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The Scottish Islands Portal
Welcome! — Fàilte! — Walcome!

Relief map of Scotland, showing some of the numerous offshore islands

Scotland has over 790 offshore islands, most of which are to be found in four main groups: Shetland, Orkney, and the Hebrides, sub-divided into the Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides. There are also clusters of islands in the Firth of Clyde, Firth of Forth, and Solway Firth, and numerous small islands within the many bodies of fresh water in Scotland including Loch Lomond and Loch Maree. The largest island is Lewis and Harris which extends to 2,179 square kilometres, and there are a further 200 islands which are greater than 40 hectares in area. Of the remainder, several such as Staffa and the Flannan Isles are well known despite their small size. Some 94 Scottish islands are permanently inhabited, of which 89 are offshore islands. Between 2001 and 2011 Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702.

The geology and geomorphology of the islands is varied. Some, such as Skye and Mull are mountainous, while others like Tiree and Sanday are relatively low lying. Many have bedrock made from ancient Archaean Lewisian Gneiss which was formed 3 billion years ago; Shapinsay and other Orkney islands are formed from Old Red Sandstone, which is 400 million years old; and others such as Rùm from more recent Tertiary volcanoes. Many of the islands are swept by strong tides, and the Corryvreckan tide race between Scarba and Jura is one of the largest whirlpools in the world. Other strong tides are to be found in the Pentland Firth between mainland Scotland and Orkney, and another example is the "Grey Dog" between Scarba and Lunga. (More on Scottish islands...)

Selected landscape

Selected island group

Satellite photo of the Firth of Forth and the surrounding area

The Islands of the Forth are a group of small islands located in the Firth of Forth and in the estuary of the River Forth on the east coast of Scotland. Most of the group lie in the open waters of the firth, between the Lothians and Fife, with the majority to the east of the city of Edinburgh. Two islands lie further west in the river estuary.

The islands have a varied geology and history and several have both ecclesiastical connections and were involved in military occupations throughout the centuries of recorded history. Various lighthouses and other aids to navigation have been erected on the islands and skerries, one dating to the 17th century, but only one of the islands is still permanently inhabited. The area has a diversity of bird and sea life and the scientific name for the northern gannet is derived from this bird's connection with the Bass Rock.

There are few islands off eastern Scotland and most of any size are in this group.


  • 13 June: Radiocarbon dating reveals that four crannogs – artificial islands on lochs – on the Isle of Lewis date from 3640–3360 BC during the Neolithic period, rather than the Iron Age as previously believed.
  • 11 June: The Scottish and Irish governments are engaged in talks over a dispute over fishing rights around Rockall.
  • 24 May: A fire seriously damages a pub-cum-restaurant on the harbour front of Tobermory, Mull.

Selected fauna

Stercorarius skua -Iceland-8.jpg

The great skua (Stercorarius skua) is a large seabird in the skua family Stercorariidae. The English name and species name "skua" is believed to originate from the Faroese skúvur or skúgvur [ˈskɪkvʊər] and is the only known bird name to originate from the Faroes that has come into regular use elsewhere. In Britain, it is sometimes known by the name bonxie, a Shetland name of Norse origin. The genus name Stercorarius is Latin and means "of dung"; the food disgorged by other birds when pursued by skuas was once thought to be excrement.

Selected history & culture article

An example of a page from the Orkneyinga saga, as it appears in the 14th century Flateyjarbók.

The Orkneyinga saga (also called the History of the Earls of Orkney and Jarls' Saga) is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney and Shetland islands and their relationship with other local polities, particularly Norway and Scotland. The saga has "no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland" and is "the only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action". The main focus of the work is the line of jarls who ruled the Earldom of Orkney, which constituted the Norðreyjar or Northern Isles of both Orkney and Shetland and there are frequent references to both archipelagoes throughout.

The narrative commences with a brief mythical ancestry tale and then proceeds to outline the Norse take-over of the Norðreyjar by Harald Fairhair – the former event is not in doubt although the role of the latter King of Norway is no longer accepted by historians as a likelihood. The saga then outlines, with varying degrees of detail, the lives and times of the many jarls who ruled the islands between the 9th and 13th centuries. The extent to which the earlier sections in particular can be considered genuine history rather than fiction have been much debated by scholars.

