25 things to do with the kids on Scotland’s western islands
The west coast islands of Scotland make for a huge natural playground, offering some unforgettable family experiences that you and your children will cherish forever.
Ferry operator CalMac serves the area, unlocking the door to some of Scotland’s most amazing outdoor activities. Here are just 25 of our favourite child-friendly outdoor activities in the west-coast islands of Scotland.
Segway Stornoway style (Outer Hebrides)
Segways are usually spotted doing city tours but Segway Hebrides goes off-road for entertaining guided jaunts along the coast, through the forest and around the grounds of Lews Castle. It’s easy to ride a Segway and training is given on the day but children must be aged 12 or over and weigh at least 45kg to take part.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding at Lewis (Outer Hebrides)
Stand Up Paddle Boarding is reckoned to be the fastest-growing water sport in the UK.
As the name suggests, this surprisingly easy and accessible sport involves standing on a surfboard and using a paddle to steer and propel you - it’s like a sedate cross between surfing and kayaking. Surf Lewis offers half-day sessions which include the one hour of training it takes to learn the ropes plus a tour of the Hebridean coast line, where your elevated position will give you a good chance of spotting some local wildlife. Children must be over 12 years-old and accompanied by an adult.
Windkarting on Harris (Outer Hebrides)
Get the wind in your sails and go Windkarting on Scarista beach on the south-western coast of the Isle of Harris. It might be high-octane, but as the name suggests, there’s no need for refuelling stops here.These super-fast buggies, also known as X-sails or Blo-karts, are powered by one of Scotland’s most abundant resources - the wind. Suitable for children over the age of 8, and just as much fun for adults, Harris Outdoor Adventure’s X-Sailing sessions take place at low tide on the huge tract of golden sands at Scarista. Within half an hour or so, you and the family will be whizzing across the sands with a stunning backdrop that puts Monaco and the rest in the shade.
Eoropie Dunes Park on Lewis (Outer Hebrides)
With new equipment being added every year, the four-acre Eoropie Dunes Park just under an hour’s drive from Stornoway is a community playpark with a difference. Set amongst the natural playground of dunes that skirt the northern tip of Harris, the park includes a traditional playground, a slide, zip wire, climbing frame, adventure trail, skateboard area, basketball and football zone, maze, teepee, playhouse and tunnels, nature trail and much more. The community group which created the park has worked hard to ensure kids of all ages can enjoy the space and the rave reviews it is garnering on TripAdvisor suggests that hard work has paid off.
Walk around Berneray Island (Outer Hebrides)
Circumnavigating a whole island and climbing its highest peak is a fine achievement in anyone’s book. So what if the circular walk round Berneray Island in the Sound of Harris is a mere seven and a bit miles and that its highest hill, Beinn Shleibe, stands at just 318 feet? From this peak, you and the family can survey your whole mini-kingdom, which is littered with stone circles, sacred sites and evidence of Viking occupation. If the weather is agreeable, make time for a picnic at Berneray Sands on the north of the island, one of the most picturesque beaches in Scotland (if not Thailand, whose tourist authorities once accidentally used a picture of Berneray in one of their beach paradise brochures).
Go dinosaur hunting on Skye (Skye and the Small isles)
If the closest your kids have ever come to fossil-hunting is helping you look for your running shoes, maybe a trip to Skye is in order. Most children have an all-consuming excitement about dinosaurs hard-wired into their DNA, so be sure to put some newspaper down before you tell them you’re taking them to what David Attenborough-types call “Dinosaur Island”. Bearreraig Bay, Ardnish Point, Elgol, Dunans, and Rigg are all renowned happy hunting grounds for Jurassic
fossils of various shapes and sizes, while the beach at Staffin is famous for its 165 million-year-old footprints. It’s worth checking out Staffin Museum while you’re at it. See www.ukfossils.co.uk for more detailed information on what to look for and some dino dos and don’ts.
