I used to think it was boring that my entire family were Scottish. “But my uncle is from Malaysia,” I would say in an attempt to make my family sound more exotic and international, though he has no blood connection to me. However, on my recent island-hopping trip in the Scottish Hebrides, my opinion changed as the following thought resonated with me: I am a full-blooded islander.
Though my mum was born in Glasgow, her mother and father were born in Islay and Tiree respectively. My mum then went on immediately to live in Mull. My dad and his parents were all born on the Isle of Lewis. I, together with my siblings, was born on the Scottish mainland and have lived a mainlander existence; however, my roots are in the Hebrides. In 2014, after Seanair, my last remaining grandparent, passed away, I became curious to find out more about the place he once called home. For me, visiting the islands enables me to connect in some way with my grandparents – both through meeting other people who had known them in the past; and by experiencing the landscape and terrain, the traditions and culture that existed for them, much as they still do now.
And so a plan slowly developed. I had 11 days and my route involved five islands – I had to figure out how best to cram it in. Cue scouring of ferry, plane, train and bus timetables and extensive consulting of the map of Scotland. Silvia, a friend from Japan days, joined me for the entire trip and on the Isle of Skye, we were met by fellow Invernesian pal, Kirsten, who drove us around the latter three islands. Island hopping is as much about the hopping as it is about the islands (I came up with that line myself). Especially when you’re travelling in Scotland!
Click on the links below to read more about my experiences on each of the island hops.
A scenic bus journey from Glasgow to Kennacraig and a ferry from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, led us to the whisky heartland of Islay, where my grandmother grew up and where my grandparents first lived when they were married.
From Islay we flew back to Glasgow and the following morning took a 25-seater plane to the flat, white, sandy beaches of Tiree, native isle of my grandfather whose family home still stands near the airport.
From Tiree, we took a long but beautiful journey by ferry to Oban: a delightfully scenic train journey to Mallaig, including a stop on the Glenfinnan viaduct; and a short ferry ride to Skye, the most famous island in Scotland and understandably so.
From Skye, we took another ferry to the rocky terrain and silver beaches of Harris, before driving on to our final destination, my dad’s homeland, the Isle of Lewis, for the ultimate MacArthur reunion.
A big thank you to Silvia and Kirsten, my companions and photographers on this trip. You’ll know by the photo quality which photos are mine and which photos are theirs! Silvia has written a number of posts about our travels on her blog and I highly recommend giving them a read.
Writing this blog set has been a bit of a mission and, as a result, I am publishing it several weeks after my return to London. However, looking back at the photos as a whole has made me realise how the trip was exactly what I had hoped for. I was able to meet, bond and learn from family on both sides, whilst spending quality time with friends I rarely see; I was able to tick off bucket-list destinations and sights; and I feel confident that I was able to demonstrate that despite the non-exotic heritage of my family, I am fortunate enough to come from one of the most beautiful countries in the world.