Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Touring a trio of islands - Kerrera, Lismore and Iona

The Sottish Castles Association trip to the Western Highlands in September 2016 was so memorable that some of us returned in May 2017 for some island hopping' in order to see the Isles of Kerrera, Lismore and Iona.

From Oban we took the small ferry to Kerrera in the Firth of Lorne. It was only a few minutes from the mainland but a round trip of seven miles (on foot) to Gylen Castle perched high above the sea. This 16th century tower house was burned in 1647 during the Civil Wars and its garrison massacred. It has been sympathetically consolidated and there is much to see.

gylen shore
Gylen Castle from the shore
gylen landward destruction
LEFT: Gylen Castle - landward approach RIGHT: Gylen Castle's destruction in 1647

The following day we boarded a ferry for the one hour trip to Lismore where we had arranged to be picked up by a four-wheel drive vehicle (a necessity) to view the island's castles. Even this vehicle had its limitations and our final approach was on foot. In the Middle Ages Scotland's western seaboard castles were linked, not by roads, but by the sea.

achanduin approach seagate
LEFT: Achanduin Castle - the long approach RIGHT: Achanduin Castle - the sea gate
achanduin gate
Achanduin Castle - the land gate with a couple of Scottish Castles Association members

It would be hard to find a castle better placed than Achanduin Castle for beauty. Dating from the late 13th century this hall house was occupied until 1400 when its owners, the MacDougals, abandoned it for Dunollie Castle, Oban. It is, unfortunately, in a critical state and will not long survive the Atlantic storms.

Next a bumpy ride to Coeffin Castle. It would be difficult to decide which of the two castle has the most attractive location but perhaps Coeffin shades it - or perhaps not! A 13th-century hall house it is sadly totally neglected.

coeffin castle
Castle Coeffin - invaded by another Scottish Castles Associaton member

A relief from our tramping was provided by the Lismore Visitor Centre where we had lunch before taking the return ferry to the mainland.

Next morning we awoke to one of those rare events in the Western Highlands - brilliant sunshine! Taking the ferry to Mull we continued by bus to Fionnphort where we took yet another ferry, this time to Iona. What needs be said about Iona - Dr Johnson said it all in 1773:

That man is little to be envied whose piety
would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona

The abbey with its collection of West Highland grave slabs is a must to visit - and if you have never been to Iona you have missed a unique experience.

iona abbey warrior
LEFT: Iona Abbey - St Martin's Cross RIGHT: Iona Abbey - Warrior with aketon and typical Scottish sword with a lobated pommel

Ferry, bus and yet another ferry back to Oban. One can achieve and experience a lot in three days...

If you want to plan your own trip, these websites should come in handy:

Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries

Explore Lismore

Isle of Lismore Community website

Isle of Kerrera website

Welcome to Iona

Explore Mull and Iona

Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.

Added: 24 Jul 2017 Updated: 16 Oct 2023
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