Mountain biking in Skye (Skye Raasay and the small Isles)
While the sight of your loved ones trying to emulate the heart-stopping mountain biking exploits of social media star Danny MacAskill amid the precipitous landscape of his native Skye might be a bit much, more sedate routes are available nearby. One such is the three-hour Beach Brittle route, which not only skirts the coast at points, offering sea views and the chance to spot sea eagles, but also takes in some of the island’s most breathtaking vistas of the Cuillin range.
Look out for the blue signposted road off to your right as you descend at speed. This takes you back to the car park but before that treats you to mind-blowing views over the Cuillin.
Live on the edge on Raasay (Skye Raasay and the Small Isles)
Scrambling around the coastline, flailing about in swell, gulches, waves and whitewater, and leaping into the sea might seem a little bonkers - and it is - but some genius decided to call it Coasteering and now it’s a valid outdoor activity. Raasay House is one of the few places in Scotland to offer courses in this relatively new activity, which may also involve team-building activities such as using ropes to cross obstacles as the whole family channels their inner Bear Grylls. The action takes place around the beautiful Arduish headland under the watchful eyes of basking sharks, dolphins, seals and sea otters.
Helmets, buoyancy aids and wetsuits are provided - this kind of action isn’t suitable for children under the age of 8.
Axe throwing in Armadale (Skye Raasay and Small Isles)
Sometimes, children just want to throw axes at things. Don’t fight it. It’s nature.
Fortunately, they can do it in a safe, supervised, fun environment at Armadale Activities on Skye, as long as they’re aged eight or over.
The centre also offers other weaponised fun in the form of archery and clay pigeon shooting but the novelty of axe-throwing is sure to be a winner with infants of an injurious ilk. There are various axes to try, and after a bit of training, you can have a little friendly-family competition to hone your skills. After all, what responsible parent doesn’t want their child to be fully trained in axe-throwing?
Discover the Lost World of Quiraing on Skye (Skye Raasay and Small Isles)
Few hill walks in Scotland offer so much bang for the buck as the Quiraing on Skye when it comes to the spectacular, the eerie and the downright weird. Arguments about how to pronounce Quirang will soon subside as the strange rock formations of the partially collapsed Trotternish Ridge near Staffin on the north-east coast leave young and old speechless.
There’s a distinct Lost World vibe that will set your kids’ imaginations running into overdrive, but the paths are good and the going pretty easy for most, making for a pretty accessible but unforgettable family walk.
Swim in the Fairy Pools of Skye (Skye Raasay and Small Isles)
The myths and legends about the fairies of Skye might be a touch murky, but the waters of the Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins are crystal clear and will soon have the whole family under their spell. It’s a fairly straightforward and enjoyable 20-minute walk from the village of Glenbrittle up the River Brittle past a series of waterfalls and the beautiful clear pools they feed but some little ones might struggle with traversing some of the
stepping stones and marshy areas. This being Scotland, the water isn’t going to be warm, but in the height of summer there can’t be many things more exhilarating or as bewitching as a spot of wild swimming in the clear blue Fairy Pools of Skye.
Geocaching in the Hebrides
Geocaching, a family-friendly blend of orienteering and treasure-hunting using a GPS device, has been growing in popularity since the turn of the century and there are now around five million geocachers wandering around the world, hunting down and hiding caches - usually a small plastic container containing a logbook and small item of “treasure” (SPOILER ALERT: It’s usually not treasure) which must be left in place or replaced. There are some 150 recognised geocaches hidden in nooks and crannies across the Hebrides, offering a great way to explore the area’s rugged beauty while also getting the kids actively involved in geography and problem-solving. Lewis is the happiest hunting ground with almost 100 caches, but even uninhabited St Kilda has two, guarded by thousands of seabirds.
