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Islands in Scotland
The Scottish islands tend to be classified into four main categories: the Orkneys and Shetlands, and the Outer and Inner Hebrides
The Outer Hebrides - or Long Island as they are also known - consist of a narrow 130-mile long chain of islands, lying 40 miles off the northwest coast of the Scottish mainland. Relentlessly battered by fierce Atlantic winds, the islands can seem a hostile environment and an unappealing proposition, particularly if you happen to be stuck there on a wet Sunday without your own means of transport. Much of the interior is bleak peat bog, rocks and endless tiny lochs, and the long, straggling crofting communities only add to the feeling of desolation. But there are also miles of superb beaches, wild mountain scenery, numerous archaeological treasures and long hours of summer daylight in which to appreciate it all. Despite the frequency of transport connections with the mainland, the Outer Hebrides remain remote in every sense. Unlike Skye and the Inner Hebrides, tourism is of far less importance to the local economy. In many ways, the islands are the last bastion of the old Highland life. Though newer industries such as fish farming have been introduced, the traditional occupations of crofting, fishing and weaving still dominate, and outside Stornoway on Lewis (the only decent-sized town in the islands) life is very much a traditional one, revolving around the seasons and the tides. Almost every islander has more than one occupation, so don't be surprised if the landlady of your guesthouse also weaves Harris Tweed, or if her husband drives the Postbus as well as doing a bit of fishing on the side. This creates a network of relationships where everyone knows everyone else.
The Inner Hebrides comprise the great swathe of islands lying off the western coast of Scotland - east of the Outer Hebrides, south of Skye and west of the Kintyre peninsula. Each is very different in appearance and atmosphere and each has its own distinct appeal. The most accessible of the islands is Mull, a short ferry ride from Oban. It's also the most popular by far, and with some justification. The variety of scenery on offer is astounding and its capital, Tobermory, is the most attractive port in western Scotland. A stone's throw from Mull is tiny Iona, one of the most important religious sites in Europe, with some divine beaches. Boat trips can be made from Mull or Iona to the dramatic island of Staffa, looming out of the sea like a great cathedral and the inspiration for Mendelssohn's 'Hebrides Overture'. Further west, windswept Coll and Tiree offer miles of unspoilt beaches and some great windsurfing and, to the south, Colonsay is a stress-free zone that makes Mull seem hectic. Those who enjoy a good malt whisky should head for Islay, famed for its distilleries, while neighbouring Jura is a wild and beautiful place, perfect for some off-the-beaten-track hiking. If you're after some peace and quiet on Jura then you're in good company, for this is where George Orwell came to write '1984'. Furthest north are the "small islands" of Eigg, Muck, Rùm and Canna, reached from Mallaig, but ignored by most tourists. People come here for the fine bird watching and superb walking. Car space on ferries is limited during the summer months, so it's advisable to book ahead. There are flights from Glasgow to Port Ellen Islay: 2 daily Mon-Fri and 1 on Sat (40 mins), all year round. From Glasgow to Tiree: 1 flight daily Mon-Sat (45 mins), all year round. For flight times, call British Airways Express, Tel. 08457-733377, the local Tourist Information Centres, or Port Ellen airport, Tel. 01496-302022, and Tiree airport, Tel. 01879-220309. CalMac car and passenger ferries sail to and from Mull, Islay, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and Gigha, and passenger-only ferries sail to Iona and the Small Isles (Eigg, Muck, Rùm and Canna). The departure point for ferries to Mull, Coll, Tiree and Colonsay is Oban. Ferry times change according to the day of the week and time of the year, so they aren't listed in full below. Services listed below under each separate island are for the summer period (2 Apr-16 Oct). For full details see the CalMac Ferry Guide or call CalMac, Tel. 08705-650000, email@example.com (reservations); Tel. 01475-650100, Calmac Ferry Services (general enquiries). For details of bus connections from Oban to Glasgow, contact Scottish Citylink, Tel. 08705-505050. For train services from Mallaig to Fort William and Glasgow, contact Scotrail, Tel. 08457-484950. There are regular daily train and bus services from Glasgow. For full details contact the TIC in Oban, Tel. 01631-563122. The departure point for ferries to Islay (and on to Jura), and some ferries to Colonsay, is Kennacraig. There are daily bus services from Glasgow, via Tarbert . Mallaig is the ferry port for the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rùm and Canna. There are regular bus and train services from Glasgow, via Fort William. For bus, train and ferry times, pick up Argyll & Bute Council's free Area Transport Guides to Lorn, Mull and Islay & Jura, available at most tourist offices. For times of buses and trains to Mallaig, for the Small Isles, see the South Highland Public Transport Travel Guide (£1), available at main tourist offices. For details on how to get around the Inner Hebrides by public transport, see under the relevant island destination.
