The Isle of Gigha is the southernmost island of the Southern Hebrides and lies off the west coast of Kintyre, east from Islay. A ferry trip from Kennacraig to Islay offers splendid views of the island. With an area of 1,395 ha Gigha is one of the smallest populated islands in the Southern Hebrides. Gigha currently has a population of about 110 people, which was around 600 in the 18th century. Gigha is also known as “Good Island or God Island”, derived from the Norse Gudey. The island is almost 10 km in length, max 2.5 km wide and has only one main single track road that runs almost the whole length of the island. The highest mountain on the island is Creag Bhan in the northern part of the island and measures exactly 100 metres. Creag Bhan is also referred to as the white or sacred rock. Gigha is a fertile island and a quarter of its surface has good arable land.
Archaeological remains proved that occupancy stretches back some 5000 years which is partly due to Gigha’s key position on the sea route along the Kintyre Peninsula. One of the earliest recorded visits was in 1263 when King Haakon’s fleet of more than hundred ships anchored in the Sound of Gigha on the way to the battle of Largs. Ownership of Gigha was complex from the 1300s onwards and the island became under single ownership in 1865 when Captain William Scarlett of Thryberg bought the island for £49,000 and built the mansion we now know as Achamore House. It remained in the Scarlett family until 1919 when the island was bought by Major John Allen. After that the island was owned by RJA Hamer, Sir James Horlick and David Landale. In 2002 all this came to an end when the islanders managed to purchase the island for £4 million with help from grants from the National Lottery and Highland and Islands Enterprise. The island is now owned through a development trust called the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. In the heart of the island is the ruined Church of Kilchattan which has a great number of graveslabs on the floor of the church. Not far from the church to the west is the well known Ogham Stone.
Gigha Ferry Terminal on the east coast
Ardminish is the main settlement on the island and it’s here where you will find two churches, a shop annex post-office, an art centre, the hotel and the majority of the population. Ardminish is perhaps the only place on the island where you find a road sign! A mile south of Ardminish are the magnificent gardens of Achamore. The gardens, 50 acres in total, are situated in beautiful woodland, have some rare varieties within its grounds and can be considered to be one of the most beautiful gardens in this part of Scotland. The gardens, now owned by the community, once belonged to Achamore House. The house itself was sold to a Californian businessman and is now rented out as a Bed and Breakfast.
Gigha seen from the ferry
The landscape of Gigha is very beautiful, green and unspoilt with many bays, small hills, a few lochs and some caves mainly on the south and west coast. The island offers lovely views to Islay, Jura and the mainland of Kintyre. The nine hole golf course is located just outside the main village. The Gigha Hotel, the only hotel on the island, provides good accommodation and has a restaurant and bar. There is also a Bed and Breakfast at Achamore House as well as several other smaller Guest Houses and self catering cottages.
From a wildlife point of view Gigha has perhaps less to offer than the other Hebridean islands, an abundance of wild flowers in spring however make up for that. The island has no deer or other large mammals, rabbits however are numerous. On any given time around 70 different species of birds can be found, Hen Harriers patrol in the central moorland.
View from the west coast of Gigha
Travel to Gigha
Although Gigha has a small grass airstrip in the south of the island, the Calmac car and passenger ferry from Tayinloan on the mainland to Ardminish is the easiest way to access the island. The ferry leaves the mainland every hour, on the hour, starting at eight in the morning till six in the evening, Monday to Saturday and eleven till five on Sunday. The pleasant crossing is only 20 minutes and tickets can be bought on board. Passengers pay £2.85 for a single journey and cars are £10.55. To save some pennies you can park the car at Tayinloan and make the journey by foot, the choice is all yours. There is a bike hire a few metres from the ferry terminal and the main village is only a pleasant ten minutes walk. If you want to visit Achamore Gardens add another twenty minutes.
Gigha east coast
Cara is a small island located south off Gigha and uninhabited since the early 1940s, in the years before that around three people lived on this island. The island is part of the MacDonald estate of Largie on the Kintyre peninsula. The island is interesting from a wildlife point of view, it holds large numbers or rabbits while goats and otters can be frequently spotted. Several species of seabirds use the island to breed on. Close to Cara House, in the north of the island, are the ruins of a chapel called “the chapel of St Finla in the island of Kara beside the Monkshaven”. St Finlay was a contemporary of St Columba.
gigha Community & Local Websites. Tourist Information:
Gigha Pictures – A gallery with Gigha Images
www.gigha.org.uk – Gigha Community website
www.achamorehouse.com – Achamore House Bed and Breakfast
www.visitscottishheartlands.com – Tourist Information for Argyll
Cara Island Aerial View
Image of Cara Copyright Eddie Mackinnon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence