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Skye, Mull, Shetland, Uist or Harris? Our panel of islanders have their say on Scotland’s finest

We asked a group of islanders which island is Scotland's best.
We asked a group of islanders which island is Scotland's best.

Orkney was crowned Scotland’s best island in a recent survey but the debate is far from over, according to Skye-born reporter Chris MacLennan.

It is absolutely no contest because to me, Skye is everything.

As a born and bred Sgitheanach – translated from Gaelic as a person from the Misty Isle – you can guarantee that I will back my homeland against anyone.

It is my home, it is my happy place and to me, it cannot be topped.

Like fellow other islanders, it is something we feel passionately about – our island is always best and we won’t have another word said that suggests otherwise.

Chris MacLennan reckons Skye is Scotland’s finest island.

Orkney was recently name as the best Scottish island in a survey conducted by Which?.

The survey measured a range of factors, from scenery to tourist attractions to food and drink, and ranked the archipelago at 88% to claim top spot in the charts.

Orkney was praised for its stunning coastline, archaeological treasures and friendly locals and was also the only island awarded five stars for its tourist attractions.

Cards on the table, I am biased. But I don’t agree.

We asked a group of islanders from across the region why they think their homeland is the best.

Have a look for yourself and have your say in our poll at the bottom of the article.

What did the Which? survey say?

Shetland came in as runner up, just behind on 86%.

Harris, Islay and Mull ranked in joint-third position with a total score of 85%.

The Western Isles dominated the beaches category, with Barra, Harris and South Uist all scoring five star ratings.

Orkney came out on top of the Which? survey

Mull: ‘It’s a place that I am really happy to call home’

Nick Ray, who lives in Tobermory on Mull, regularly kayaks in the waters off the island, taking in its rich culture and stunning scenery.

He said: “I think it is just the expanse of it really – it is a big island.

“You look at a map and you think Mull is just another Hebridean island but it takes a good while to drive around it and also when you are out there you realise just how much there is to explore.

“For me as a kayaker there is hundreds of miles of coastline and then there is a lot of wee islands off Mull as well.

“As a place to live, the pace of life is really good and there is a good mixture or people who live here and people who visit.

“It is a really lovely place to live. There are no difficulties as far as I can see it really.

Nick Ray loves living in Mull.

“Mull is a place that I am really happy to call home.

“I have got no desire to move from Mull so that is an indication that I feel really settled here.”

On Skye, there was a more humble response than my own opinion from tourism management organisation Skye Connect.

The island, which underwent a year-long economic study in 2019, was visited by around 650,000 each year pre-Covid, boosting the local economy by some £211million.

‘We are not concerned that people are falling out of love with Skye’

A spokesman said: “Congratulations to Orkney for coming out top in this Which? Survey.

“What the detailed results show is how highly all the islands rank. There’s not too much difference between the top ten.

Old Man of Storr on Skye

“It’s noticeable that Skye’s ranking was affected by the lack of shopping facilities – which is not something visitors usually come to Skye for.

“Just a few weeks ago Portree was ranked most popular destination in the UK by TripAdvisor, so we are not concerned that people are falling out of love with Skye.”

Shetland: ‘We have probably the best potato in the known world’

Broadcaster Tom Morton, who lives in Shetland, celebrated his neighbouring islands’ success.

But he was sure to talk up his home and all its fantastic offerings.

He said: “I love Orkney. It has a fantastic record shop, something Shetland has lacked since the closure of the legendary Clive’s some 15 years ago.

“It has better restaurants, pubs, phenomenal breweries and not one but two fantastic whisky distilleries.

Tom Morton

“So why stay in Shetland?

“Well, we have reestit mutton soup and better bannocks, as well as probably the greatest potato in the known world, the Shetland Black.

“And lest I sell Shetland’s food short, great farmed salmon, superb and sustainable scallops, the best mussels in Europe and seaweed-fed organic lamb is just about better than anything you can get in Orkney, except perhaps on North Ronaldsay.

“My decision to move here was based almost entirely on my now-wife obtaining and cooking a piece of Foula lamb, from the most remote island in Britain.

“My life was never the same after that.”

He added: “Scenery is good for tourists but I don’t think anyone stays in a place because it looks nice.

Up Helly Aa

“I do think Orkney is a worthy winner, but which would you rather have, Up Helly Aa, with Vikings, reestit mutton soup, dancing, drinking  and bannocks, or the Kirkwall Ba’, which is basically a mass streetfight?

“Actually, I’m happy to attend both, as a spectator, and I can bring my own soup and bannocks to Orkney.”

The Western Isles: Wild, rugged and lots of hidden gems to explore

In the Western Isles, there are hidden gems to be explored in a place where the culture and way of life is described as “unique”.

Kate Macdonald, co-founder of North Uist Distillery, said: “Uist and Benbecula are more wild and rugged than many of the other islands that are easier to travel to.

Co-founder couple Jonny Ingledew and Kate MacDonald of North Uist Distillery

“The beauty of Uist and Benbecula is discovering and exploring all of beaches off the side roads.

“The real gems are never signposted, so speak to locals, get adventurous and walk or cycle along the coast.”

She added: “We have so many beautiful beaches here but if you only drive along the main road you don’t really see them. If you venture off the beaten track you’ll have miles of sandy beaches all to yourself.

“You’ll also hear more Scottish Gaelic being spoken on these islands than anywhere else.

“The culture and way of life here is unique.

“We have the most incredible food and drink here. The seafood and raw ingredients here are incredible, small-scale sustainable crofting has been passed through the generations.

“Each of the Scottish islands has its own character and personality so if you’re given the chance, visit them all.”