SHETLAND ISLANDS Puffins, Crofts And Vikings There's a sense of excitement during breakfast as our ship arrives in the town of Lerwick, the main community in the Shetland Island. After we leave the St. Clair there is the first visit of the day to Jarlshof prehistoric and Norse settlement where three acres of remains span some 3.000 years of history, and you'll get a real sense of how these ancient peoples survived in an environment that we would find extremely hostile. A scenic coastal drive brings us to the Shetland Croft House Museum, located within a 19th Century thatched building, and this time we discover a wonderful perspective on rural Shetland life in more recent times. This afternoon there is a drive to Sullom Voe, home to the mainstay of the islands' economy today-oil-and to remote Brae, overlooking Muckle Roe.
ORKNEYS An Orkney Voyage C catch the mind-day sailing to the Orkney Island. The journey lasts for around 8 hours and on board our ship, we'll enjoy dinner en-route. On arrival in Stromness, it's only a short drive to our comfortable hotel in Kirkwall. The administrative capital, Kirkwall, is on a relatively narrow strip of land joining West Mainland and East Mainland. Home to the St Magnus' Cathedral, it has about 8,500 inhabitants and a large port. The only other burgh is Stromness in West Mainland, with a population of about 2,000.The charm of Orkney does not lie in their ordinary physical features, so much as in beautiful atmospheric effects, extraordinary examples of light and shade, and rich coloration of cliff and sea. The islands are notable for the absence of trees, which is partly accounted for by the amount of wind (although the climate in general is temperate). The formation of peat is evidence that this was not always the case, and deliberate deforestation is believed to have taken place at some stage prior to the Neolithic, the use of stone in settlements such as Skara Brae being evidence of the lack of availability of timber for building.
ORKNEY ISLANDS Stone Age Discoveries Orkney is home to many outstanding historic treasures and today will be a unique day of discovery as we begin with St Magnus Cathedral, one of Europe's great architectural achievements and over 860 years old. Our next stop is the extraordinary Italian Chapel, where few will fail to the moved by the dedicated workmanship of the Italian prisoner of war who constructed this place of worship in a humble Nissan hut. Their story and many others will be told as we view Scapa Flow, the scene of momentous event in both World Wars.
Located in West Mainland is the 'Heart of Neolithic Orkney', a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. This comprises a group of Neolithic monuments which consist of a large chambered tomb (Maes Howe), two ceremonial stone circles (the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar) and a settlement (Skara Brae), together with a number of unexcavated burial, ceremonial and settlement sites. The group constitutes a major prehistoric cultural landscape which gives a graphic depiction of life in this remote archipelago in the far north of Scotland some 5,000 years ago. Skara Brae When a wild storm on Orkney in 1850 exposed the ruins of ancient dwellings, Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe, was discovered. The excavated farming settlement dates back 5000 years. Within the stone walls of the dwellings - separated by passages - are stone beds, dressers, seats and boxes for provisions, recesses for personal possessions, and a hearth where dried heather, bracken or seaweed was burned. A replica house has been created next to the site and many original artefacts found at Skara Brae (part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site) are displayed in the visitor centre, which has a café. The Ring of Brogar is a stone circle superbly located on land rising above the saltwater Loch of Stenness and the freshwater Loch of Harray. When first erected there were 60 stones here, in a perfect circle 104m in diameter. Today just 36 of the original stones are still standing, and one of those only just, having been split vertically by a bolt of lightning on 5 June 1980.
