Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Time to pack the flipflops, wellies, Tog24 and those speedos that you wouldn’t have been seen dead in a year ago but right now are rashly determined to squeeze into next week before leaping off Hynish pier, screaming “Freeeeeedommmm!” as loud as your healthy lungs will permit. Yes, Tiree is finally open for fun, frolicks and some fabulous boot-filling.
Many on the island are overwhelmed by the thought of the deluge about to rain down in the way of visitors but, the truth is Tiree has always been busy in summer. Accommodation is like gold-dust between May and August, often later, and obtaining a last-minute booking on the ferry nigh impossible. This summer we’ll have more daytrippers and certainly more campers, but there’s still a finite number that will reach the island and then find somewhere to sleep.
We had lots of first-timers last summer, what there was of it. People who couldn’t secure their first choice were desperate to go anywhere and settled eagerly for an obscure place that involved a ferry journey long enough to give the impression of a mini-cruise or, even better, another country entirely. Tiree suited some of these newbies very well and others less so. “Where is everyone?” a bemused customer asked, gazing out at the ferry car park, “they said this place was busy. I’ve been here three hours and haven’t seen a soul.” I wanted to say ‘Co-op – they’ll be in the Co-op,’ because the ferry wasn’t long away and the Co-op would be open again and fully stocked and always attracts droves, but it sounded so pathetic in my head that I couldn’t bring myself to say it aloud. I don’t usually think much before I speak but I had obviously said this aloud previously and my subconscious had learned from it.
It’s true. The Co-op and the pier are the two principal places where you are likely to see more than a dozen people gathered together (eateries being the only other exception). One providing supplies and the other a way off the island. The beaches are generally very quiet even on a good day. This is not to suggest that they aren’t used – they very much are – but most are expansive, allowing twenty or thirty scattered bodies to appear camouflaged were it not for the occasional vehicle on the machair or sail in the water. Balevullin is the only beach I have known to be ‘busy’ in the true sense, attracting upwards of 50 surfers at any given time. It’s a joy to see unless you were raised there and miss the natural emptiness it once knew.
Mainlanders assume that Tiree and other Scottish islands have spent the entire Covid year retreated into their shell, engaged in very little other than boarding up their ports, but not so. In Tiree alone at least six entrepreneurial sorts have been busy working on fledgling businesses, some with shop-front premises and others online. It’s an exciting time for the island and wonderful to watch it unfold again. Pick up our leaflet “A-Z of Places to Shop and Eat on Tiree” for a full list of places... well, to shop and eat on Tiree. Meanwhile here’s our soundbite of what’s new on the island, with a few regulars thrown in.
AISLING’S KITCHEN AT THE COBBLED COW was originally simply ‘The Cobbled Cow’ and is still at the airport, now with Aisling at the helm. Aisling and Kris have been on the island for a few years and have children at the school. Many of us have been waiting on this for what seems forever, all of us champing at the bit to to see what’s on offer and sample the fruits of Aisling's culinary skills. Aisling’s got form as a chef and it’s all good. This promises to be a great pit stop for lunch and pre-booking is recommended. Evening meals are in the offing but not sure when as yet. Closed Sunday.
THE CALF is a mobile unit at Scarinish car park selling takeaway food and drink. Limited hours, seemingly unlimited choices. Always busy, always popular.
CAFAIDH CARRIEANNE’S (Carrie’s Café) is at the pier in the former MacLennan’s Garage office. Expanded over winter into a shop selling takeaway sandwiches and hot food, drinks and gifts. If you’re a fan of a wee bacon roll before the ferry, this is your place.
REEF INN is Tiree’s newest hotel and has eight rooms, a bar and a restaurant and is destined to become THE chicest place to rest one’s weary head after a day at the beach. It’ll be one of the busiest spots on the island this summer with droves of folk like me popping in for a good ‘ole nosey and a silent critique of the décor (bound to be stunning). Oooh, can barely contain myself! A stroll from the airport, it’s also perfect for a pre-flight stop off or a cheeky wee G&T or coffee if you are arriving and can’t immediately get into your accommodation. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, whether or not you are staying there. https://www.reef-tiree.com
SCOOP'S MARINE EMPORIUM is, strictly speaking, not exactly new but new to the A-Z of Shops, etc. brochure, so that’s new enough for us. Fresh seafood is one of Tiree’s main attractions and Scoop doesn’t disappoint (that said, he may do if you don’t provide notice). Even if he doesn’t have what you might be looking for in the way of marine bits and bobs or a five-kilo lobster, you won’t leave wanting – Scoop’s worth a visit for the craic alone. At Kirkapol, about a quarter of a mile past the Lodge Hotel.
