On the one hand, you probably don’t want to go too close to the third largest whirlpool in the world, a maelstrom that swirls in this gulf between Jura and Scarba. On the other hand, it’s mind-blowing, and happens also to be one of the best nature-spotting sites off the west coast of Scotland.

A trip out on a rib here is not just about catching a glimpse of the bubbling cauldron, but also witnessing its wildlife. Porpoises, dolphins and whales feed here in waters rich in shoals of fish, sponges, coral and shellfish.


The island that is host to Fingal’s cave, a 227 foot cavern, formed completely out of hexagonal basalt columns of the same type as are found at the Giant’s Causeway, is a place of magic. Called An Uamh Binn, meaning the Cave of Music in Gaelic, its not just a visual marvel, but an auditory one, in which the crashing waves seem to form musical echoes, and which inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s famous music. The island was formed when a single lava flow cooled 60 million years ago. Land by boat, or, as some do, even swim in.

Bass Rock

Each spring this hunk of rock protruding from the Firth of Forth turns white from the sheer number of gannets and other birds nesting on it. Sometimes it seems to be surrounded by its own cloud of movement, a kind of shifting weather system of gannets, hovering and diving. Sir David Attenborough has described this seabird breeding ground – host to puffins, cormorants, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, shags and terns – as “one of the 12 wildlife wonders of the world”.

Best visited by boat from North Berwick harbour, after brushing up on your avine knowledge with a tour of the marvellous and informative Scottish Seabird Centre.

Sir Walter Scott steam ship

Back in the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott’s descriptions of Loch Katrine drew a generation of tourists. You can still experience this stunning loch, old-style, by travelling on the steamship Sir Walter Scott, which first started running up and down the water in 1899, and still is powered by its original Matthew Paul Triple expansion engine.

St Kilda

There are so many reasons to visit remote St Kilda, the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site – its complex ecological system, the fact that it's home to the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins, and a total of a million seabirds, including gannets, petrels, skuas, fulmars, guillemots, as well as the deserted and reconstructed buildings that are testimony to the community that once lived there. St Kilda is where the sea meets land in full drama, the main island a tiny 2.5 square miles, but with the highest sea cliffs in the United Kingdom. Awe-inspiring.


There has been some dispute over the years about what country this knob of granite, which sticks up out of the Atlantic many miles from anything, belongs to – the UK or Ireland? – the question being more about the surrounding fisheries than the island itself, since there's very little on the rock. Few people have spent very much time at all on this remote, wind and wave-lashed outpost, though Nick Hancock – a surveyor from Edinburgh – holds the record at 45 days. For those who fancy a visit, though, Kraken travel offers a boat trip, at over £1500 per person. Landing, however, is not guaranteed, since this is dependent on weather and sea conditions.

Sea stacks Outer Hebrides

Off Lewis’s west coast is a dramatic series of sea stacks, islands, caves and impressive cliffs – some of them 90 metres high. But the delights of such a boat trip, don’t only like in the rocks – there are the seals that lounge there and kittiwakes that gather in its sea caves.

Falkirk Wheel

One of the few places where you can float your boat, and also glide up into the air at the same time. This engineering marvel, connecting the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, is the world’s first rotating boat lift, and takes vessels 35m upwards before landing them in the canal. Before it was constructed, the canals were linked by a staircase of eleven locks, which took nearly a day to transit.

Isle of May

Not far from Anstruther on the edge of the Firth of Forth, the Isle of May’s attractions are partly about the seabirds – the puffins, guillemots, razorbills and shags that cram on to its sea cliff – but it’s also about the history. Here you can see the remains of sixth and twelfth century monasteries as well as the oldest lighthouse in Scotland.

Cruise Loch Ness

You can’t get closer to the possibility of Nessie than actually being on these dark, peaty waters – and, even if the chances of spotting the legendary monster are slim, you might catch a glimpse of some Slavonian grebes or fishing osprey. Plus, there’s the awe-inducing sense of being atop a loch that is 271 m deep and contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.