Tomb of the Eagles Pre-dating the pyramids, 'Tomb of the Eagles' is estimated to be around 5000 years old. Farmer, Ronald Simison (Ronnie) discovered the Tomb in 1958 while looking for rock suitable to craft fencing corner posts. Intrigued by an unusual rock formation, he scratched away some earth revealing a set of nicely finished stone tools, now believed to be ceremonial. Further digging revealed an outside wall encapsulating a black hole. It was at this point, he lit a cigarette lighter, and had his first encounter with our 5000 year old ancestors! Artifacts found in and around the tomb included bones of some 340 people, white-tailed sea eagle remains and a number of other animal bones, ceremonial and working tools, pottery and beads. From all this, it has been possible to determine not only the age of the tomb but also the heights, diets and lifestyle of our ancestors. The number of white-tailed sea eagle talons and bones suggest that this bird may have been the totem of our neolithic ancestors and gives rise to the familiar name 'Tomb of the Eagles'.
Uncovered by a storm in 1850 Skara Brae is one of the best preserved groups of Stone Age houses in Western Europe and our visit will reveal the stone furniture, hearths and drains that present a such remarkable picture of Neolithic life.
CRAFTS OF ORKNEY ORKNEY JEWELRY With a passion for her island environment Sheila creates her original designs reflecting nature's wonderful sea, sky and landscape colours. Orkney's history and folklore are also a rich medium for her inspiration.
ITALIAN CHAEPL ORKNEY In early 1942 some 550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in North Africa, were brought to Orkney. They were needed to overcome the shortage of labour working on the continuing construction of the Churchill Barriers. These were the four causeways designed to block eastern access to Scapa Flow following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-Boat in 1939.Camp 60 was home to the Italian prisoners from 1942 until early 1945. The camp comprised 13 huts, which the Italians improved with concrete paths (concrete was never in short supply during the construction of the Churchill Barriers) and gardens, complete with flower beds and vegetable plots. Front View of the Chapel Head of Christ Entrance Mosaic Statue of St George Rear View of the Chapel Barrier No 1 from the Chapel In the centre of the camp, one of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti, produced the statue of St George you can still see today, fashioned from barbed wire covered with concrete. The prisoners also worked to produce a theatre and a recreation hut, complete with a billiard table made, perhaps inevitably, from concrete. One thing Camp 60 did lack was a chapel. In 1943 the camp acquired a new commandant, Major T.P. Buckland. He favoured the idea, as did Father Giacombazzi the Camp Padre. Late in 1943 two Nissen huts were provided. They were joined together end to end, with the intention of providing a chapel in one end and a school in the other. The work of turning the Nissen huts into a chapel fell to the prisoners themselves, led once more by Domenico Chiocchetti. The interior of the east end was lined with plasterboard and Chiocchetti started work on what is now the sanctuary. The altar and its fittings were made from concrete and were flanked by two windows made from painted glass. The gold curtains either side of the altar were purchased from a company in Exeter using the prisoners' own funds.
WHERE TO STAY ON ORKNEY: Foveran Hotel Small Hotel St. Ola, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1SF Small family run hotel and restaurant overlooking Scapa Flow. Quiet location, panoramic sea view and an excellent A La Carte restaurant.
ORKNEYS/MAINLAND We make an early start this morning as we drive to Stromness for the sailing to the mainland. The voyage will take 1 hour & 45 minutes and on the way there are stunning views of the Old Man of Hoy', a spectacular sandstone sea stack. On arrival at the port of Scrabster, drive to visit Dunrobin Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes and Earls of Sutherland. This fairytale 13th Century castle has a commanding position overlooking the Dornoch Firth and the story goes that its attractive gardens were inspired by those at Versailles. More info
FAIR ISLE Fair Isle, locate halfway between Orkney and Shetland is a bird sanctuary and home to knitwear. The traditional woolen designs made with home spun and home dyed wool, are said to have originated with the Spanish sailors.
ISLE OF HARRIS When the Earl of Dunmore bought the island in 1834, his wife promoted the sale of the first Harris Tweeds in London. The crofters' skill had long been famous, but they wove cloth only for themselves or local markets. Annual production now is 6,000,000 yards.