Watch planes land on a beach (Outer Hebrides)
Exploring Eoligarry, northern outcrop of Barra would be enjoyable enough even without the unique climax of watching planes land on a beach (assuming the tide is out) at Barra Airport - the only commercial beach airport in the world. Depending on the time of year, you may find wild flowers carpeting the mostly gentle slopes in the area which offer easy access to beautiful views of neighbouring islands of Orasay, Fuday and Eriskay.
Explore space from Coll (Inner Hebrides)
Combine staying up late in the great outdoors with a bit of space exploration thrown in and you’ve probably got a pretty happy child on your hands. The Isle of Coll is one of two only designated Dark Sky Islands in the world. With less cloud cover than much of western Scotland, huge local efforts being made to minimise light pollution and the nearest lamp post being 20 miles away on Mull, the star-gazing on offer here is out of this world.
Fly a kite on Tiree (Inner Hebrides)
Surfers the world over flock to Tiree to make the most of the wind here but you don’t need to get your feet wet to experience it. You don’t even need to walk too far from the ferry terminal at Gott Pier to reach the expansive golden sands of Gott Bay, where, amidst the windsurfers and sand yachters you should be able to find your own spot at one of the best kite-flying venues in Scotland.
…or let a kite fly you: kitesurfing on Tiree (Inner Hebrides)
Kitesurfing, a cross between surfing, windsurfing and paragliding, is reckoned to be the easiest of the high-octane watersports and there is possibly no better place in Scotland to do it than the surf capital, Tiree. With its variety of flat water bays and open beaches with Atlantic waves, it’s the ideal venue to learn and develop your skills at this exhilarating sport. Blackhouse Watersports offers expert tuition to individuals and small groups over the age of 12.
Explore Mull the easy way (Inner Hebrides)
The problem with exploring an island like Mull by car is that you don’t have time to really soak up the views and see the wildlife as you whizz by. But cycling often doesn’t seem like much of a holiday when you’re slogging up a steep incline. Hiring some power-assisted bicycles from the likes of Mull Electric Bikes solves that problem, helping you get up close and personal with the beauty and wildlife of Mull without as much of the sweat. Trailers are
also available, so the wee ones can ride in style.
Go on a Quest on Mull (Inner Hebrides)
After being compelled by your children to make the pilgrimage to the real-life Balamory of Tobermory on Mull, get their brains and bodies working in tandem with a unique treasure hunt. The Quest features a series of treasure-hunt style missions set by various local tourism operators, meaning each the style, difficulty and objective of each challenge varies, which should keep them on their toes. Pick up details at Craignure Tourist Information Centre.
Go whale watching near Mull (Inner Hebrides)
A five-hour cruise from Tobermory on Mull with CalMac (April to October) tailored for families offers the opportunity to spot a whole host of wildlife including eagles, seals, basking sharks, dolphins and whales. You can even hear what they’re up to down there via an underwater microphone. As well as being a lot of fun - who wouldn’t get excited by catching sight of a shark or dolphin? - the trip has an educational angle too, so the little ones will be learning without even realising it.
Cycling on Lismore (Inner Hebrides)
Just a mile wide and ten miles long, with moderate slopes and hardly any traffic, the island of Lismore is perfect for cycling. It’s just a few minutes’ journey by boat from Port Appin or Oban, but with a population of under 200
it’s a great place to get on your bike and get away from it all. Stunning views of the likes of Ben Nevis, Ben Cruachan, Mull, and the mountains of Glencoe are ever present, while its history and lore is as disproportionately rich and fertile as the flower-carpeted earth which lent the island its Gaelic name of Lios Mor, meaning “Great Garden”. Make a pit-stop at the impossibly romantic fairytale ruins of Castle Coeffin, and swot up on its fantastic backstory so you can delight your children with the enchanting legend of this place as you sit among its ivy-covered walls.
Corryvreckan whirpool (Outer Hebrides)
What better way to straighten out the little devils than a glimpse into the mouth of hell?
