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Scottish anchorages

Oronsay, Caolas Mòr

Reserve this place for a hot summer afternoon or evening, definitely don't come on a bad weather day because that would be a waste (stick in the Colonsay Hotel instead). And if you pick high water there will be very few people around because they can only walk across from Colonsay itself at low water. The beaches round the anchorage are stunning with plenty of machair (dunes) to use as wind shelters, and great views of the Paps of Jura. Behind the dunes is one of the best of so many places for Hebridean flowers: tormentil, bog asphodel, birdsfoot trefoil, eyebright, heathers, orchids and all the rest. Marvellous! Picnic or barbecue, or both. We celebrated my eldest son's 8th birthday here, the first year we had Calypso in 1988.  


And then take a walk up to the 14th century Augustinian Oronsay Priory — a remarkably well looked after ruin for such a remote place (who is responsible for this I wonder?), so far off the ecclesiastical tourist trail. It stands on the site of a much earlier 6th century monastic foundation, with the usual — for these parts — St Columba connection in the 6th century, real or imagined. Indeed, the island's name comes from St Oran (or Odhran), an Irish friend of St Columba who accompanied him to Scotland. The present buildings are mostly 14th and 15th century. They fell into disrepair in the 17th century. The Victorians did some repairs, in particular of the west arcade of the cloister, the east gable and extension to the church (with the McNeil tombs), and the Prior’s House which contains some very fine 15th and 16th century graveslabs solemnly stacked up round the walls (no guide to who is or was who anymore I think). In a small chamber off the south wall of the church you will find a stone recess with human bones, something to scare the children.


Just to the west of the church stands the late 15th century Oronsay cross, one of the finest high crosses in Scotland. The cross to the east is much smaller and more weathered — it is a combination of an Oronsay school 16th century cross head with a 14th to 15th century Iona shaft.


The adjacent farm buildings look rather good, privately owned and currently tenanted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who are wedded to saving the corncrake and red-billed chough.


The island was bought and the farm restored by an American couple in 1984 — Ike and Frannie Colburn (his mother was Scottish which probably explains why). Jane Smith has written and illustrated a rather charming book about the Oronsay wild life: 'Wild Island, a Year in the Hebrides', Birlinn, Edinburgh 2016.


The whole island is designated an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).




Oronsay 1 Oronsay 2

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Oronsay Priory Cross

Oronsay Priory