ISLE OF MULL & IONAThe Sacred Isle Join the modern car ferry for the 40 minute crossing to the Island of Mull As we sail into the sound of Mull look out for wonderful view of Duart Castle, stronghold of the Maclean clan. On arrival at Craignure, drive through Glen More en-route to Fionnphort where another ferry awaits us for the short crossing to the Island of Iona. It was here in 563 AD that St Columba landed to found a monastery and bring Christianity to Scotland, and many early Scottish Kings and chiefs were buried here including Macbeth. The sense of peace and history that pervades the island will remain.
ISLES OF MULL AND IONA The third largest of the Hebredian islands. In 1588 a remnant of the Spanish Armada sank in Tobermory Bay with 3,000,000 gold doubloons aboard. Only a few trinkets have been found. The Isle of Iona, off the southwest tip of Mull is where St. Columba began the effective Christianization of Scotland in 563. Columba's followers preached worldwide. The monastery was attacked by Norse raiders. The oldest Christian burial place is here, popular with Royalty. Macbeth lies here. Travel by ferry to Mull, and travel by scenic landscapes to the ferry for Iona, burial place of many of the Scottish kings and chiefs, including Macbeth. It was here in 563AD that St. Columba established the first Christian monastery in the British Isles.
ISLE OF SKYE Get your cameras ready for romantic Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed spot in Scotland
Travel to Kyleakin by bridge to the Inner Hebredian Isle of Skye. With nearly a thousand miles of dramatic coastline of coral beaches and sheer cliffs, and an interior of wild peat bogs, the Isle of Skye is a compelling destination. It seems a world away in time. The pace of life is slow and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The island is one of the last strongholds of Gaelic culture and this language is spoken by about half of the population. Much of Skye's appeal lies in its legendary association with Bonnie Prince Charlie. At Dunvegan Castle, the clan Macleod stronghold, begun in the 9th century, the "Fairy Flag" brought back from the Crusades is said to have magical powers. Visit the Clan Donald Centre, with its magnificent park and hear about the 13 centuries of clan history. The day ends with a scenic drive along the "Road to the Isles" back to Ft. William. You may also board your ferry for the short crossing to the Inner Hebredian Isle of Skye, with nearly a thousand miles of dramatic coastline of sheer cliffs sweeping down to coral beaches, and an interior of wild peat bogs. It has a legendary association with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Visit the Clan Donald Center, and hear about the 13 centuries of clan history. More Info
Isle of Arran
A ferry ride. A wild landscape. Golden eagles. Fun and laughter. Standing stones. Bite-size mountains rising steeply from the sea. Sandy bays. Coastal walks. Quiet glens. This is a Highland experience in miniature, on one accessible island. \
How to get there: CALMAC
Calmac sails to twenty-four destinations on Scotland's West Coast. From Arran in the south to Lewis in the north, they cover some of the most beautiful and dramatic places in Scotland. nDiscover a different world.
According to Calmac:
10 Great Island Things to Do Looking for inspiration? We've listed a few of our favourite island adventures to help you decide which island to go to this autumn.
1. Have a dram or three on the Island Whisky Trail. Sample some of Scotland's most challenging malts in their own homes. Take a tour of one or more of Islay's seven distilleries.
2. Kit yourself out in trendy tweed. Harris tweed, which can only be made by the islanders of the Outer Hebrides, is the fashionista's favourite fabric of the moment. (Where to buy).
3. Go 'Doon the Watter'. The traditional seaside towns of Millport, Rothesay and Dunoon are just a short drive away from Glasgow. Build sandcastles on the beach at Millport, enjoy ice-cream and a stroll along the prom or take afternoon tea in a seaside cafe.
4. Get a real taste of the islands on the Arran Taste Trail. Sample artisan cheeses, hand-made chocolates, fine ales and malt whiskies on a gourmet day out on Arran.
5. Take to Skye via the Road to the Isles. Drive the scenic Road to the Isles from Fort William to Mallaig and then sail 'Over the Sea to Skye' on our Mallaig-Armadale service.
6. Hopscotch and Golf. Our Island Hopscotch connects some of Scotland's finest golf courses. Choose one or all of Arran's seven courses before using our Lochranza-Claonaig service to access Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre. Finish off by hopping over to Islay to tackle championship standard Machrie Golf Links.