There are several recurring themes in the Orkneyinga saga, including strife between brothers, relationships between the jarls and the Norwegian crown, and raiding in the Suðreyjar – the Hebrides. In part, the saga's purpose was to provide a history of the islands and enable its readers to "understand themselves through a knowledge of their origins" but even where its historical veracity is lacking it provides modern scholars with insights into the motives of the writers and the politics of 13th century Orkney.

Selected biography

Official portrait of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale crop 2.jpg

Jack Wilson McConnell, Baron McConnell of Glenscorrodale, PC (born 30 June 1960) is a Scottish politician and a Labour life peer in the House of Lords. He was the First Minister of Scotland from 2001 to 2007. He was the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw from 1999 to 2011.

McConnell became an MSP in the inaugural elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, later holding the positions of Finance Minister, and Education Minister. He was elected First Minister following the resignation of his predecessor Henry McLeish, and led the Scottish Labour Party to its second election victory in the 2003 Election.

After losing office as First Minister of Scotland, McConnell became a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom. He made a commitment to continuing his work to tackle poverty in Africa and to develop the relationship between Scotland and Malawi.

Selected island

Skerryvore (from the Gaelic An Sgeir Mhòr meaning "The Great Skerry") is a remote island that lies off the west coast of Scotland, 12 miles (19 kilometres) south-west of the island of Tiree. Skerryvore is best known as the name given to the lighthouse on the skerry, built with some difficulty between 1838 and 1844 by Alan Stevenson.

At a height of 156 feet (48 m) it is the tallest lighthouse in Scotland. The shore station was at Hynish on Tiree (which now houses the Skerryvore Lighthouse Museum); operations were later transferred to Erraid, west of Mull. The remoteness of the location led to the keepers receiving additional payments in kind. The light shone without a break from 1844 until a fire in 1954 shut down operations for five years. The lighthouse was automated in 1994.

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Beacon on Lady Isle

Selected portrait

Selected human geography article

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig: Àrainn Chaluim Chille

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (Great Barn of Ostaig) is a public higher education college situated in the Sleat peninsula in the south of the Isle of Skye, with an associate campus at Bowmore on the island of Islay, Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle (the Islay Columba Centre). Sabhal Mòr is an independent Academic Partner in the federal University of the Highlands and Islands. Uniquely, its sole medium of instruction on degree courses is Scottish Gaelic.

Since its foundation in 1973 Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has played a crucial role in the linguistic and cultural renaissance of Gaelic in Scotland. The college enjoys an international reputation for the study of the history and literature of the Gàidhealtachd, past and present; for research into political, educational, and community aspects of minority language maintenance and revitalisation; and for its engagement with Gaelic creative arts, as well as with broadcast and online media.

Sabhal Mòr’s research base has been further strengthened to take in sociolinguistics, through the Soillse initiative; corpus planning and historical lexicography, through the Stòrdata Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig/Gaelic Terminology Database and the Faclair na Gàidhlig/Dictionary of Scottish Gaelic projects; and toponomy, through the Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba/Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland advisory partnership, all based at the college. Research capacity is underpinned by the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig Library with its internationally important collections of material related to Gaelic and to the Highlands, and further complemented by the proximity of two major Highland archives: those of MacDonald of Sleat in the Museum of the Isles by Armadale Castle, and the MacLeod papers in Dunvegan Castle. Through academic collaboration and student exchanges, the college maintains close links with partner institutions in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Nova Scotia.

With established residencies for writers, artists, musicians, and dramatists; its prominent degree courses in media and traditional music; its hosting of the national folklore digitisation project Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches; and Fàs, its £8-million centre for creative industries, Sabhal Mòr fulfils an important cultural remit both in the Highlands and in Scotland more generally.

Selected natural feature

The Old Man of Hoy from the north

The Old Man of Hoy is a 449-foot (137m) sea stack on Hoy, part of the Orkney archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. Formed from Old Red Sandstone, it is one of the tallest stacks in the United Kingdom. The Old Man is popular with climbers, and was first climbed in 1966. Created by the erosion of a cliff through hydraulic action some time after 1750, the stack is no more than a few hundred years old, but may soon collapse into the sea.

Selected panorama


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