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I love my ferries, I mean I seriously love my ferries and, fortunately, so do my two wee girls, Tara and Emma! While some families shy away from a trip to the isles in winter we actually find it’s a great time to escape the humdrum post-Christmas comedown with the summer holidays still so far off.

I was inspired to think about my favourite CalMac isles in winter by the ferry company’s new #MatesRates campaign, which stresses how good value ferry journeys are these days with all routes now benefiting from RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) fares.

I’d love if you could find time to jump aboard with me now, along with your excited kids, as we set sail with CalMac to discover my Top 5 Island Family Winter Escapes for 2017.

Sunset at Talisker bay on the Isle of Skye

Sunset at Talisker bay on the Isle of Skye © Duncan Andison


McKelvie Girls on Arran

McKelvie Girls on Arran © Robin McKelvie

1. Arran

This is perhaps the ultimate family island to escape to in winter, something we’ve done many times, as we have a family house on the island. Arran really bashes on through the winter rather than going into hibernation. It’s a great time of year to enjoy the island’s wildlife, with the mighty red deer easily visible in the bare glens and golden eagles soaring against ice blue skies. If the weather turns the Auchrannie Resort is on hand with a large swimming pool, complete with kids areas, and a superb soft play centre in the form of the Play Barn. There are plenty of accommodation options across Arran, many located within a short trip of the ferry terminal.

CalMac ferry arriving in Brodick, Isle of Arran

CalMac ferry arriving in Brodick, Isle of Arran © Robin McKelvie

2. Skye

As the largest of the Inner Hebrides Skye has an awful lot to offer in all seasons. I love visiting in winter, as the whole island is so much quieter. The island capital of Portree is still a hotbed of activity, with plenty of wee shops, cafes and restaurants open to keep you and your wee ones occupied on a wild winter day. When the sun is out there are some great walks to enjoy – my girls love visiting the secret ‘Fairy Hill’. I’m not going to reveal where it is, so you will have to ask at the Uig ferry terminal. Then when you get to the land of fairies the chances are that you will be the only humans there!

Uig Ferry, Skye

Uig Ferry, Skye © CalMac

3. Coll

Stick with me, I’m recommending stunning Coll for its beaches. I am not suggesting for a minute you should take your young ones into the, ahem, slightly chilly winter waters. Oh no, but I do love that Coll has over 20 sandy beaches, which are all are easily accessible as the island is so flat. These are ideal for a bracing winter stroll and the chances are you will have them all to yourself. Kids don’t really care much about the weather, so they will soon be bashing around enjoying all that space filling their lungs with good old-fashioned fresh air. On a more educational note visiting Coll offers a window into a very different winter way of living, as the whole community has to remain tight-knit to help each other through the harsher months.

Beaches of Coll

Beaches of Coll © Robin McKelvie

4. Mull

This lovely Inner Hebridean island escape is always a winner with my girls, and it is still very much known to them as ‘Balamory’. The island capital of Tobermory starred so memorably in the BBC series Balamory and they still love working out which house is which. I was rumbled by my youngest recently when they told Mummy that Daddy’s Balamory tour included a stop at the ‘Balamory Whisky Distillery’! Beyond Tobermory another big draw for families is wildlife. Mull is arguably the finest island in Scotland for spotting wildlife, with golden and sea eagles in the skies, a big population of red deer (who come down to the lower slopes in winter), and all manner of porpoises, dolphins and even whales in the local waters. Keep your eyes peeled even on the ferry over from Oban, as this is often great for spotting cetaceans, which always gets my girls very excited.

CalMac ferry off the Isle of Mull

CalMac ferry off the Isle of Mull © CalMac

5. Lewis

Robin on Lewis

Robin on Lewis © Robin McKelvie

Furrow across the Minch with your family this winter to the Isle of Lewis and you will discover a bustling town, in the form of Stornoway. The island capital bashes on much as it does in summer – minus the cruise ship passenger crowds. That means more space for you to explore the old streets and its green, open spaces. Stornoway is also home to one of my favourite family-friendly cultural centres in the isles, An Lanntair. Handily it has a cosy cafe to retreat to when a chill wind whips through the town. Outside Stornoway a world of adventure awaits, from the epic sands of Uig through to the mysterious stone circle and standing stones of Calanais. The latter is said to have inspired the pivotal stone circle in the Disney-Pixar blockbuster Brave. Your kids will probably recognise it before you do!

Calanais Standing Stones, Lewis

Calanais Standing Stones, Lewis © Robin McKelvie

Further Information & Booking

To find out more about CalMac’s #MatesRates, or to book your island adventure visit:


*This blog comes in association with CalMac


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