If you’re tired of days out that see you never leave dry land, there’s a host of other ways to explore Scotland. They might involve a little sea spray and a wave or two, but climbing into a boat and exploring our islands, coasts and lochs will open your eyes to everything from our abundant birdlife to some of our harder-to-reach geological wonders. If you’re really lucky, you might even see a dolphin or two.

Loch Lomond

The so-called ‘Queen of Scottish Lochs’ is a perennial favourite for sightseers and day-trippers, and tour operators Sweeney’s run one hour circular trips around the loch’s south basin (adults £13.50, teens aged 13 to 15 £11, children aged five to 12 £8.50, children under five free. Family group tickets are also available). Sights include the many mansions which line the shore-front, the magnificent bulk of Ben Lomond and Inchmurrin Island, where Robert the Bruce once sheltered in now-ruined Lennox Castle. On top of all that, the audio commentary is by TV historian Neil Oliver. How can you resist?


Bass Rock

The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick offers a range of trips centred on the famous Bass Rock, home to a huge colony of gannets and other seabirds, but also taking in the islands of Craigleith and Lamb. The two hour Gannet Diving Photography Trip (£95 per person) is aimed at snap-happy amateur photographers, while the shorter Three Islands Seabird Safari (adults £32, children over seven £22) will see you take to the water in a speedy RIB – it stands for rigid inflatable boat. Meanwhile the Seabird Catamaran Cruise (adults £26, children six to 16 £10) is undertaken in rather more stately fashion on board the custom-built, 55-seat catamaran and for the intrepid, there’s also a Bass Rock Landing Experience. It will put you right on the rock (£135 per person)!


St Kilda

Everyone knows the story about how the last families on this remote island archipelago were taken off in 1930, but few have seen the place itself – and those who do will never forget it. An epic journey in every sense, boat trips to the island, which lies 41 miles west of Benbecula, take between 10 and 14 hours depending on where you leave from. There are sailings from Harris (Kilda Cruises and Sea Harris, £225 and £205 respectively), Berneray (Uist Sea Tours, £175), Barra or Eriskay (Hebridean Sea Tours, £200) and Skye (Go To St Kilda, £260). Land on the main island of Hirta, with its massive, towering cliffs, and you’ll see the remains of the inhabitants’ cottages.






Inchcolm Island


A terrific day out, trips to this island in the Firth of Forth are on the wonderful Maid Of The Forth (pictured above) and take you under the historic Forth Bridge – it’s the big red one that looks like Nessie – to land on the island itself (adults £16, children £9, children under five free). There you can look at the defences built for the First World War (and added to and strengthened in the Second), though the main draw is Inchcolm Abbey, which was founded in the 12th century. Earlier visitors included the Romans, who had a large fort at nearby Cramond, now a suburb of Edinburgh, and St Columba, who is thought to have visited in the 6th century. The island is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The small beach isn’t bad, either. A shorter 90 minute sightseeing cruise will take you under all three bridges and down to the island (adults £16, children £9, children under five free).


The Falkirk Wheel

Over 100 feet high and built to connect the Union Canal with the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only rotating boat lift – and what better way to experience it than on a boat? An hour-long Original Tour (adults £13.50, children aged five to 15 £7.50) will take you up and onto the Union Canal, over the aqueduct and back again, or there’s the shorter Revolution Tour (adults £9.95, children aged five to 15 £6.95) which takes only 35 minutes. But as the name suggests, it too puts you on the Wheel.


Loch Ness

“Nessie can be a bit tricky to pin down,” says the blurb on the Loch Ness By Jacobite website. “But hop onto one of our cruises and you might just catch a glimpse of her. Your Instagram grid won’t know what hit it”. Promises, promises. Still, no survey of Scotland’s vast array of boat trips would be complete without one offering at least a glimpse of the famous monster. These ones depart either from Dochgarroch Lock, five miles from Inverness, or Clansman Harbour, nine miles from Inverness. The two hour tour dubbed Contemplation includes the loch and the Caledonian Canal (adult £26, child £19, OAPs £23, children under five free) while the one hour Clansman Cruise takes you across the deepest part of the loch and offers fine views of Urquhart Castle (adult £18, child £14, OAPs £16, children under five free).


