Isles of Colonsay and Oronsay

The Isle of Colonsay

The Isle of Colonsay

Colonsay, a beautifully unspoilt island, is part of the Inner Hebrides off the West coast of Scotland, and is frequently referred to as the jewel of the Hebrides. A small island at only 2 miles by 8-10 miles long in size, it is augmented by being joined (in a semi-detached manner) to Oronsay during low tides.

Fifteen miles to the North of Colonsay lies the island of Mull; Colonsay’s Eastern and Southern horizons are bounded by the islands of Jura and Islay; and to the South West, just visible from a high point on a clear day, is the coast of Donegal in Ireland. To the West lies the Atlantic, with only the Du Hirteach lighthouse standing between Colonsay and Canada.

Brief History of Colonsay

The name of the island is of Old Norse origin, translating as “Columbia’s Island” or “Kolbein’s Island”. Oronsay’s name means “St Oran’s Island”, St Oran being a disciple of St Columba who founded a monastery here in 6th century (possibly on the site where the ruins of the 14th century Augustinian priory are today). A document from 1549 recorded its name as Orvansay – the ‘ey’ or ‘ay’ being the old Norse word for island which is often used in this part of Scotland. Colonsay itself was recorded in a 14th century document as Coluynsay.

What’s Colonsay like?

The size and accessibility of the island both contribute to its charm. But, of major interest to those considering a break on Colonsay, is the island’s weather. Colonsay has amongst the most recorded hours of sunshine in the UK, and some of the most fantastic sandy beaches on which to enjoy it. Put this together with much lower rainfall than you’d expect on the mainland, and it becomes a perfect outdoors holiday destination.

Colonsay is described as one of the most remote communities in Britain – but numbers of Colonsay permanent residents vary according to where you view them. A book from 2008 claims 110 residents, while currently available websites give the figure of 135 or 120, or thereabouts. Of course, population levels change all the time, though the island school currently only teaches a very small number of young children.

Isle of Oronsay

Very few people live on Oronsay at the moment, but St Columba was said to have landed there on his way from Ireland to Iona to spread the word of Christianity in the 6th century and a fairly well populated priory was built. The Oronsay priory’s ruins include a Celtic cross, tombstones carved with priests and warriors, and a high altar.

The close proximity of Oronsay (it is linked to Colonsay by a sandy beach called The Strand which allows walking between the islands at low tide) means that these two islands are often referred to interchangeably. They do become a single island at low tide for around three hours – but be careful not to let the incoming tide catch you by surprise and cut you off from where you’re supposed to be.

Getting to Colonsay

The island is easily reached by a two-hour-long regular ferry from Oban (twice weekly). Once on land, the islands’ small road network connects Scalasaig on the East of Colonsay, with Kilchattan on the West.

Where to stay

We can offer some fantastic accommodation on the island of Colonsay, whatever your reason for visiting. Browse the extensive choice of accommodation on the island – from stunning large self-catering farmhouses and cottages ideal for families and groups to cosy apartments perfect for couples and luxurious hotel accommodation with sea and harbour views.