The Scottish Isles: Visiting Islay

It’s been almost a year since I last set foot on one of the Scottish Isles. I have a goal of visiting every single one, and our next home-based trip is planned to be Mallaig, so we can visit Skye and the small isles (Rum, Muck and Eig). I’ve only ticked 4 off of my list, but by far my favourite has been the beautiful Isle of Islay…

The trip began disastrously, thanks to a satnav error that led to us missing our ferry (we’d set off with an aim to be there an hour early; that’s how badly the satnav screwed up!). Despite several calls to the ferry operator, we couldn’t get a place on another ferry, but carried on to the ferry terminal anyway. Thankfully, the staff at the terminal were able to fit us on to the next ferry! Being one of the first in line for it (we’d missed our initial ferry by about 10 minutes…), we were on quickly and headed up to the cafe for a coffee. After twenty minutes, we noticed the ferry was a little quiet. The captain then announced that a car had broken down on the entrance ramp! After two hours, we were told the car had been removed, but the ramp had been damaged in the process.  So, almost 2 and a half hours after we were supposed to depart, we had to get back off the ferry and wait another hour for another ferry to arrive. We were supposed to arrive to Port Askaig by 3pm, but ended up getting there 5 hours later than that, finally making it to our hotel at around half 8pm.

The main reason to visit Islay is to go on a whiskey tour, as the island has 8 distilleries and is one of the major whiskey producing regions. I broke the norm, despite loving whiskey and Islay whiskies being my absolute favoruite – I wanted to go to Islay because of it’s history! I love the history of the Lord’s of the Isles, important noble magnates in Medieval Scottish History. So on our first day, we headed out to Finlaggen Castle, the ruined administrative seat for the Lordship.

The castle is situated in on a large island in the middle of Loch Finlaggen, and is very picturesque. The Lord’s of the Isles fell in the fifteenth century and the castle was demolished by the Crown to prevent the descendants of the last Lord from reclaiming the Lordship, which until it’s fall had held most of the West Coast of Scotland and was a huge threat. So there’s very little left of it, but what’s there is well maintained and managed, and there’s lots of information plaques which detail the site and how it would’ve been used. There’s also a museum, which details the hostory and also has displays of archeological finds from a large scale dig on the site in 1991.

Once we were done exploring here, we drove across to the Southern side of the Island, through Port Ellen and out to see the Kildalton Cross. This stunning artifact is a fine example of the Stone Crosses carved by monks residing at Iona Abbey in the Middle Ages.

The cross is situated in the grounds of a ruined chapel, and scattered around the churchyard are several graves throughout the ages, including Medieval, which I was amazed by!

The views from the chapel were also pretty amazing!

We then drove Northwards again and went for a hike through the RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart. This is a popular bird watching site, and we made our way to one of the little buildings where you can look out over the whole reserve and write down anything you see. It was pretty hot by that point, so we didn’t hang around for long.

On the way out we found MacLean’s Cairn. I love Clan MacLean history so had to get out and have a quick look!

MacLean's Cairn, Islay - Word of Rachel

According to the plaque, the cairn marks the spot where the chief of the MacLean’s fell during a battle with Clan MacDonald, whilst the two clans fought for control of the Rhinns of Islay.

Attempting to drive back to the hotel, we found ourselves a little lost, but found this beautiful beach near Kilchomen.

After that, we headed back to the hotel and called it a day.

The next day we decided to get the ferry across to the Isle of Jura. Although being one of the top recommended things to do in Islay, Jura doesn’t have much to offer! We drove to Craighouse, the main settlement, where the whiskey distillery is, and had lunch at the Jura Hotel. The views in Craighouse are beautiful, but the island is quite bare and very difficult to drive on. After an hour of driving, we gave up trying to reach the Northern end of the Island and turned around to head back.

The next day we boarded the ferry at Port Ellen early in the morning, and headed home via Stirling and the Wallace Monument! I don’t have any pictures from that, but I really recommend it for learning about an important piece of Scotland’s history, plus some stunning views of Stirling!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post! I plan to go back to Islay soon to do a full whiskey tour, and will update you when I do!

Rachel xxx

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