Corryvreckan Whirlpool

Located off the northern tip of Jura is the Corryvreckan, probably the world’s third largest whirlpool (it isn’t an exact science, though the Norwegian pair Saltstrauman and Moskstraumen are generally reckoned to be stronger). Jura Boat Tours (adults £50, children under 16 £30) depart from Jura itself while Craignish Cruises (adults £55, children £45) and Seafari Adventures (adults £50, children £40) depart from Ardfern and Easdale respectively. Tours generally last around three hours and are undertaken in RIBs. Among the other sights on offer is the area’s abundant birdlife, its various aquatic residents such as dolphins and seals and the house on Jura in which George Orwell wrote his famous novel 1984.




Loch Katrine

What better way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott than with a boat trip on Loch Katrine, inspiration for his famous poem The Lady Of The Lake? Eight miles long and just over half a mile wide, the picturesque loch in the Trossachs has been a magnet for tourists ever since Scott put it on the map and today you can journey up it on appropriately-named vessels The Lady Of The Lake or Rob Roy III, sleek modern cruisers both. Sadly the steamship Sir Walter Scott in the boatyard undergoing much-needed repairs to its boiler. There are various cruises available, the shortest being 45 minutes and the longest two hours (it stops at Stronachlachar). Prices run from £13 to £22 per person.



Staffa Trips runs boats from Iona or Fionnphort on Mull – the two are only 10 minutes away on the connecting CalMac ferry – and the highlight of the three-hour trip is this uninhabited island with its dramatic basalt columns and wild, evocative caves. Fingal’s Cave, the most famous, inspired composer Felix Mendelssohn with its great size and weird acoustics. Other notables who have taken a trip around Staffa include William Wordsworth, JMW Turner, Jules Verne, John Keats, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, so you’ll be in good company. There’s a bountiful display of birdlife into the bargain and if you’re lucky you might glimpse a porpoise, dolphin, basking shark. Even whales have been spotted. The vessel holds 67, is half-covered and has a toilet. Prices run from £30 for adults to £15 for children (children under five are free).


Loch Tay

One of Scotland’s deepest lochs and Perthshire’s largest, Loch Tay can be explored in Loch Tay Safaris’ RIB Iolaire which had a covered cabin (it’s heated!) and a viewing platform. Tours depart from Kenmore and take in Queen Sybilla Island, home to a 12th century priory, the Loch Tay fault line (in geological terms, the place Highlands and Lowlands meet), the abandoned village of Lawers, and the Scottish Crannog Centre, which was partially destroyed by fire in June, sadly. Prices run from £25 for a child to £40 for an adult.


Firth of Clyde

Dunoon-based Wreckspeditions run various powerboat trips up and down the Clyde estuary and, as the name suggests, they specialise in touring the area’s various wrecks. Shipwreck Hunters (£200) is a two-hour private hire trip for up to eight people whose highlight is a close-up view of the MV Captayannis, a Greek-registered vessel which sank in January 1974 while waiting to deliver sugar to Greenock’s James Watt Dock. They also run Doon The Water (one hour, £100 for up to eight people), which follows the route of the old paddle-steamers and Clyde puffers and takes in Gantocks Lighthouse; Castles And Cake (three hours, £300 for up to eight people), which heads up through Loch Long and Loch Goil, taking in Carrick Castle and the Boat Shed Café at Lochgoilhead; and Holy Loch Blast (40 minutes, £10 per person for three people). For that one, the degree of ‘blast’ can be altered to suit personal tastes.


Loch Fyne

Based at Portavadie Marina but also operating out of the harbour at Tarbert, Fyne Sea Tours carry 12 passengers on their 40 foot Fyne Explorer. A one hour tour departs Portavadie for a tour of the loch’s bays and islands and peek at the seal colony (£27 per person), while the two hour tour heads across the loch to Barmore Island to view Stonefield Castle from the water then lands at Tarbert to allow passengers a quick walking tour of the historic fishing harbour (£39 per person). Private charters are also available (from £160).


Isle Of Noss

One of Shetland’s smaller islands, Noss lies across the narrow Noss Sound from Bressay on the eastern edge of the archipelago. It had a population of 20 in 1851 but its last human inhabitants left in 1939. So why visit? Because in 1955 Noss was designated a National Nature Reserve, a status conferred on it because of its international importance as a seabird colony. Thanks to certain quirks of geology – massive sandstone cliffs, for a start, whose horizontal ledges make excellent breeding grounds – the island is home-from-home for 200 species. Among the visitors you’ll find black-legged kittiwakes, gannets, fulmars, great skua, storm petrels, guillemots and shags. The Seabirds And Seals tour takes three hours has a Lowered Overboard Marine Viewing Instrument to offer – a mini-submarine, basically – which will feed back underwater images (adults £55, under 16s £30). The two and a half hour Shetland Seabird tour makes more or less the same trip (adults £45, under 16s £25). Both tours leave from Lerwick.



Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm

For those who like their aquatic adventures to offer something over and above the prospect of dolphin pods, seabirds in their tens of thousands and jaw-dropping natural rock formations, check out this tour departing Aberdeen harbour for a close-up peek at the wind turbines in Aberdeen Bay – or to give the development its proper name, the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre. The trip is between 60 and 90 minutes and also takes in a favoured dolphin spot (adults £50, children £25). Muster point is Commercial Quay West.


Isle of May

Located five miles off the coast in the outer Firth of Forth, the Isle of May was once home to one of the earliest Christian churches in Scotland though the discovery of Bronze Age funeral urns points to habitation reaching well back into pre-history. Apart from a couple of Scottish Natural Heritage rangers who live on the island during the summer, the only two-legged residents are the 450,000 birds – 285 species in all – which call the island home. Among them are puffins, razorbills, shags, fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes, guillemots and oystercatchers. Other highlights include Scotland’s oldest lighthouse (established in 1635 and coal fired!). Trips to the island go from Anstruther in Fife, and you’ll be on board an RIB. The four-hour May Experience will land you on the island (adult £40, children £30) while the 75 minute Sea Safari (adults £32, children £25) will take you round it and close into the cliffs.


Eyemouth and St Abbs

Eyemouth Rib Trips operate out of the Berwickshire fishing port and potter up and down the coast giving you a view from the water of the area’s stunning scenery and exquisite Blue Flag beaches (yes, Coldingham Sands, we mean you). Among the other highlights are St Abbs Head lighthouse, the marine reserve (very popular with divers) and, of course, the abundant birdlife. As the name suggests, tours go out in a RIB boat and as well as the one hour Coastal Explorer trip (adults £25, children under 14 £20, family ticket £75) there’s the Fast Blast tour (£25 per person, with a minimum age of 10). It does more or less the same trip as the Coastal Explorer only in half the time because it’s going at twice the speed.


The Isles of Bute and Arran, and the Cowal and Kintyre peninsulas

The famous paddle-steamer Waverley is one of the hardest working boats on the water, with a hectic schedule which sees it offering tours all over the UK, from the Thames to the Bristol Channel. The Clyde summer season ends officially on August 22 but extra sailings have been added for the following week, with a host of departure points and destinations in and around Bute, Arran and the Cowal and Kintyre peninsulas, including: Glasgow Science Centre to Cambeltown, Dunoon or Rothesay; Largs to Lochranza; Rothesay to Tighnabruaich and Tarbert; and Greenock to Loch Long and Loch Goil. Times and prices vary.


Lewis Sea Stacks

Located off the coast of Uig on the Isle of Lewis, these towering sea stacks are a wonder to behold. Departing from Miavaig Pier in Uigen and heading out to sea via Loch Roag, Seatrek’s two hour trip lets you view the Stacks from seaward but doesn’t neglect any of the rest of the stunning scenery along Uig’s Atlantic coast. There are seals in the clear waters around Berisay, a beach and clear blue lagoon at Bernera, a ruined chapel at Temple Sands and for a little drama there’s the 100 metre long archway and blowholes at the islet of Campay in outer Loch Roag (adults £42, children under 12 £32).


Forth and Clyde Canal

The Glasgow-based Navvies’ Barge runs a two and a half hour trip to the Maryhill Locks taking in the city’s West End (£120 for a group of up to 12 people). At the Locks you can assist in turning the boat round using ropes. There’s also a longer trip which last seven and a half hours and travels to Kirkintilloch where there’s a stop for a pub lunch (restrictions permitting) or a picnic (£250 for a group of up to 12 people).



Located a mile off Mainland, this small Shetland island has been uninhabited since the 19th century but boasts the best-preserved Iron Age fortification in the UK. The Mousa Boat, as it’s known, operates a three hour Daytime Island Trip which also takes in the island’s nature reserve (adults £16, children aged five to 16 £7). There’s also a Storm Petrel Dusk Trip (adults £30, children aged five to 16 £10), though as anyone who has been to Shetland in the summer can testify, ‘dusk’ is relative concept as it never really gets dark.