If you are looking to escape from it all for just a little while, then Scotland’s most easily accessible islands, the Slate Islands, is the place to come.
The Slate Islands were the centre of the Scottish slate mining industry from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. Today you can see a post-industrial landscape of water-filled quarries, slates, and dramatic coastal scenery. It is also a place of peace and tranquillity, where you will be inspired by the singing of the birds, the sound of the sea crashing on the shores, and the howling wind.
Below is the itinerary for a weekend getaway to the Island of Seil, Easdale and Luing. You can easily combine the best highlight in just one day or stay longer.
The Slate Islands
The Slate Islands are an island group in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, north of Jura and southwest of Oban. They are Seil, Easdale, Luing, and Belnahua. Quarry working began in 1630, and at the turn of the 20th century, the quarries were yielding eight million slates every year.
Slates from the quarries on the islands of Seil, Luing, Easdale and Belnahua were exported to Glasgow, Ireland and all over the world.
You can have a glimpse into the islands slate heritage and lives of the people who lived and worked here through the Slate Islands Heritage Trust on Seil, and Easdale Island Folk Museum.
How to get there
The Slate Islands are only a 30-minute drive from Oban or 2.30-hour drive from Glasgow. From Oban, take the A816 south following signs for Campbeltown. After 9 miles take a right turn on to the B844, for Easdale. For sat navigation use postcode PA34 4RQ for the harbour of Ellenabeich.
By public transport
You can first take a Citylink bus or a train from Glasgow to Oban. From Oban, catch 418/18 bus outside of the Bank of Scotland opposite the Train Station, that comes directly to Ellenabeich harbour square. There are no buses on Sunday. Check the timetable here.
Isle of Seil
You will start your journey with Isle of Seil, the most northerly of the Slate Islands. Seil is connected to the mainland by a small single-arched bridge dating from 1791 known as “The Bridge over the Atlantic”. After a
Take a walk around Ellenabeich and explore the picturesque rows of old slate quarry workers cottages in the village. You can also explore The Heritage Centre and learn more about the social and industrial life of the Slate Islands, especially the people engaged in the former slate industry. Stop for a lunch or a drink at The Oyster Bar & Restaurant in the village.
Ellenabeich hill walk
Distance 2.25 km (1.5 miles), 1 hour
To get a good views over the village, Easdale and towards the Isle of Mull climb the hillside behind Ellenabeich.
To begin the trail, head back into the village, and follow the road that passes behind the rows of cottages. See the trail on the map below. After passing the community hall, you will see a dirt road going left. Here leave the road and go through the farm gate ahead onto a grassy path that will take you steeply uphill. Here turn left to a path that will take you below the next hill Dun Mor, and take a steep path uphill to reach the clifftop. From the top, you can enjoy excellent views back down over Ellenabeich and Easdale. Here is an excellent spot to take some beautiful photos of the sunset over Easdale. On the summit are the remains of the brick structure and a bench to sit on.
Retrace your steps back downhill and follow the path along the clifftop until you reach a viewpoint down to a pebbly beach with the Insh Island and the Isle of Mull beyond.
From here follow the grassy path that crosses an old stone wall to start heading back inland. The path leads around the base of a small hill before it heads downhill. When you reach the road, turn right and follow this road back to the car park.
Easdale is the smallest permanently inhabited (59 people) island of the Inner Hebrides; it covers an area of fewer than 10 hectares. It gave its name to the Easdale Slate that began to be quarried here in the mid-1500s, and which by the 1800s had become an industry of global importance. A storm in 1881 flooded the quarries, and after that, the industry declined until the last slate was cut in the 1950s. At the peak of the industry in the second half of the 19th century, the population was around 500.
Today Easdale is considered one of the most unique places in Scotland. There are no cars, no roads and no street lamps.
How to get there
Easdale is separated from the neighbouring island of Seil by a narrow channel. To get there, you need to catch the small passenger ferry from Ellenabeich. You can summon the ferry during operating hours by pushing the klaxon or light buttons in the ferry waiting room on the pier. The return ferry cost £2.20/person. Check the timetables here.
