The Isle of Kerrera is a jewel in the Forth of Lorne. It sits just across the bay from Oban and thus makes for a perfect island day trip on the west coast. Use this guide to plan your day trip to Kerrera, enjoy its famous tea garden and see the dramatic ruins of Gylen Castle.
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The Isle of Kerrera has been on my radar for a long time. Or more like, on my horizon – as it’s always visible whenever you stroll along the waterfront of Oban or look out west from McCaig’s Tower.
The island is best known for the ruins of Gylen Castle, which still guard the entrance of the Sound of Kerrera to the south, and the delicious treats being served up at Kerrera Tea Garden.
I visited the Isle of Kerrera on a day trip with local mountain guide Kirsty Pallas. Not only did she take us to see some of Kerrera’s highlights, she also showed us round some of the hidden gems along the way.
I hope this guide inspires you to explore this wee island for yourself, and you use it to plan your own day trip to Kerrera.
Listen to Traces on my podcast Wild for Scotland – an immersive story about my day trip to Kerrera!
Kerrera Travel Guide
Where is the Isle of Kerrera
Kerrera is a small island, nestled between Oban on the mainland and the Isle of Mull.
It is home to small community of islanders who live spread across two settlements in the far south of the island and on the north end.
Getting to the Isle of Kerrera
Calmac operates a short ferry from Gallanach near Oban to Balliemore on Kerrera. The boat operates daily and the journey time is approximately 5 minutes. Despite the short journey, the ferry has scheduled departures – it does not just swing back and forth, so consider that when you plan your trip.
The ferry slipway at Gallanach lies about 2 miles south of Oban. Parking is available at the slipway, but I recommend arriving early to secure a spot. Cars are not permitted on the boat. There is also a regular local bus from Oban to Gallanach (West Coast Motors service 417).
Kerrera Marina at the north end of the island operates a water taxi to and from Oban.
You might also like: My favourite day trips from Oban
Getting around the island
Since visitors cannot bring their cars across to the island, there are really only two options to get around the Isle of Kerrera: on foot or by bike.
There are several forestry grade tracks (essentially wide gravel roads) from the ferry slipway to Upper Gylen, and since 2022 there is also a vehicle track connecting the south end of the island to Ardentrive in the north. These tracks would also be suitable for hybrid cycling. If you want to explore any other parts of the islands, it would be best to bring a mountain bike and expect rough paths.
There are many paths and trails across the Isle of Kerrera, making exploring the island on foot the best option. See more information about suggested hiking routes below.
Accommodation on Kerrera
There are four options for places to stay on the Isle of Kerrera:
- A self-catering chalet at Horseshoe Bay (sleeps up to 5 guests, email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire or book via AirBnB)
- A self-catering cottage near Ardentrive Farm (email to email@example.com to enquire)
- The bunkhouse at Kerrera Tea Garden which can be rented by small groups or families and sleeps up to 7 guests
- The Galley Cabin near Gylen Castle, a small hideaway for two guests
Of course, if you arrive on your own boat, you can moor at Kerrera Marina.
Where to eat on Kerrera
There are two places to eat on the Isle of Kerrera:
- The Kerrera Tea Garden near Gylen Castle is open five days a week during the summer (Tue-Mon, April to September). They serve hearty soups, homemade breads and a selection of delicious cakes. Note: The tea garden used to be cash-only, but now also accepts card payments.
- Waypoint Restaurant at Kerrera Marina (the north end of the island) is open five days a week (Wed-Sun), although the bar is also open on other weekdays. They serve coffee and cake in the morning, lunch and dinner, and focus on using local produce, including food from their own farm.
There are two farms on Kerrera: Balliemore and Ardentrive. Both farms sell their own local produce, with a focus on meat.
Kerrera Walking Routes
There are many trails on Kerrera, so if you are comfortable with navigating with a map and compass, you can simply set out and explore.
If you prefer the reassurance of recommended walking routes, chose one of two hiking trails below.
South & Central Circuit
The 7-mile loop trail around the southern half of Kerrera begins at the ferry slipway, crosses over the central hills, and runs past Balliemore Farm and the west coast of the island towards Upper and Lower Gylen. The ruins of Gylen Castle and treats at Kerrera Tea Garden mark a great halfway point. From there, a wide track leads back along the eastern shore towards the ferry.
The entire route takes approximately 4 hours, but you can easily spend all day exploring interesting hills, bays and features alongside the trail.
Alternatively, you can also just walk to the Tea Garden along the wide track, explore around Gylen Castle and return the same way as you came. That’s actually what we did.
Listen to my interview with Kirsty Pallas about being a mountain guide in the Scottish hills.
North End Walk
This slightly shorter, 6-mile loop takes you around the northern half of Kerrera. Begin as above, by crossing to the west coast of the island and passing Balliemore Farm. Soon after the farmstead turn right to head north towards Ardentrive. Some of the trail along the west coast has no track and is generaly a bit rougher than the south loop.
Break up your walk at the marina and stop by Waypoint Restaurant. Don’t miss the detour to Hutcheson’s Memorial, the obelisk which you will have seen from Oban, no doubt.
Return the same way as you came or use the newly opened vehicle track along the eastern shore back to the ferry.
The entire route takes approximately 4 hours, but you have the option to return to Oban via water taxi from the marina (should be booked in advance).
You might also like: Beautiful Hiking Trails in Scotland
Interesting places to visit in Kerrera’s south
Since we only walked to Lower Gylen and back, I wanted to point out a few of the highlights along this hiking route.
Gylen Castle is a dramatic castle ruin that sits on a rock overlooking the bay in the south of Kerrera. Like many other castles in this area, Gylen Castle was positioned at the entrance of a bay or sound, monitoring and guarding who moved up or down the waterway. Other such examples are Duart Castle on Mull, Dunollie Castle near Oban or Castle Stalker near Appin.
The castle was built in 1582 as a stronghold for the Clan MacDougall. The family lived here for just 65 years, before the castle was besieged and eventually set ablaze by the English-backed Covenanters.
The roof was never restored and the castle has lain empty ever since. All that remains is the imposing central tower and some of the fascinating features and decorations on the castle walls, such as an oriel window on the third floor.
Gylen Castle is free to visit.
Iron Age Fort at Horseshoe Bay
The Isle of Kerrera has been inhabited for thousands of years. However the traces of those early settlements are much harder to find than the medieval castle.
On a hill overlooking Little Horseshoe Bay, on the eastern shore of Kerrea, you can find the remains of an Iron Age hill fort. Below the grass you can see and feel the rocks that tumbled down the slope from the wall that once framed the fort. At the top, you can just about make out the now grass-covered remains of that wall. We don’t know much about the people who lived in this settlement.
Across the Sound of Kerrera, near an 18th century castle on Gallanach Estate, you can see another flat-topped hill that was the site of another hill fort in the same time period.
Wildlife watching on Kerrera
While you’re on Kerrera, keep an eye out for wildlife. You will spot many sheep, but also wild mammals such as sika deer and wild goats. We say both on our walk with Kirsty.
On the coast, especially near the ferry pier, you might get lucky enough to see an otter.
The waters around Kerrera support many marine species, including grey and harbour seals, dolphin pods, whales and basking sharks.
And up in the air, you might see golden and white tip sea eagles, who nest over on the Isle of Mull and regularly patrol the coast and glens of Kerrera.
As you can see, there is a lot to do and see on the Isle of Kerrera. It’s well worth planning a day trip to the island from Oban, or staying for a few days to explore even further.
Have I inspired you to visit the Isle of Kerrera?
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