TIREE SEA TOURS and TOREZ VEHICLE RENTAL are both based at the airport in the same unit and although the sea tours have been running for a while now this shop is relatively new, having popped up between lockdowns last year. The shop has all sorts of gifts with a nautical theme (puffins, puffins!) and a range of posh artisan food which the likes of me would buy purely for the look of it, whether I needed it or not. This is the only place on the island where you can book transport for both land and sea, albeit a sea tour and a car, but still. They offer vehicle hire of all shapes and sizes up to a 4x4. Having said that, knowing Fraz I wouldn’t be surprised to find he could throw in a bus if you needed it. https://www.tireeseatours.co.uk https://www.toraz.co.uk
TYREE GIN DISTILLERY … well! Say no more!! Hallelujah – here we go, here we go, here we go! Get those doors open, who could NOT be WELL up for this?!! But before I show myself up as the classic Scottish stereotype with glass in hand, forever saying ‘slainte!’, this is not all about the booze. Yes, well, okay so it really is, BUT it’s so much more besides. It’s history, tenacity, skill, aesthetics, learning and shopping all rolled into one. They’ll have workshops, tasting sessions and merchandise and again, like Scoop, the craic is abundant and free. https://www.tyreegin.com
CANDLES OF TIREE is a fabulously smelly candle and accessories business started last year by Claire Vale, who moved from New Zealand to Tiree with her family a few years ago. At the moment only available online or via Chocolates and Charms, the candles offer a range of dreamy smells, but if you order online whilst on the island, Claire will drop your order off for you. https://candlesoftiree.co.ukhttps://candlesoftiree.co.uk
WELAN is the brainchild of Jason and Yvonne, who have a small flock of sheep adopted when they were super-cute and very friendly lambs, now grown into very friendly adult sheep. Yvonne uses their wool (and wool supplied by other farmers on the island) to produce hand-knitted beanies and bobble hats in all colours. All very ethical and sustainable. See more at https://www.welan-tiree.com
ISLE20.COM is not a stand-alone Tiree business but home to many businesses and crafts and worth more than a passing glance. It's particularly good for those who don’t have their own website but also serves those that do. Its reach extends further than Tiree, indeed pretty much all over the Western Isles, but Tiree is where it was born and resides.
So there you have it, Tiree’s latest enterprises to add to those already established, all looking forward to a booming trade this year. All in our A-Z, available to pick up in most places from next week.
Lest you’ve forgotten or are new to this glorious isle, a snapshot of veteran businesses…
Buth a Bhaile (Boo-a-valley) in Crossapol is the village shop and post office run by Elaine and has everything from local meat and vegetables to alcohol and postage stamps.
Farmhouse Café, Balemartine – open daily except Sunday. Serves soup, paninis, sandwiches, baked potatoes and refreshments. Also has gifts.
Tiree Lodge Hotel, Kirkapol – open all day, seven days a week for lunches and evening meals.
Chocolate and Charms, Heylipol – is a gift shop with tons of character and choice. Becca does the jewellery, Jo does the chocolate. All of it on Tiree. All of it hugely popular.
Blackhouse Watersports – based at Balevullin beach, this gorgeous beachhut entices you in with its colourful array of boards and hoodies and T-shirts and the ever-smiling Iona and Marty.
Dot Sim, whose studio is at Caolis, does jewellery like no-one else. Her designs are striking and elegant and infinitely wearable anywhere.
Tiree Glass in Balinoe is worth a visit just to see Frances at work, although it’s unlikely you’ll leave empty handed. She does such a wide range of things, there’s bound to be something you will find irresistible.
Wild Diamond at Cornaig has a wide range of surfing equipment, wetsuits and clothing and is one of my daughter’s favourite places to shop. Every pair of flipflops I’ve ever owned has come from this shop. I now recognise it as an addiction but I’m fine with that.
Tiree Tea has been around for two or three years now and remains a favourite gift for visitors. Five flavours, all available to order online or collect locally if you are on the island. https://www.tireetea.co.uk
Scarinish Hotel has been closed for two years or so and is due to reopen this summer.
Last but by no means least, us - Yellow Hare - your one-stop coffee and gift shop with a wide range of home-bakes and unique gifts. So delighted and relieved are we to be re-opening that we'll be giving away free coffee on our first day back next Monday 3rd May, which also happens to be our 3rd birthday, so a double celebration. Open seven days a week and 24h online, do pop by!