Walk around the island
Once on Easdale, there is a path leading around the island that can be walked in 30 minutes. Follow the slate path, pass the old quarries filled with water and climb the hill to the viewpoint of surrounding islands. On the island, you can also find the Island Folk Museum that displays depicting of a range of topics; Puffer Bar & Restaurant, and a community centre.
Isle of Luing
Luing is the largest of the Slate Islands and had a population of over 600 in the late 1800s, but nowadays the island is inhabited by 200 people.
This island is a good place for watching wildlife, and it is full of bluebells and primroses in spring.
How to get there
You can reach the island by a short journey on the Argyll and Bute ferry from North Cuan on the Isle of Seil. The return ferry cost £2.20/person. Check timetables here.
Circular Luing walk
Distance 7 km (4.3 miles), 2.5 hours
This circular walk explores the remains of the slate industry on a coastline, passing through the village of Cullipool, with good views across to Scarba, Garvellachs, Mull, and Cullipool with disused quarries.
On Luing turn right from the ferry waiting room. The walk begins along an old track parallel to the shore. Follow the track and pass through the gate. Continue on a path close to the coastline. You can see discarded slate littered all around. Pass between a flooded quarry and the sea to reach an old slate ruin.
When you reach a grassy track, follow it to the bay at Port Mary. Here you have two options; you can continue along the coastline by crossing a stile at the left edge of the dyke. Next section is trickier as you have to do some scrambling over large rocks before climbing back up to the grassy track beneath the cliff. This area can become slippery, and it is impassable at high tide or rough sea. The route then continues more easily to Cullipool.
Another option (as marked on the map) is to follow a farm track heading toward inland and uphill. Continue to the right along a grassy path towards the summit of Cnoc Dhomnuill, the highest hill on the island at 94 metres. Continue along the ridge to reach the trig point marking the top. Here are excellent views across to the neighbouring islands, with Cullipool and disused quarries bellow.
After the summit the going becomes easy. Follow the path that goes diagonally downhill to Cullipool, and leads to a pedestrian gate. Follow the stony lane that leads downhill until you reach the village hall.
Cullipool was once the home of the slate workers. Here you can visit the Atlantic Islands Centre to learn more about the island or stop for a café.
To get back to the ferry, follow the tarmac single track road out of the village, past the village shop and then turn left at the fire station to head back to the start. Continue down to the pier, from where the ferry will take you back to North Cuan.
Tour to Corryvreckan whirlpool
You can conclude your visit to the Slate Islands with an adventurous trip to the Corryvreckan whirlpool. The effect of the difference in water levels between the sea on the inside of the island chain and the sea, which is the Atlantic Ocean is always dramatic to witness.
The Gulf of Corryvreckan is home to the world’s third largest whirlpool area. The whirlpools form due to the bathymetry of the area. There is a massive underwater obstruction to the flow of water which causes the whirlpools.
Tours to see the whirlpool only operate during Spring Tides (at a new moon or a full moon) when the tidal range is greatest and happens approximately 30 times during the operating season.
You can book a Whirlpool Specials tour with Seafari Adventures in Easdale Village Shop, located on the harbour square in Ellenabeich. The tour cost £48/person, and minimum passenger numbers are required for the trip. It is better to make an online reservation before your visit here.
These tours tend to be early morning or early evening, check the Whirlpool tour departure times here.
Where to stay/eat
There is plenty of option where to stay either on Seil, Easdale or Luing, but can be limited at times.
You can check the Bed and Breakfast and Self Catering accommodation for Isle of Seil and Isle of Easdale here.
On the Isle of Luing, the Self Catering is available at Creagard Country in Cullipool, as well as The Bothy in Bardrishaig. Bed and Breakfast is available at The Gorsten, on the west shore of the Isle of Luing.
If you prefer camping, you can stay on Luing at Sunnybrae Caravan Park, which is located close to the ferry. On Seil, there is small camping at the Highland Arts in Ellenabeich. Wild camping on Easdale, is not recommended because of space and the chance of falling into a disused quarry.
List of restaurants:
- Isle of Seil: The Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Tigh-An-Truish
- Isle of Easdale: Puffer Bar & Restaurant
- Isle of Luing: Atlantic Islands Centre in Cullipool