Of the Inner Hebrides, nature is arguably at its most raw and brooding on Jura. The famous Paps stand sentinel over large swathes of uninhabited countryside unsullied by roads, while eagles can be spotted patrolling the skies. To top it all, the northernmost tip of the island is guarded by one of the largest whirlpools in the world, the Gulf of Corryvreckan, whose roaring waters and billowing waves can be heard from miles away when in full flow. Described by some as the “gateway to hell”, and the watery grave of many a sailor, the whirlpool can form the centre-piece of a fairly demanding 16-mile walk or if you want to get closer, there are plenty of boat trips on offer. Check tide times to ensure you get the full effect.
Pony trekking on Islay (Southern Hebrides)
The beauty of pony trekking at Rockside Farm Trekking Centre on Islay is that you have the option of nipping off to one of several nearby whisky distilleries for a tour and a dram while the kids enjoy riding the friendly ponies along miles of sandy beaches, machair and hillside tracks, accompanied by fully-qualified staff.
Get on your bike on Bute
Just a few minutes from the mainland by ferry, Bute is a haven for cyclists young and old. While it is home to mountain-bike trails, a 23-mile loop round the whole island and one of Scotland’s most technical hill climbs - the aptly-named Serpentine with its 14 hairpin bends - there are also plenty of more sedate and family-friendly options to explore. One such is the three-mile cycle-path ride from the park at Port Bannatyne to the stunning beach at Ettrick Bay. Once you get there, you can enjoy a paddle, checkout the nearby seabird hide or simply sit back and enjoy the stunning views over to Arran. While you can take your bikes on the ferry, you can also hire them at the Bike Shed, near the ferry terminal.
Get a sense of Cumbrae
There’s plenty for children to do in Millport, Cumbrae’s only town and a popular holiday destination since Victorian times, but what better way to find out what the rest of this tiny island has to offer than Cumbrae Sensory Trail? The trail, led by an audio guide, is a fun way to explore the island’s 11-mile coastline, giving you the chance to get close to Cumbrae’s wildlife, beaches and scenery. There are five Sensory Point Markers on the Trail to pause at and explore with your senses. The trail can be walked or cycled, and don’t forget to touch the ball at the top of each of the Sensory Point Markers - the islanders have promised good luck to everyone who touches all five.
Wildlife spotting on Arran (Firth of Clyde)
Arran is home to an array of distinctly Scottish wildlife such as red squirrels, otters, seals, red deer and the majestic golden eagle. But threatened species such as hen harriers and red-throated divers also make their home here. Spotting them all is easier said than done, though, so it might be a good idea to have someone who knows where to look with you. Arran Wild Walks offers a flexible range of coastal and inland guided walks to suit all ages and abilities. Local wildlife nuts Lucy and Wally Wallace know their stuff and will soon lead you to where the wild things are.
Kayaking on Arran (Firth of Clyde)
Scotland’s West Coast is considered to be home to some of Europe’s finest sea kayaking venues. There are loads to choose from but a good place to start is Arran, not least because as well as being home to one of Scotland’s most luxurious spas,
Auchrannie Resorts offers half-day sea kayaking sessions for families (children must be aged 10 or over) with experienced, qualified instructors. The coastal waters are sheltered, fringed with stunning scenery and plenty of wildlife - and there’s no better way to explore it all than by sea kayak.
Hit the beach on Cowal
The Bahaman-style sands and turquoise waters of the likes of Luskentyre and Scarista on the Isle of Harris are rightly renowned well beyond these shores but, for many people in Scotland, a hidden gem of a beach can be found a little closer to home, a ten-minute ferry journey from Largs. Ostel Bay - also known as Kilbride Bay - on the Cowal peninsula enjoys stunning views of Loch Fyne and Arran, not to mention unspoilt sands on its sheltered beach alongside clear waters perfect for paddling and swimming. It’s a 15-minute walk from the car park but rarely will such a short walk be rewarded with such a perfect spot for the whole family to enjoy.
• This article was produced in partnership with CalMac