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Escape to the Scottish Isles with soulful sounds

December 5, 2020 Visit Europe No Comments

While Australians can’t get to Scotland right now, they often think of Scotland as all castles and highlands, and while these remain big drawcards, the untouched magical quality of the islands also attracts travellers to the region, with the fourth and final Spotify playlist in the #SoundsOfScotland series has been released, curated specially to showcase musicians from the Scottish isles, as inspiration for visiting Scotland once we can travel again.

2020 had been earmarked as the Year of Scotland in Australia (YOSA) to showcase Scotland’s finest traditional, Gaelic, Celtic, and folk musicians to audiences around the country.  However due to COVID-19, many of the planned events were cancelled, so the #SoundsofScotland Spotify series will help keep the travel dream alive.

The Scottish Island Escapes playlist features some the very best musical artists from the Scottish islands – illustrating the diversity of sounds and language that come from individual singers and group ensembles.

Scotland has over 900 offshore islands and it can be tricky to know where to go and what to do, but the team at VisitScotland has pulled out some highlights, providing a glimpse of what each group of Scottish islands is famous for, as well as discovering other unique experiences you can have while you are there. Most of Scotland’s islands are in four main groups: the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, and the Hebrides, which is sub-divided into the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides.

The Shetland Islands

Scotland’s northern-most island chain, Shetland feels like another world. Made up of more than a hundred islands boasting stunning scenery, the region is celebrated for its rich cultural heritage and historic wonders such as the Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse Settlement.

Fiddle music is particularly dominant in the Shetland Islands, and artists showcasing this unique musical genre on the playlist include: a group of Shetland’s finest folk musicians, Haltadans; and fiddler and contemporary harpist Chris Stout and Catriona McKay.

Pick up a Jumper from Fair Isle

Shetland has a rich textile-making heritage, and it’s by no means a thing of the past. Fair Isle is a small island that lies half-way between Orkney and Shetland and has a distinct culture all of its own. Travellers can head to the very island where the distinctive Fair Isle knitting style got its name, watch the crafters as they work on these intricate patterns and pick up a knitted souvenir. Drawing bird watchers and creative types, it’s an inspirational place with dramatic cliffs and exceptional flora.

Spot an Otter on the Island of Yell

On the Island of Yell, the largest of Shetland’s northern isles, your chances of spotting otters are high – it’s considered to be one of the best places in Europe to see them. The European river otter just can’t get enough of Yell’s low-lying peaty shoreline where they can often be seen hunting their next meal. Look out for seals and harbour porpoises off the shores of the island too.

The Orkney Islands

There are so many historic sites that a trip to Orkney could revolve entirely around ancient, chambered cairns like Maeshowe, dramatic standing stones such as the Ring of Brodgar, and the remains of traditional brochs and living quarters like Skara Brae. If you prefer white sandy beaches, imposing rock stacks and endless coastline, then the island chain has plenty to offer too.  The Orkney Islands have produced many successful island artists including: fabulous fiddle-led group Fara;  and contemporary folk musician and songwriter Kris Drever.

Dive an Underwater Shipwreck

Over seventy islands make up the Orkney Isles – that means hundreds of kilometres of coastal waters just waiting to be explored. The incredibly clear waters allow prime conditions for beginner divers and the island offers numerous diving courses, boat trips and guided dives for all abilities. During the two world wars Orkney was a naval anchorage and the waters of Scapa Flow are home to several fascinating sunken shipwrecks.

The Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides stretch for more than 200 kilometres, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean on the west and offering a striking mix of landscapes. Heather-backed mountains overlook windswept golden sands, with dense areas of peat bog in between. Of the two hundred plus islands that make up the archipelago, only a handful are inhabited.

Artists from the Outer Hebrides and surrounding coasts featured on the Scottish Island Escapes playlist showcase the diversity of genres that come from these islands, including: multi-award winning Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis;  the traditional Gaelic self-penned songs of emotional vocalist Kim Carnie; Gaelic supergroup and recent Scottish Traditional Music Awards winner of “Folk Band of the Year” Daimh; and powerful bagpipe, fiddle and accordion led tune sets by Skippinish.

Explore the Rugged Wilderness 

Travellers looking for wilderness on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean head to the Outer Hebrides. Guests enjoy peaceful relaxation, rugged landscapes, and a rare glimpse into traditional Scottish island life. Here you can watch wildlife, unwind on wonderfully deserted beaches, and breathe in the fresh air. It’s a paradise for kayakers, windsurfers, walkers and cyclists. History enthusiasts can uncover a plethora of ancient sites as well, such as the Calanais Standing Stones. And the fresh seafood and produce farmed from the land are another tasty addition to look forward to.

Peek at the Puffins

If you’ve always wanted to see a real-life puffin, St Kilda will be the island for you. Lying just over 60 kilometres to the west of the main archipelago chain, St Kilda is an isolated archipelago of volcanic islands and wave-battered cliffs which are honeycombed with caves and tunnels. With soaring sea cliffs of 426 metres at their peak (the highest in Britain), St Kilda is the most important sea bird breeding station in north west Europe. This dual World Heritage Site has the largest colony of puffins in Britain.

The Inner Hebrides

Jump a Wave on the Isle of Tiree, with the charming Isle of Tiree the most westerly island of the Inner Hebrides, with a mild climate and white sand beaches., so known as a windy place, Tiree is a mecca for wave jumpers and windsurfers, particularly each October when the island hosts the Tiree Wave Classic, the most prestigious and longest standing windsurfing event on the British calendar. Don’t forget your wetsuit!

Fancy a Wee Dram?

It wouldn’t be a real Scottish trip unless you indulged in a few whiskies along the way. The small island of Islay is only 40 kilometres long yet supports seven whisky distilleries! World famous Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg in the south are considered the most strong-tasting, peaty whiskies in Scotland. Meanwhile the distilleries in the north of the island – Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Coal Ila and Bruichladdich tend to be lighter, due to unpeated malt or water taken from close to the spring.

Meanwhile in Australia…

Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria will celebrate its Scottish connections in Postcards From Scotland, when 18 of Scotland’s best-known folk groups and musicians present a special virtual concert on Sunday 29 November, with each artist having recorded a five-minute ‘Postcard from Scotland’ featuring conversation and music which will be broadcast side-by-side in this entertaining 90-minute special. A range of Scottish landmarks representing the artists’ home locations – from the Borders to Shetland – will be screened in this armchair travel extravaganza.

Marking what would have been the culmination of YOSA, a number of Scottish artists will also send New Year greetings to festival audiences returning down under, with back where YOSA all started at world renowned Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, this year the festival welcomes a much more relaxed event for local audiences – Bushtime, with specially recorded sets from Scottish artists including Breabach, Elephant Sessions, The Langan Band and Ryan Young will be broadcast to festival audiences as they prepare to ring in the New Year, alongside a live programme of Queensland artists.

In the meantime, while we’re all at home, enjoy the playlist and check out more of Scotland’s amazing islands here: https://www.visitscotland.com/blog/islands/scottish-islands-virtual-tours-from-home/ and to access the Scottish Island Escapes Spotify playlist, please click here or scan the below into your Spotify search bar:

A report by John Alwyn-Jones

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