Bluegrass Airlines, December 2008


Gael Force

By Allan Lowson

Macrihanish to Grimsetter

“Departing Islay

Western Isles and Highlands Tour


This tour will take us from Macrihanish at the bottom of the Kintyre peninsula up the Western Isles and across the Highlands ending in Kirkwall, where the airport was once named Grimsetter. Just to make things interesting you can use some Real Weather that I downloaded to give you a feel for the seasonal breezes we get round these parts. I flew the tour in a DC-3 but feel free to use your own choice. Just be careful that you choose something that can cope with breezy weather.


Download file with starting position, flight plan and weather file.





Airfield Name




 Campbeltown (Macrihanish)




 Islay (Glenegedale)




Oban (North Connel)








Tiree (Reef)




Barra (North Bay)




Benbecula (Balivanich)








Isle of Skye NDB












Duncansby Head NDB












We depart from Macrihanish airport and, if you are using the supplied weather head out over Campeltown to the Firth of Clyde with the Isle of Arran to the north-east before turning  back to head over to Islay.

Campbeltown was once a centre for coastal shipping, boat building, coal mining and whisky distilling with 34 distilleries and was distinctive enough to be used as a classification name. Now there is only Springbank distillery in the town, and the other industries have faded away. Oddly enough the whisky produced at the Isle of Arran distillery is matured in bonded warehouses in Campbeltown. Client confidentiality and the laws of slander forbid me from adding any further tales at this point.

Macrihanish has a famous golf course and the first hole was recently voted, ‘the best first hole in the world’, by top PGA golfers.

Islay airport is at the head of Loch Indaal. There is an aerial photograph in the airport building taken by the Luftwaffe before the Second World War of the airfield. Perhaps they wanted to make sure that they came to the right place for the famous dark and peaty malts of Laphroaig and Lagavulin. Across Loch Indaal from the airport is the location of Bruichladdich Distillery, which became famous as the source of the Whisky of Mass Distraction a few years ago.

From Islay we head over Jura towards Oban airport at North Connell. Jura only has one road and one distillery, and the connection to Islay is by ferry and not by bridge as Microsoft might have you believe. The Isle of Jura malt is much lighter than those found on Islay.

Oban is the main port for ferries departing to the Inner Hebrides, and surprisingly enough has a distillery for those who have run out of supplies since leaving Islay.

From North Connell we head west along the Sound of Mull to Glenforsa airfield. This airfield belongs to the neighbouring eponymous Hotel.

Glenforsa has given rise to one of Mull's most enduring mysteries. On Christmas Eve 1975, a visiting pilot, Peter Gibbs, shared dinner and a bottle of wine with his girlfriend at the hotel. He then decided to go for a night circuit of the airfield, took off, and simply disappeared without trace. The following April, Peter Gibbs' body was found, though without any trace of his aircraft, 400ft up a hill two miles from the hotel. The mystery deepened when, some years later, the wreckage of the missing plane was found in the Sound of Mull, east of the airfield. No-one has ever satisfactorily explained how Peter Gibbs and his aircraft came to end up so widely separated.

Mull is the largest of the islands of Argyll and the third largest in Scotland. Further along the Sound is the main town of Mull, Tobermory – which naturally has another distillery. Stock up now, we are heading off into sterner communities whose islands are as bereft of trees as they are of distilleries. Tobermory distillery produces two different malts, Tobermory and Ledaig. Actually several distilleries manage this trick, Springburn produces three, but they tend to keep it quiet as it goes against the whole mystery of the “individuality” of the production process.

Mull is also a destination for bird spotters in search of Sea and Golden Eagles.

Off the south-west of Mull lies the little island of Iona, steeped in history as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. It was from here that St Columba spread the word across the ancient kingdom, and the island instils an inner peace in the visitor, no more so than in the tranquil Iona Abbey.

Also off this coast of Mull lies Staffa, where the motion of the waves crashing into Fingal’s Cave - formed from giant basalt columns - inspired Mendelssohn’s beautiful Hebrides Overture.

West of Mull we come to Tiree, one of the smaller islands in the Hebrides. Tiree, known as the sunniest place in Britain, is a haven for surfers, with wide, golden beaches and rolling waves from the Atlantic. The island has a strong Gaelic heritage.

Tiree’s neighbour, Coll, is a low lying peaceful island. Long, gentle walks can be enjoyed over the machair - coastal grasslands ablaze with floral colour in season. Overlooking one of the many glorious sandy beaches is Breacachadh Castle, the best example of a west coast 15th Century castle, home of the Clan Maclean.

Our next stop is Barra. Long famed for its beauty - boasting beaches, hills, machair and moor - all in a small island, Barra is a special place to visit, especially if you fly into the beach landing strip. Washed by the tide twice a day, Traigh Mhor beach is reputed to be the only beach runway in the world to handle scheduled airline services. Barra is home to one of the world's most spectacular and most beautiful airports. The wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhor, near Barra's northern tip, was famous primarily for its cockles until aircraft started to use the beach on 14 June 1933. Scheduled air services to and from Barra Airport began on 7 August 1936.

