Torsa Island and its wildlife

The island of Torsa is sheltered between the Isle of Luing and Degnish Point on the Scottish mainland. It is approximately one mile long by half a mile wide, the perfect size to explore! Guests access it from Ardinamir Bay on the Isle of Luing, where the motor boat is moored. Luing is only a half hour drive south of Oban, and is reached by a very short vehicle ferry crossing that runs every half hour during the day, and at select times during the evenings. If you will be relying more on your own boat then you also have the option to use one of the marinas in the area.

The island was well described by Patrick H Gillies in his book "Netherlorn and its neighbourhood" published in 1909:

READ PATRICK H GILLIES' DESCRIPTION OF TORSA »

"Torsa is a pleasant fertile single farm of about 250 acres. It provides excellent pasturage for cattle, and, unlike the neighbouring islands, almost its entire surface is capable of cultivation. At one time it was the abode of a crofting population of eleven families. The land was let on the old system of "run-rig," and after the lapse of one hundred years the narrow plough ridges, about six feet broad, are quite visible, giving a ribbed appearance to the long slopes of green pasture.

At the north end of Torsa, built upon a steep ridge of trap rock, are the ruins of a medieval Highland fortress: it is called Caisteal nan Con (the Dogs' Castle). It is supposed to have been a hunting-seat of the Lords of the Isles; but more than likely the name is derived from a sobriquet often applied by their enemies to the powerful Clan MacLean-Clann Illeathain nan Con; and although Pennant, MacCulloch and others state that the castle belonged to the MacDonalds, tradition clearly relates that it was built by the MacLeans, who, during the sixteenth century at least, held the lands of Luing, Shuna, and Torsa in feu from the Earl of Argyll. The castle displays the remains of two square towers, with a circular work at ruined scottish castleone corner. The walls are neatly fitted into the crevices of the rock upon which the castle stands, so that they form one continuous scarp, making an attack by escalade impossible."

Only the foundations and wall bases remain now of the castle from which fantastic views of the surrounding highlands and island landscape can be enjoyed. The fort on Luing above Ardinamir Bay is also worth exploring, especially for the views.

With easy access to the mainland you can also benefit from the many tourist attractions in the area. There is a small well-stocked shop in Cullipool on Luing, and in Balvicar on Seil, and Oban has a good selection of high street stores and smaller specialist shops.

Wildlife

The island and surrounding area are rich in wildlife throughout the year. Torsa is located near the eastern boundary of the Firth of Lorn Marine Special Area of Conservation, and within sight of Balachuan Hazel Woods on the Isle of Seil, a Scottish Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve.

Dolphins and porpoises can sometimes be seen in Melfort Sound, even from the conservatory windows!  Red and roe deer and foxes roam the island, otters hunt in the kelp and along the rocky shorelines and seals bask on the rocks in Cuan Sound.  If you're lucky you may see birds of prey, including buzzards and eagles, and the smaller shore and song birds are everywhere.  Several wildlife watching boat trips operate in the area, for a chance to see whales and basking sharks.         

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There are also a number of very good boat trips available in the area that take you out to the Garvellachs to the west, and close by the Corrywreckan whirlpool adjacent to Jura. These trips offer you an even better opportunity to see cetaceans, including minke whales, with the added benefit of an expert crew who can tell you more about the wonderful marine wildlife of the area.

Otters are regularly seen on the Torsa and Luing and can be spotted fishing just off the shore during the day. Although otters are normally nocturnal, the population of the west coast islands tend to be active during daylight hours as they are not often disturbed, and to tie in with the tides. Once they have caught a fish they tend to eat it in the water, but for a crab they come to the shore to deal with it. While walking along the shore you find scattered remains of crabs that have been eaten.

The skerries to the west of Torsa Island are home to a colony of seals that can be seen hauled out on the rocks and in the water. They are often seen from the shore and boats, and are naturally curious, enabling visitors to get a close view of them as they bask on the rocks, or as a bobbing head in the water.

The area is excellent for birdwatching, especially with a wide variety of raptors resident on Luing and the surrounding islands. Golden and sea eagles are resident on the more remote islands to the west, and do visit the island from time to time. Hen harriers and buzzards are more often seen, as well as peregrines and sparrowhawks. Ground nesting birds including skylarks and lapwings nest on Torsa and can be seen and heard throughout the summer.

Being an island it is also interesting to note the animals that are missing, including rabbits, snakes, rats, hedgehogs. This tends to have a positive impact on other species. For example, ground nesting birds such as oystercatchers and sky larks benefit from less predators for their eggs and chicks. There are plenty of hares instead of rabbits, and they are fascinating to watch, especially in the spring.

A wide selection of wild flowers are present, including orchids, especially in the areas that are lightly grazed. Most of the trees scattered around the island are native species, including rowan, oak, ash, hazel and willow. There are a couple of stands of conifers on the east side of the island which give cover to a small number of deer.

Ardmaddy Castle and Gardens

Torsa is a part of Ardmaddy Estate. Guests are wecome to use the facilities at the castle, including tennis court, games room, fishing lochan and gardens.

There is a path to the water gardens, and access to a woodland walk. There are several ponds within the water garden. Fed by spring water off the surrounding hills, the ponds provide a home for a wide variety of aquatic and marginal plants. There is a walled garden and the photo above was taken in September, showing how colourful the gardens are even late in the season. The garden combines a number of different elements with ease, including vegetable beds, herbaceous borders and water features. There are a wonderful selection of plants in the gardens, and a selection of these are available for sale, along with homegrown produce.

Location of Torsa Island