Walking

Island walks for everyone

The islands are low-lying with a spectacular coastline and a rolling interior that rises to no more than 145m.

The many beaches offer a chance to stroll beautiful, flat sands and explore sand dunes and machair. Some hills have paths to the summit and provide a great goal for a more moderate graded walk with lofty views.

The islands are also home to the MacPhies, which is the name for all the hills with a summit of at least 300ft (91m). The MacPhies total 21on Colonsay and another on Oronsay. Like Munro bagging on the mainland, some people enjoy MacPhie-bagging on our islands.

You are free to roam the islands so long as you abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and act responsibly, especially if you have a dog with you. Choose a walk to suit your energy levels and experience, from easy walks, moderate walks and challenging walks. You might also like to join a guided tour.

Easy walks

Kiloran Bay: Park at Kiloran Bay and walk the full length of the beautiful wide sands. Cross the stile at the far end and walk back along the track through the sand dunes.

Kiloran woodlands: Park at Kiloran Bay and follow the quiet road onwards through an area of mostly native woodland. Turn around when the tarmac ends. You could extend the walk by continuing on to a track, where you can visit cliffs, which are home to many nesting birds, and a promontory fort at Caileach Uragaig.

Queen’s Bay: Park at the Colonsay Hotel in Scalasaig and climb the rough track to the south, leaving the Parish Church on your left. You’ll reach the deserted sandy beach at Loch Staosnaig, also known as Queen’s Bay.

On your return, detour to the monument to Duncan McNeill, Lord Colonsay, for fabulous views.

Moderate walks

Carnan Eoin

Colonsay’s highest point at 143m is reached from Kiloran Bay on a 2.5-mile walk. A trig point is located near to the summit and the views are spectacular. Look down, too, at the whale sculpture created on land below. See details of the walk.

Ardskenish and Dun Ghallain

This is a walk of around six miles to the west of Colonsay and just north of the aerodrome. Park at the Golf Course and follow the track that winds towards the southwest, leading to the remote and peaceful Ardskenish peninsula, where you may spot seals and other wildlife. On the return walk take a detour to the site of an Iron Age fort, Dun Ghallain, by walking across a small beach.

See walk details.

Balnahard and Traigh Ban

Another beautiful Colonsay beach, Balnahard, is discovered in the north-east of the island. Park at An Crosan (a little bridge on your right 250m short of Kiloran Bay car park) and simply follow the track northwards. This leads to Tràigh Bàn (white strand) at Balnahard. You will probably see and hear chough on the way and possibly spot a golden eagle. The total distance is about seven miles.

See walk details.

A Figure of Eight

A lovely walk of around five miles starts at Colonsay Hotel and heads northwards up the rough track that passes to the left of the hotel. Ascend it to the right. At the crest of the hill you can detour to the viewpoint at Beinn nan Guidearean, then continue along this, the “Old Road”, passing Turraman Loch and then along 150m of tarmac surface before joining the original track once more.

The route enters the grounds of Colonsay House. Stick to the track and you will eventually rejoin the B8087 at Kiloran. Turn left and stick to the tarmac for two miles, passing beautiful Loch Fada on your right, to return to the starting-point.

Balerominmore and Cable Bay

Walk a section of Colonsay's south-eastern coastline, where you’ll discover several pretty sandy bays. The route is around five miles and starts by parking a car at The Strand at the southern end of the B8085.

Retrace your route on foot for 350m and turn right on the track to Balerominmore. When the track levels off, after another 350m, you can detour some 50m to your right to visit the Iron Age fort at Dún Cholla. The views here are superb.

Continue along the track to see the medieval chapel site and standing stone where Malcolm MacPhie was executed in 1623. Walk on, passing the farmhouse of Balerominmore to reach the sea at Tràigh an Eacail, also known as Cable Bay, where you turn right. The path skirts the shoreline. The views take in the eastern shore of Oronsay, the western side of Jura and the entrance to the Sound of Islay.

You should easily locate the path that skirts the shoreline, initially about 20 metres above sea level. It sometimes drops down so that you walk along the sands. 

After about half a mile, the shoreline heads right (west) at the mouth of The Strand and you will probably choose to leave the very end of Rubha Bàgh nan Capull on your left, cutting the corner and heading for the low, rocky headland of Rubha Dubh.  

From this point you will be able to see your start point once again and, depending upon the state of the tide, you may follow the coastline or take a direct route across the sand. 

Over the Strand to Oronsay

It’s vital that you check the tidal timetables before setting out on this walk. The General Store and The Colonsay have a copy of the timetable. You should walk this route, which crosses the tidal causeway to Oronsay, when the tide will be out for the longest period. Start as the tide is receding for maximum time. Note: You will need at least three to four hours, depending on how fast you walk.

Oronsay is managed by the RSPB and you must keep your dog on a lead at all times. During the nesting season, you may be asked to avoid certain areas, but public access to the priory ruins is always available along the track.

The walk starts at the end of the B8085 and extends to the priory. It is around five miles in total (return). Walk in waterproof boots, or Wellingtons, or even bare feet.

You can usually see tyre marks from the post van and many people follow these, although it is fairly easy to see your destination across the causeway. At the shore of Oronsay you regain the track and simply follow this to reach Oronsay Priory, which is next to Oronsay House and the farm where a few island residents live. Return the same way.

Challenging walks

The most challenging walks on the island are the MacPhies. The MacPhies are defined as hills with a summit of at least 300ft (91m). The MacPhies total 21 on Colonsay and another on Oronsay. MacPhie bagging is the islands’ answer to Munro bagging on the mainland.

Although the hills are not very high, much of the island terrain is pathless and can be thick with vegetation. There are some MacPhies that do have a path but you should expect to cross rough ground on many of them and you should be able to use a map and compass to navigate.

The ultimate MacPhie bagging challenge is to walk to all the summits in one day, starting from a beach of your choice, although Oronsay is usually walked on Day Two due to tide timings. This is a big day out, extending to more than 20 miles on often rugged terrain. It’s worth having a read of a blog, The MacPhies in a weekend, written by an outdoors journalist known as Fiona Outdoors.

A recommended alternative is to walk the MacPhies over a long weekend or a week. You could, for example, walk the six MacPhie summits to the north of the island. It’s simple enough to park the car near the stunning sands of Kiloran Bay and walk a loop via these six summits.

Another day could be spent hiking the summits to the west of the island, then a day walking summits to the south-east of Colonsay. A final and more leisurely day would be to bag the Oronsay summit.

To find out more about the MacPhies see Colonsay Community Website.