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The most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland.

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      25.11.2008 14:04
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      A lovely place with lasting memories.

      If you have ever listened to the shipping forecast on the radio you may have heard references to Tiree in among exciting names like Dogger and Rockall. I used to listen to this forecast as a child and wonder about these places, and so it was on one late spring weekend two years ago that I found myself on the beautiful inner hebridean island of Tiree. It wasn't just the shipping forecast that called me to Tiree, it was also the casual meeting with a fellow passenger on a trip we had recently made to North Uist. The man was on the flight up to Glasgow from Stansted and we found he was going over to Tiree later than day. On his return we also met up with him and his bag was stuffed full of raspberry jam, fresh vegetables, and Oleander cuttings from his mother's garden. He told us how beautiful it was there and how valued the people felt and how happy they were. I have a bit of a passion for Scottish Islands as you may have gathered from some of my other reviews, and so it was with great excitement that I set off for my trip to Tiree. I have to say this trip was on a budget as we decided to camp. This was partly for financial reasons and also because I had done some extensive research about the island and had found out that campers usually gathered on the grassy area by the edge of the sea opposite the Co-op. (Since our visit I understand there is also now a campsite in the interior of the island which is an official one.) This suited me as being near to provisions makes the whole experience friendlier for those of us getting on a bit or not shall we say- not in the first flushes of youth. Our journey began with an Easyjet flight to Glasgow from Stansted and then a connecting flight to Tiree. This is now operated by Loganair on behalf of Flybe but it was then operated by British Airways. The choice of plane tends to be determined by passenger numbers. In the event of a small number you will have the delight of spending the trip in a Twin Otter aircraft where you will actually watch the pilot fly the plane, or if you have a large plane load you may have the Saab aircraft which seats about 36. Either way the pilot may fly low and this offers wonderful views of the Inner Hebrides which on a clear day are stunning. For me these flights are the most exciting part of the journey but you would only think that if you were a plane enthusiast like me. Booking early is the best plan as it offers the best fares. It is possible to go £26 single plus tax if you do this. www.flybe.com On arriving at Tiree airport we were baffled by the lack of anyone to meet us with a clipboard and a form to sign to collect our hire care. As the terminal emptied we were left with the last remaining airport official who pointed to a hire car and said "that will be yours the keys are in it". Wonderful- no crime- nothing official- it was like all the cares of the mainland had drifted away. The airport is situated at Crossapol and from there we drove a short distance to the coast at Scarinish. We parked on the side of the road and chose a spot to erect our tent. We have a very good North Face Westwind which is a two man tent which can stand winds of up to 80 miles an hour so is ideal for this sort of venture. Then we went off to the Co-op to purchase a few bits. As there were also public toilets very nearby it was perfect. Not an organised campsite just a handful of hardy souls making use of what was there! The Co-op is very well stocked and is good prices too. We bought one of those disposable grills and were soon sitting on the beach eating veggie burgers watching the waves and listening to the silence in the twilight. We could see the fins of dolphins in the bay ahead of us and lambs were frolicking in the buttercups. It was heaven. Feeling good and looking forward to the days ahead we turned in for the night. By 2 am things were hair-raising. A storm had whipped up in the early hours and the tent was being battered on all sides. I have no idea how it stood up that night but it did and the next morning there were tales of storm damage to other tents around us and many of them had become waterlogged. For a weekend at the end of May it was wild and unpredictable so if you go and camp take a very good quality tent and don't risk a casual trip with one of those Glastonbury overnight ones or you could end up in the sea. All this excitement over and just the remnant of the storm left in the form of blustery winds we set off to explore the island in the car. Tiree is very fertile and everywhere you will see agriculture and the meadows fringing the beach are called Machair. This fertile area is a blaze of colour in the summer with every kind of wild flower you can imagine. It is spectacular. There are so many cows on Tiree as well as sheep, and they were grazing happily on the golf course when we were there. Historically there are many examples of early settlements on the island. Over twenty fortresses from the Iron Age survive on Tiree. The other thing which you notice here is the number of preserved traditional houses which are the most in Scotland. These gorgeous little thatched houses are made from stones and the roof is made from grass called Muran which grows on the beaches. These houses mostly went out of use in the 50s but today you can still see a few which are inhabited. Tiree is the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides and it is 12 miles long but only 3 wide. It has a very mild climate due to the Gulf Stream but don't let that fool you as you will need warm clothing as my overnight tent experience dictated. It is a very flat island and from the air it looks like an irregular shaped pancake. We walked along deserted paths to the Machair where the first purple orchids of the year were appearing through the yellow carpet, and we saw ground nesting birds such as Lapwing and the illusive Corncrakes. If you do go in late spring be very careful when driving as many of these baby birds can't fly and they don't move out of the car headlamps the way you expect them to. Our impression of Tiree is one of a fertile farm; it is so very different to the wild and rugged nature of the Outer Islands like Uist and Harris. It is possible to get the ferry over to Coll as well which is the home of Mairi Hedderwick author of the famous Katie Stories. The island's main road runs northwest from Scarinish, past the beautiful beach at Balephetrish Bay to Balevullin, where you can see some good examples of restored traditional thatched houses. Just to the south, at Sandaig, is the Sandaig Museum which tells of the island's social history. Below Ben Hynish, to the east, is the village of Hynish, where you'll find the Signal Tower Museum, which tells the fascinating story of the building of the Skerryvore Lighthouse (1840-44) by Alan Stevenson, an uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson. There is a small area of hills to walk over here through "Happy Valley" which seems a perfect name for a beautiful walk. This takes you across undulating meadows speckled with new born lambs to a beach flanked by a high cliff covered in nesting birds. Gott Bay is long wide expanse of southeast facing beach and is a windsurfing paradise often referred to as the "Hawaii of the North". The major windsurfing event is the Wave Classic, held annually in October. We walked around the island and were amazed by the beauty of it. 800 people live there almost half spoke Gaelic in 2001 census. The main village on Tiree is Scarinish, from which ferries sail to Arinagour on Coll and to Oban on the mainland. The roads on Tiree, in common with many other small Islands, are nearly all single-track roads. The roads are not busy but they are not deserted and the 800 people who live there are doubled many times by the influx of holiday makers who flock there in the summer. If you go don't expect a deserted place- there's evidence of life here, but it is also possible to find many nooks and corners to shelter away from people. There are many types of accommodation on Tiree including, Bed and Breakfast Balephetrish - Balephetrish House - B&B - Iain MacKinnon Telephone - 01879 220541 A long list of holiday cottages can be found at http://www.isleoftiree.com/ Guesthouses Kirkapol - Kirkapol House - Susan Sweeney Telephone - 01879 220729 - SSTB 3 STAR Sandaig - Cèabhar - Duncan Castling & Polly Kellet Restaurant and Guest House - Telephone - 01879 220684 Hotels Scarinish - Tiree Scarinish Hotel Telephone - 01879 220308 - SSTB 2 STAR INN Gott Bay - Tiree Lodge Hotel Telephone - 01879 220368Hotels Camping Balinoe Campsite - Balinoe - William Angus MacLean Telephone - 07712 159205 or 01879 220399 Cornaig - Millhouse Hostel - sleeps 16/18 - SSTB 4 STAR HOSTEL Millhouse Farmhouse - sleeps 12 - SSTB 4 STAR HOSTEL Judith Boyd - Telephone - 01879 220435 Groups Hynish - Alan Stevenson House - sleeps 24 - Monica Smith Telephone - 01879 220726 It is also possible to go by ferry. Prices have just been lowered so its a great time to book. www.calmac.co.uk The lasting memory of being on Tiree was unzipping the tent and waking up to 6 or 8 lambs gambling through the grass. The sight of the sea in the ditance. Yellow tent, yellow buttercups, and yellow sand, it was quite simply a happy place and one I can't wait to go back to.

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