24km (15 miles) S of the Isle of Mull
The most remote of the islands of Argyll, Colonsay shares some of the same characteristics as Iona, Tyree, and Coll. To the west, it faces nothing but the open Atlantic -- only a lighthouse stands between Colonsay and Canada. The island encompasses 52 sq. km (20 sq. miles). It's more tranquil than Mull and Skye because it doesn't accommodate day-trippers.
A ferry, operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (tel. 08705/650-000; www.calmac.co.uk), sails between Oban and Colonsay three times a week. The 60km (37-mile) crossing takes 2 1/2 hours.
You can explore all parts of the island along its one-lane roads. Many visitors prefer renting a bike to driving. You can also rent sailing dinghies and rowboats and sail around the island, following in the grand tradition of the Vikings. Go to the Isle of Colonsay Hotel , whose staff rent bikes (£5 per day or £15 per week) or put you in touch with local fishermen and entrepreneurs; a boat should cost around £20 per hour.
Wildlife abounds: golden eagles, falcons, gray seals, otters, and wild goats with elegant horns and long shaggy hair. Prehistoric forts, stone circles, and single standing stones attest to the antiquity of Colonsay, which has been occupied since the Stone Age.
It's estimated that there are some 500 species of flora on the island. The gardens of the 1722 Colonsay House (not open to the public) are filled with rare rhododendrons, magnolias, eucalyptus, and even palm trees; from April to October, Wednesday noon to 5pm and Friday 2 to 5pm, you can visit the gardens for £3. There's also an 18-hole golf course.
The little island of Oransay was named for Oran, a disciple of St. Columba. It's joined at low tide by the Strand, and you can wade across the sands during a 2-hour period. The ancient monastic ruins here date from the 6th century.