity took me off-path towards a cluster of coastal coos on the beach. If there’s a clumsy or convoluted route to get somewhere, I’m always sure to find it. I squelched through patches of sink-into bog, took a hesitant leap over a wee stream, and went skiting across a swathe of soaking seaweed like a baby giraffe on ice. It was totally worth it though, to observe and capture those bonnie beasts against such a backdrop.
I later stumbled upon a cute wee croft with an honesty box for the handmade soaps and candles on display. This simple system of honesty on the islands never fails to tug at my heart strings. I purchased a jasmine scented candle, which I light before bed to remind me of the islands. This wee pit-stop was a very welcome surprise/distraction before I arrived at the Tea Garden.
On the return leg of the circuit, a visit to Gylen Castle is compulsory. The 16th century structure almost blends into the landscape, and has a distinct ‘Game of Thrones’ look about it. The castle was erected by Clan McDougall, defensively overlooking the Sound of Kerrera sailing route. Gylen Castle had a short lifespan however, as it was set alight by the Covenanters in 1647. The castle was restored by Historic Scotland in 2006, and has lain as a romantic ruin since.
I had a short wander within the castle walls, before striding on to find an elevated spot further round the coast, where I collapsed into a state of contentment. The sea gently hugged the jagged coast, and there was no sound sparing that of the west coast wind. Though chaotic by nature, my sanity relies on spells of outdoor isolation with scenic stimulation. It was perfect.
If you think you’ll have trouble pulling yourself away from the island and its Tea Garden, why not stay? Aideen and Martin also run the island’s bunkhouse and bell tent; the latter is high on my list for next year. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can book the bunkhouse with my Airbnb discount code (you get £25 off and I receive £15 travel credit). For more information visit the Airbnb listing for the bunkhouse or the Kerrera Bunkhouse webpage.
First Visit Throwback (Just for laughs).
My debut jaunt to Kerrera was an absolute riot. It was a rash decision, and I didn’t allocate enough time before my train back to Edinburgh to properly do it justice. I was overzealous with my clothing choice (I never learn), and I didn’t withdraw cash in Oban before catching the ferry. The result? I power-marched to the Tea Garden in a state of perspiration and dehydration, and arrived looking like a burst tomato, to find that I couldn’t even buy anything.
“I’ll visit the castle to cheer myself up”, I thought.
The castle was obviously a total dream. So, was the day salvaged? NOPE. I was so rushed and distracted by my epic failures thus far that I didn’t realise my phone had fallen out of my camera bag at the castle until I was half way back to the ferry. After a reluctant retracing of my steps and barrage of bad words I spotted my black smartphone on the grass, camouflaged by the surrounding sheep shit. Aye, it wasn’t my favourite day.
Thankfully my second visit was a soaring success!
The Kerrera Tea Garden is as much a destination as the island itself. I can say with certainty that I’ll be making an annual pilgrimage for cake and castle-side daydreams.
Would you like to visit?