Thursday, June 03, 2010


Islay (pronounced Eye-la) was a magical place to visit. It's away from the usual tourist trails through the Highlands, and has a wild and isolated feel. It's largely flat, and although the Spring sun shone brilliantly the whole time we were there, the wind off the Atlantic had teeth. In the dark winter months, Islay would be a forbidding place, a test of character and endurance.

We sent three days on Islay, staying in Bowmore. Over those three days we visited five distilleries - Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. More on them next time.

It wasn't just about the whisky though. A great highlight was Portnahaven, a small fishing village built in the 19th century around a natural harbour on the south west tip of the island. Its small white houses crowd the road around the harbour, with seals swimming in the kelp in the centre of town. Many of the houses, we were told, are owned by descendants of villagers who have since moved away, and are maintained as holiday homes. Even with houses standing empty the town projected a cheerful air, with tubs of flowers on the footpaths, and locals out enjoying the sunshine.

On the southern coast of the island is Kildalton church. The roof is gone, probably ripped away during Atlantic storms, and the interior is carpeted in sweet emerald grass. On a calm day, it was a peaceful place, sleeping away the years. Outside the church is the 8th century Kildalton Cross, still standing straight, the carvings easily seen through a veneer of lichen.

Visiting Islay wasn't just about the towns, distilleries and scattered relics of a long history at the edge of the world. Some of the best impressions are of the places in between. Small villages around the coastline, wide flats with peat cutters drying turf for the winter, narrow roads lined with drystone walls winding over low hills, small beaches and rugged cliffs, the smell of peat smoke in the evening air, and the lilting sounds of gaelic in the pub at night are all part of the island's charm.


Anonymous Ron said...

Hi Nick, nice account of your Islay trip and compliments on the pictures, they look stunning :-)

3:32 am  

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