14 ways to get active on the isles in 2024

Active & sustainable travel, Arran, Barra, Bressay, Bute, Eigg, Gigha, Harris, Island enthusiast, Jura, Lewis, Mainland Orkney, Outdoor Activities, Rum, Skye, Tiree

By Robin McKelvie

Looking for somewhere you can throw yourself into active sports and activities? Look no further than Scotland’s islands, a world-class playground for active adventures. Grab your walking boots, your bike or your surf board (yes, you can surf in Scotland) as I share 14 wonderful ways to get active in Scotland’s isles in 2024. Don’t forget to download the Scottish Islands Passport app and grab copies of their excellent travelogues, as they have loads more ideas to get your heart rate up and lungs working in life-affirming island style. What keeps me going on these type of adventures is knowing that at the end of day I can throw myself into the local communities too, meeting likeminded souls about their own experiences of the great outdoors in Scotland’s remarkable islands.  

1. Not the West Highland Way

West Island Way

Everyone knows about the famous Highland walk, but what about the West Island Way? This cheekily named walk on Bute is a piggy-backing stunner. I’ve done the whole 30-mile route over three days and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The sweeping coastal stretch in the south kicks things off in style, before you work your way back up to the island capital of Rothesay, then hike through the Clearances villages of Glen More. Your adventure culminates through the thick forests of Rhubodach.

2. Pedal right round a whole island

Arran, Scotland’s seventh largest island, is ideal for cycling around. It is nigh 60 miles, but fit cyclists can easily manage it. I say ‘easily’ but there are some testing gradients, especially around Lochranza and Lagg. A lovely way to enjoy it is to break your journey at the cyclist-friendly Lagg Hotel in the island’s south. If MTB is more your thing there are tracks too in the local forests.

3. Go to Gigha


Community-run Gigha just off the shore of Kintyre makes you think about how islands in general can be set-up. It’s also great for walking and cycling, with one quiet road running right up the spine of the island, offering access to its bountiful white sand beaches, ancient sites and rugged coast. There are now marked hiking routes leading off from the main artery and – even newer – a cycle route linking the campsite.

4. Hit the surf

Tiree is simply world-class for both windsurfing and surfing. The dependable winds and surf mean major competitions are held here, including the famous Tiree Wave Classic. There always seem to be at least a few watersports enthusiasts around. It’s quite a feeling bashing through the waves off a striking white sand beach knowing the next landfall is the Americas.

5. The island with it all for walkers

Skye really has it all for two-booted adventure. There are testing mountain conditions with the nearest the UK gets to the tougher Alpine routes on the staggering Cuillin ridge. What really impresses me, though, is Skye’s sheer variety. You can get in amongst the otherworldly crags of the Quiraing relatively easily and there are a sweep of low-level coastal walks too. If you plan on dedicating most of your holiday to walking you will adore Skye, which is why so many hikers keep coming back.

6. Hairy hill race

One of the Paps of Jura

Mad, crazy and foolhardy are just some of the words that the notorious annual Isle of Jura Fell Race conjures up for me. I’m delighted when I hike up a single one of the scree-ravaged Paps of Jura, but these dedicated men and women soar up all three Paps and ancillary peaks (seven summits in total) to on a scarcely believable race that must seriously confuse the bountiful local deer. If you love fell running, this race will blow your mind.

7. Hike the other Cuillin

The Isle of Rum, by far the largest of the Small Isles that lie south of Skye, boasts its own version of the Cuillin. The mountains may not be Munros, but they are wild, challenging and spirit-soaring. The full Rum ridge walk is one of Scotland’s finest. We’re talking over 20km of world-class adventure tackling six peaks in a day, with scrambling and route-finding in the challenging mix. You will never forget summiting Barkeval, Hallival, Askival, Trollaval, Ainshval and Sgurr nan Gillean though.

8. Excellent e-bikes

Eigg Adventures boast the first fleet of e-bikes powered by local green energy on any island in the world. Step off CalMac and you’ll find this seriously helpful business at the welcoming local community hub, An Laimhrig. They can recommend routes that explore the island based on what you want to see and do, whether it is visit the island’s lovely wee museum or head over the hills to the white sands of Laig Bay. They have manual bikes too if you want more of a workout.

9. Follow the Hebridean Way

The Hebridean Way cycling route is quite something. Mere mortals just don’t do it in the 24 hours it took Mark Beaumont in 2016 when he helped launched this serious two-wheeled challenge in the Outer Hebrides. It’s best to start in the south on Vatersay to make the most of the prevailing winds. Then you sweep north, taking in a whopping 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and a brace of CalMac ferries en route to the wild Butt of Lewis.

10. Paddle with the seals

Robin in Barra

I like to think of bijou Barra as a sort of ‘Outer Hebrides in Miniature’, ideal for those who don’t have time to really immerse themselves in the 130-mile long archipelago. Sea kayaking is a great way to explore Barra and Clearwater Paddling lead the way. I loved my trip with them around some wee islets on a uninhabited stretch of coastline. The most memorable part was chancing upon a hulking adult male seal savouring his lunch just a metre away when we paddled into a wee cove.

11. The beaches the Caribbean copies

When I was researching the first National Geographic Scotland guide an American visitor opined that Harris’ beaches were ”just like the Caribbean”. I pointed out that it was the other way round and the landscapes here on the island’s west are millions of years older. There are also great for hardy wild swimmers. I’ve swam at Luskentyre and a few others here and loved every bracing, life-affirming dip.

12. World-class scuba diving

There is truly nothing quite like Orkney’s Scapa Flow, the finest natural harbour in the British Isles, an oasis you always see on round-ups of the world’s best scuba diving – and especially – wreck diving sites. Scapa Flow saw serious action in both World Wars and its wreck dives are legendary around the globe today. Some sites are shut off as war graves, but others allow you the unique chance to explore warships slowly being reclaimed by Mother Nature.

Robin hiking in Hoy

13. Walk this way

If you’ve always wondered what that island is just across from Lerwick on Shetland wonder no longer. Hop on the local ferry and soon you will be on glorious Bressay. Come armed with your Scottish Islands Passport ‘Shaping Our Islands’ travelogue. It not only fills you in on the island in general and its main attraction, it also opens up some great walks. Choose to hike north or south to check out the World War One naval guns that guard the entrance to Lerwick Harbour. An alternative is hiking to Anderhill and the Admiralty lookout station that boasts epic views back to Lerwick. The travelogue also tells you about what is surely the UK’s most northerly Park Run!

14. Use your imagination

There are dozens and dozens of sports and activities you can savour on Scotland’s islands. We’ve not even touched on coasteering and geocaching here, nor whitewater kayaking and the newer crazes of stand up paddle boarding and e-foil. You’ll find loads more ideas, including plenty of smaller islands to explore, on the Scottish Islands Passport app and in the travelogues, so make sure to take a look. Also they’d love to hear about what adventures you get up to in the isles. Just include their handle on your social channels and they’ll check it out.

  *Your health and safety is paramount, so prepare properly for any activity and don’t take any chances. Check conditions locally, makes sure you have the right gear and are up to the chosen activity at this point in your life. Always let someone know what you are doing, where and when too. Enjoy!

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