7. Go wild in the islands. Scotland's beautiful and unspoilt west coast islands are are home to an amazing diversity of wildlife species. The ferry trip itself is often a one of the best places to spot sealife - sit out on deck and scan the sea for whales, dolphins, seals, basking sharks and porpoises.Mull and the Outer Hebrides are our top tips; look out for golden & white-tailed eagles, otters, puffins and corncrake. (Find out more).
8. Have a real island adventure. Ever wanted to try surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking or paragliding? The island way of life may be relaxing but the activities they offer are anything but. Try Tiree for windsurfing, Arran for paragliding or Harris and Lewis for world class surfing and mountain biking. (Find out more).
9. Take a stroll along a perfect beach. The islands offer mile after mile of brilliant white shell beaches. Go in autumn when you'll have the place to yourself. Wrap up warm and go with someone you love. Our favourites are Luskentyre & Scarista (Harris), the Bay at the Back of the Ocean (Iona), and Kiloran (Colonsay).
10. Spend a day in the garden. Some of Scotland's finest gardens can be found on the islands. Enjoy a day out to Achamore Gardens on Gigha, Benmore Botanic Gardens near Dunoon or Mount Stuart House, Bute.
Island Hopscotch/Rover Take the grand tour of Scotland's islands with Calmac's Island Hopscotch® tickets. Valid for one month from the date of your first journey, Island Hopscotch® tickets let you create your own adventure and travel at your own pace. With 26 options to choose from, this really is the way to travel and save money too. Tickets are valid for one journey on each route and can be used in either direction.
Getting around Air There are inter-island flights which are operated by Loganair, Tel. 01856-872494. Eight-seater aircraft fly from Kirkwall daily except Sun to Stronsay, Sanday, North Ronaldsay, Westray and Papa Westray, and on Wed to Eday. There are sightseeing flights in Jul and Aug which fly over all these islands. There's also an Orkney Adventure ticket which allows you to fly to 3 islands. Bus Buses on the Orkney islands are very limited. Apart from the daily service between Burwick and Kirkwall, which connects with the ferry, there are buses from Kirkwall to Stromness, Evie/Tingwall, Dounby, St Margaret's Hope, Deerness and East Holm. There's also a bus to Houton (Hoy) which connects with the ferry. Boat Orkney Ferries, Tel. 01856-872044, operates daily car and passenger ferries to Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre from Tingwall; to Shapinsay, Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, Westray and Papa Westray from Kirkwall; to Graemsay and Hoy from Stromness; and to Hoy and Flotta from Houton. There's a ferry on Fri to North Ronaldsay from Kirkwall. There are also additional Sun sailings in summer (May-Sep); contact Orkney Ferries or the tourist board for the latest schedules. Those travelling by car should book all ferry journeys in advance.
Car Only the main population centres on Mainland are served by public transport, and having a car is essential to visit many of the most interesting sights. Bringing a car to Orkney is expensive, but there are several car hire firms on the Mainland and on the other islands. Car hire firms are listed under each particular town.
Tourist information The Orkney Tourist Board The Orkney Tourist Board has tourist offices in Kirkwall and Stromness. They will book accommodation for you, or provide a list of what's available, though many B&Bs are not included in the tourist board scheme. They can also provide information on various sights, walks and the islands' wildlife. Those wishing to leave Mainland and visit the smaller islands should pick up a free copy of the tourist board's excellent information and travel guide, The Islands of Orkney. Many of Orkney's monuments are managed by Historic Scotland. They include the Bishop and Earl's Palaces, Broch of Gurness Maes Howe, Skara Brae and Skaill House, Brough of Birsay and Noltland Castle.
