Curiously positioned halfway up the Firth of Lorn, Lismore is separated from the mainland Highlands and Mull by just a few miles of water in every direction.
Although the island itself is low-lying, it is surrounded by mountainous scenery: Loch Linnhe cuts into the Great Glen in the northeast with the mighty Ben Nevis and Glen Coe in the distance; Ben Cruachan is on the skyline to the southeast; Mull lies to the southwest; and the wild coast of the Morvern Peninsula runs parallel to Lismore, only 3 miles to the northeast. The surrounding higher ground, particularly the hills on Mull, means that Lismore lies in a rain shadow, enjoying significantly better weather than much of its surroundings.
The island is around 9 miles long and 1½ miles wide, with a limestone base that is unusual in the Inner Hebrides; thankfully this means that midges are not an issue on Lismore. Green fields, interrupted by rocky protrusions, are separated by undulating dry-stone walls, and houses are scattered in a rather haphazard manner – the biggest settlement, Achnacroish, is barely more than a hamlet.
The island’s shop, church and heritage centre are somewhat sporadically dotted along the central main road with little else around them. In the north, Port Ramsay is picturesque but has no amenities whatsoever, while the south of the island is totally uninhabited. Despite its proximity to the mainland, Lismore feels very much like the island it is.
What to see and do
On the east side of the island, a turning marked to ‘Balure’ leads to ruined Tirefour Castle. Despite its name, this substantial ruin is not in fact a castle but the best example of an Iron-Age broch in the whole of Argyll.
The grass-topped walls are almost 16ft tall in places and 13ft wide, enclosing a courtyard 39ft across. Complete, it may have been 49ft tall. One thing’s for certain: it commanded a magnificent position over the Lynn of Lorn, tiny Eilean Dubh island and out towards the mainland
Relics of St Moluag
Indicated by a wooden sign and visible from the road, St Moluag’s Chair is a natural seat in a rock, which sits in a field beside the road. The chair’s arms were broken off by a roadman towards the end of the 19th century. It is said that St Moluag used to sit here and meditate; sitting on it used to be considered a cure for rheumatism.
A little further south is the pretty, whitewashed local church, also known as St Moluag’s Cathedral. Visitors are welcome to join services and the door is always open at other times. This was the cathedral church of the medieval diocese of Argyll, built somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries. Although it is dedicated to St Moluag, there are no remains here from the early Christian period, though it is likely that the building occupied the site of an earlier church dedicated to the saint. Despite its name, don’t expect a cathedral – the church is rather modest in size, though there are some wonderful carved grave slabs from the 14th and 15th century outside.
Sailein and Achadun Castle
Taking the minor road towards Achinduin on the west coast, you can turn off right to reach the farm and shoreline at Sailean, also known as Salen. Here you can see the remains of an impressive 19th-century lime quarry and kilns. The Sailean Project is based here and you might have a chance to see their Highland cows.
Further down the west coast is the 13th-century Achadun Castle, probably built by the MacDougalls. It fell out of use in the 16th century, but the ruined walls are substantial, giving you some concept of its original scale.