Island Hopping

Create your own island hopping holiday! We have a fantastic range of island hopping tickets which allow you to plan your own trip and visit the beautiful west coast islands at your own pace. With up to 30 options to choose from throughout the year, this really is the way to travel… However, one Tuesday afternoon we went island hopping and we never boarded a single ferry.

Looking out across the Passage of Tiree from Rubha Phuirt Bhig

We hopped from Tiree to Soa, from Soa to Eilean an Treogh, then back to Soa before crossing over to Carsamull and then finally back to Tiree.

Looking from across the ‘tombolo’ to Soa

Our original plan was to go island hopping on the Monday afternoon. We arrived at Ruaig, parked the car and took the track that leads on to the beach at Sgibinis, The rain started to fall quite heavily, so it was with considerable disappointment that we return to the car, postponing the adventure to another day. It was a wise decision; the rain continued for most of the afternoon.

Tiley the Turbine and Ruaig from Soa

On Tuesday we carefully took note of the weather and (most importantly) the tide times as the success of our island hopping adventure depended on the latter.

Looking towards Milton and beyond from Soa

Low Tide (1.29m) was at 15:39, twenty-three minutes later than the previous day’s. Once again we parked the car and made our way on to the beach. The plan was to set out about an hour before low tide.

From Soa – Kirkapol Church Building and in the distance Ben Hough

The weather could hardly have been much better for walking. The sun was shining. It was pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze.

An hour before low tide ll that separated Tiree from Soa was a trickle of salt water

All that separated Tiree from Soa was a trickle of water that was not too wide to jump. So there we were on the island without even getting our boots, or even our feet, wet.

The cairn on Soa – it is so bright Mull you can hardly see Mull

With ideal conditions we were not too surprised to see someone cross over a few minutes ahead of us. We followed in their footsteps as we headed for the cairn that is clearly visible from the Tiree ‘mainland’.

The Pier at Scarinish – 1.6 miles away across Gott Bay

From the cairn we headed across Soa, but unlike the other island hopper who headed directly to Eilean an Treogh we remained for the time being that we might climb up higher to view Scarinish.

Soa is uninhabited and is the domain of sheep, sea birds, seals and wild flowers. We observed some seals close to Soa point, and their haunting song accompanied us across the island and on to Eilean an Treogh.

The haunting song of the seals followed us across the island

Our island hopping expedition has turned out to be most educational. The names of the islands fascinated us so we turned in the first place to the book ‘Longships on the Sands’ by Dr John Holliday.

Heather clad mound

Eilean an Treogh was the first name we looked up. Dr Holliday writes, ‘ TRAOGH’ – ‘An islet on the east side of Sòthaigh and connected to it by a sand and gravel tombolo; consisting of rocky grazing, the Turnbull map shows it was not cultivated, and the islet was subsequently much used for kelp collecting.’

A flock of sheep on the tombolo tying Eilean an Treogh to Soa

Dr Holliday states that the name is difficult to interpret. One Gaelic possibility is that it means ‘ebbing’ – Ebbing Island. However, he claims that it more likely to be a Norse name for a piece of fallow land where cattle are kept grazing.

Looking across from Eilean an Treogh towards Brock

We ‘hopped’ over to Eilean an Treogh quite dry shod. There were no cattle grazing, but there was a flock of sheep with one black sheep in their midst. In the distance, we could make out what appeared to be a wooden frame, perhaps a relic from the days of kelp gathering.

A possible remnant from the days of the kelp industry?

On our return to Soa we made away along the distinct track to the cairn. The derivation for Soa or Sòthaigh is most likely to be ‘sheep island’. The sheep do wander cross to the two islands when tidal conditions are suitable. Soa is also connected to Tiree by a tombolo.

An early attempt at cutting out a map of GB

What of this word ‘tombolo’? A tombolo, from the Italian tombolo, derived from the Latin tumulus, meaning ‘mound’, and sometimes translated as ‘ayre’, is a deposition landform in which an island is attached to the mainland by a narrow piece of land such as a spit or bar. Once attached, the island is then known as a tied island. (Wikipedia)

A fresh water pool by the cairn

‘A true tombolo is formed by wave diffraction and refraction. Waves move toward the coastline and are slowed down as they enter the shallower water. They first reach the islands that are close to the shore. Because these waves are moving at a slower than normal pace, they move around the island instead of over it. As the water moves more slowly around the island, it picks up sediment along the way. When the waves meet on the other side of the island (the side facing the coast), the sediment is deposited. This sediment continues to build up until it creates the sandbar that connects the island to the beach.’

On Eilean an Treogh – By design or an accident of nature?

Taking no chances, not wanting to be marooned on Soa, we made our way back to Tiree after a brief photo-stop at the cairn.

A shell added to the top of the cairn

From Tiree we then crossed onto Carsamull before returning once again to Tiree and heading along the track to our parked car.


Tiree provides the opportunity to go ‘island hopping’ with out the need for resorting to ferry travel. All that is required is a knowledge of tide times – most importantly, the time of low tide.

The ‘Big Beach’ and just a fraction of the vast expanse

This is Life on Tiree

Later that evening the MV Clansman passing in front of Soa