The Isle of Skye (An t-Eilean Sgitheanach), the most scenically spectacular of all the Scottish islands, gets its name from the Norse word for cloud (skuy) and is commonly known as Eilean a Cheo (the Misty Isle), so it obviously rains a lot here. But when the rain and mist clear, the views make the heart soar. Despite the unpredictable weather, tourism is an important part of the island's economy, and has been since Victorian times when climbers returned home extolling its beauty. The most popular destination is the Cuillins, the greatest concentration of peaks in Britain. They provide Scotland's best climbing and have become a mecca for all serious and experienced walkers. Equally spectacular are the bizarre rock formations of the Trotternish Peninsula in the north. Trotternish is also inextricably linked with one of the most significant characters from the island's colourful past, Flora MacDonald, who is buried at Kilmuir. More of the island's fascinating history can be discovered at Dunvegan Castle, ancient seat of the Macleods, Armadale Castle (the Clan MacDonald), with the Museum of the Isles and also The Skye Museum of Island Life.
Getting there All main routes to Skye come through some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland, which is why most visitors choose to arrive and depart using different routes - Skye Bridge on and a ferry off, is probably the most common combination! The most direct route to Skye is across the Skye Bridge (tolls were abolished December 2004), from Kyle of Lochalsh to the roundabout at the top end of Kyleakin. Coach services run to Skye from Glasgow and Inverness, with connections to all main cities in the UK (Citylink, Tel. 08705-5505050; National Express, Tel. 08705-808080). There is also a train service from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness - the Kyle Line, which was made famous as one of Michael Palin's Greatest Railway Journeys. To some, a more romantic approach to Skye, is by car ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, on the southern Sleat Peninsula. The car and passenger ferry makes the 30-min crossing 7 times daily each way (first one leaves Mallaig at 0840, Armadale at 0925; the last one at 1845 and 1920) Mon-Sat from Mar to Oct, and Sun end of May to mid-Sep. The ferry runs twice daily & not at weekends during the winter months; for details contact Mallaig, Tel. 01687-462403, or Armadale, Tel. 01471-844248. Booking is recommended during the summer months, Tel. 08705- 650000. Visit www.calmac.co.uk for current prices and timetables.
Trains to and from Fort William and Glasgow Queen St connect with some of the ferries. Romantic visitors can also make the journey to/from Skye using the Original Skye Ferry which operates between Glenelg (follow signposts from Shiel Bridge on the mainland) and Kylerhea (south of Kyleakin on Skye). The tiny private car ferry makes the 5 min crossing frequently, for a maximum of 6 cars. The ferry does not operate during the winter period (normally starts Easter or 1st April, whichever is first and does not operate on Sundays until the main summer season!) - for up to date prices and times visit www.skyeferry.co.uk Ferries leave from Uig, in the north of Skye, to Lochmaddy on North Uist (1 3/4 hrs) and to Tarbert on Harris (1? hrs). To Lochmaddy on Mon, Wed and Fri at 0945 and 1855, Tue, Thu and Sat at 1400 and Sun at 0940 and 1400. To Tarbert on Mon, Wed and Fri at 0515 and 1400, Tue, Thu and Sat at 0940 and 1800 (no service on Sun). The return trip costs the same as for Lochmaddy. For more details, contact Uig, Tel. 01470-542219 or again visit www.calmac.co.uk
Getting around Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands, at almost 50 miles long and between 7 and 25 miles wide. It is possible to run up a hefty mileage as the extensive road system penetrates to all but the most remote corners of its many peninsulas. It is possible to get around by public transport midweek, with postbuses supplementing the normal services, but, as everywhere in the Highlands and Islands, buses are few and far between at weekends, especially Sun, and during the winter months. Buses run between Portree, Broadford, Uig (for ferries to the Western Isles), Kyleakin, Armadale (for ferries to Mallaig), Dunvegan and Carbost, and a more limited service runs from Broadford to Elgol and Portree to Glen Brittle. Getting around by public transport is virtually impossible in winter (Oct-Mar) as bus and postbus services are severely limited
Getting around Island Hopscotch Tickets Island Hopscotch Tickets are a cheaper way to get around the islands with a car. There are various route options, and tickets give you 30 days' unlimited travel on each route. See the CalMac guide or call the numbers above for full details of the Island Hopscotch Tickets, and the Island Rover Ticket, which gives unlimited travel on most CalMac routes for 8 or 15 days.
Tourist information There are Tourist Information Centres in Oban, Craignure and Tobermory (Mull), Bowmore (Islay), and Mallaig. Oban tourist office has information on all the islands, with the exception of the Small Isles, information on which can be got from Mallaig tourist office.
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