Between Barra and South Uist to the north lies the island of Eriskay. On 23 July 1745 the French ship Du Teillay put ashore a small boat at a beach on the west side of the island. This is now called Coilleag a'Phrionnsa, which translates as "the Prince's cockleshell strand". Out of the boat stepped Bonnie Prince Charlie, the first time he had ever set foot on Scottish soil.

Eriskay has a more recent claim to fame because of the story of the SS Politician, which struck rocks just off the north shore of the island on 5 February 1941. Amongst the cargo en route to New York were 264,000 bottles of scotch whisky, largely from Edradour Distillery.

As soon as the crew were safe, the islanders set to work saving the cargo. It is thought that over 2,000 cases or 24,000 bottles were liberated before the authorities arrived on the scene. In the aftermath, police and customs officers searched the entire island and several islanders were actually jailed for theft, not something advertised in Compton Mackenzie's bestselling 1947 novel "Whisky Galore" based on the story of the SS Politician, or in the film it spawned.

North of Barra we come to Benbecula. The Island of Benbecula lies between North Uist and South Uist and its airport serves both, as well as Benbecula itself. The airport is located on a spit of machair, grassy dune land, at the north west corner of Benbecula, adjacent to the main village of Balivanich (Baile Mhanaich). 

Aircraft have operated from Benbecula from the late 1930s, and in 1939 an air ambulance was based here. In June 1942 an RAF base was established at Balivanich and for the rest of the war a variety of maritime patrol aircraft operated from here, guarding Atlantic convoys and hunting U-boats.

At the end of the war, RAF Benbecula became Benbecula Airport, helping link Benbecula and the Uists with the rest of Scotland. The airport serves the islands of Benbecula, North and South Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland. The islands, linked by a series of road causeways, boast fantastic beaches and the machair coastal grassland typical of the region. They are a popular destination for outdoor pursuits and country sports, including salmon fishing. They are also renowned for the quality of their local produce harvested from the land and sea.

Our final stop in the Western Isles is the largest island in the group, Lewis. Stornoway is the principal town on the island. The town is a bustling port. Be sure to try the local food speciality - the renowned Stornoway black pudding which is exported worldwide.

Stornoway is the ideal location from which to explore the islands of Lewis and Harris which boast dramatic scenery, rich history (including the world-renowned Callanish standing stones), abundant wildlife and white sand beaches.

We then turn south to the Isle of Skye. The NDB is located at the site of Broadford Airport which is missing from FS2004. It is only 7 miles further to Plockton airfield, a small GA field, from which Skye is accessible. The picturesque village of Plockton lies at the seaward end of Loch Carron.

The Isle of Skye is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides.

Renown in history, song and poetry (where it is sometimes referred as Eilean a' Cheo - The Misty Isle) Skye is equally well known for its natural beauty and wildlife.

The Cuillin Hills and their gentler neighbours the Red Hills rise over the island and form its core, but the deeply indented coastline means you are never far from the sea.

Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, and takes its name from a farm some miles away nearer the village of Carbost.

Robert Louis Stevenson mentioned it in a poem, 'The Scotsman's Return from Abroad' in 1880:

The king o' drinks, as I conceive it,

Talisker, Islay or Glenlivit.

From Plockton we head north-east across the Highlands of Caithness and Sutherland to Wick on the north-east coast.

Wick is the principal town in the far north of the Scottish mainland. It was originally a Viking settlement, and holds the claim to fame of once being the busiest herring fishing port in Europe. As with most of the other fishing ports around the North Sea, the trade is greatly diminished these days.

Visitor attractions are numerous and include the dramatic 15th to 17th-century ruins of Sinclair and Girnigoe castles, the tiny fishing village of Staxigoe and the famous Old Pulteney whisky distillery. The Queen Mother’s former home at Castle of Mey is nearby and HRH The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, frequently stays there.

We leave Wick and pass Duncansby Head NDB on our way to Kirkwall. Duncansby Head is the north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland.

We come into Kirkwall across Scapa Flow, one of the largest natural harbours in the world, and a former major naval base and the location where the German Grand Fleet was scuttled after the First World War. Grimsetter was the name given to the Royal Navy Air Station that has now become Kirkwall Airport.

Kirkwall Airport provides access to the Orkney Islands from Scotland’s major cities, Shetland and Norway. It also provides inter-island air links to the northern isles of Orkney.

Orkney is a truly unique destination with a deep sense of history and vibrant contemporary culture. Kirkwall, Orkney's main town, is a popular base for touring the 70 or so scattered islands that make up the archipelago. There are air services between the islands and you can take the world's shortest scheduled flight – lasting two minutes – between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray.

We should not ignore the industrial side of Kirkwall. It has a distillery producing Highland Park malt.




This tour uses the FS2004 default airfields and no add-ons are required to complete the flights. I flew a default DC-3 in BEA colours, which can be found at as by Dale deLuca. BEA operated flights to the Islands from Glasgow and Inverness, but not along this route.


Route Map