There are more than 50 islands on Loch Lomond, with 22 that have been named. For the best views of the loch’s islands then take the short climb up the Conic Hill (you can leave on foot direct from your lodge) where you can stand back and enjoy panoramic views across the Highland Boundary Fault which runs South West through Inchcailloch, Torrinch, Creinch, Inchmurrin and across to the western shores. But for those that want to experience the islands up close, here is our top islands to explore:
Inchcailloch is the largest island of the Loach Lomond National Nature Reserve. It sits directly opposite Balmaha and can be easily accessed by the Mail boat, Loch Lomond Water Bus or by sail boat or kayak.
Inchcailloch was an important part of the local parish. The ‘island of the old women’ refers to the nunnery that was founded here by St Kentigerna who came over from Ireland to preach Christianity. Legends that have passed by word of mouth say the bones of a woman were found under the altar stone during an excavation. Up until 1621 the church was the local parish church and its graveyard was used right up until 1947 and was the burial ground for the MacGregor clan and also includes some of Rob Roy’s ancestors.
The island has been used as a hunting forest since the reign of Robert the Bruce and many deer still roam the island. In more recent times, white deer have been seen on the island in 2003 thanks to the narrow shallow crossing which makes an easy passage for deer to ford.
Today, there are a number of nature trails on the island and a superb view from its summit. No matter what time of year you visit there is plenty to see. In the Spring the ground is carpeted with bluebells creating a magnificent backdrop. The island really comes to life in the summer with an abundance of wildlife and flowers but even in to the autumn and winter the island still has something to offer. The colder seasons a good time to see migrating birds and wildfowl that begin to arrive from colder climates.
Camping is also permitted on the Island and there are picnic and barbecuing spots available too.
‘The island of the Colquhoun’s’ is perhaps one of the loch’s most intriguing islands as it is home to its own wallaby colony. Wallabies were introduced by Lady Colquhoun in the 1940s and still roam wild on the island. It is one of the very few places outside Australia which has a viable population of wallabies.
It is also one of the few places in Scotland where the rare capercaillie can be spotted (a rare turkey-like giant grouse that live in the high tree tops) and has a wealth of secluded bays on the island that are unique to Inchconnachan and cannot be seen on any of the other islands. The island’s bays are a favourite spot for yachts, cruisers and day trippers and are an ideal place to stop for a picnic, and if you are patient enough, spot some of the rare wildlife for yourself.
Inchmurrin enjoys a prestigious history. At the south west tip of the island sit the ruins of the 14th century castle of the Earls of Lennox. Completed by 1393, the Earls of Lennox soon took up residence. King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) was said to have taken refuge here after his defeat at Lorne. However, in 1425 the Countess of Albany (daughter of the Eighth Early of Lennox) was exiled here after her husband, father and two sons were all executed in Stirling by King James I (of Scotland). The Countess lived here until her death in 1460, after which it was abandoned.
In the 16th century it was used as the hunting lodge for King James the IV and King James the VI (of Scotland or I of England after the union of the Scottish and English crowns).
In the 17th Century it was sold to the Montrose family where it remained until 1930. During this time, it was mainly used as a deer park and was the centre of the MacGregor and Montrose ongoing war in 1715 when Rob Roy and the MacGregors raided the island, robbing it of all its cattle and deer.
Today, Inchmurrin is home to a hotel and bar where you can enjoy food and drinks during the high season or sample a dram of the Inchmurrin malt whisky made at the Loch Lomond Distillery. However, the castle ruins remain, as well as other archaeological sites of interest and are all well worth the short walk from the hotel to explore.
Inchfad ‘the long island’ is most famous for becoming a registered government distillery after the loch’s illicit distilleries were all closed down. Originally the distillery was run by Duncan MacFarlane (the same family that runs the Royal Mail boat service to the Loch’s inhabited islands) and a canal was built to help transport the raw materials needed for distilling whisky.
The lush green grass of Inchfad attracts Loch Lomond’s fallow deer, which may frequently be seen grazing on the fields. The deer are not long term residents, but travel freely between the islands and to the mainland, swimming mainly at dawn or towards dusk in search of new feeding grounds. Another frequent visitor to Inchfad is the wild mink, an illegal immigrant descended from escapees from mink farms.
The island has changed hands a number of times and some notable owners include Ted Toleman, the powerboat racer who crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Richard Branson as well as Charles Collins, founder of the publishing dynasty.
‘The island of the yew trees’ is steeped in history with traces of man dating as far back as 5000BC. Stone tools have been found on the island which are as much as 7,000 years old. It is said to have acquired its name after Robert the Bruce ordered the planting of yews here as their wood was used for bow making, most notably at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Inchlonaig was granted to the Colquhoun clan by Malcolm, Earl of Lennox in the reign of Alexander II and was used as a deer park by the clan for several centuries. The last known permanent inhabitant of the island was Angus Colquhoun in the 1920s. As a game keeper he lived on the island where he farmed the land and he would row his daughters to and from school in Luss each day.
Now, the island is renowned for its beauty. With its high central ridges and valleys, many bays and the long vistas through its scattered yew trees, Inchlonaig is one of the most picturesque islands.
How to get there
If you want to explore the waters of Loch Lomond, canoes and kayaks can be hired from Balmaha House or small motor boats are available to hire from Balmaha Boatyard. Alternatively, the Island Explorer trip by Can You Experience is a great guided excursion.