Day Tripper: a day on the isle of Islay

For various reasons we’re filling the year with impromptu day trips from Edinburgh instead of a single, epic holiday. One of these did stretch the definition of “a day” quite a bit, but it turned out to be quite rewarding. And tiring.


It’s worth getting up early for the sunrise…

Over a series of emails between 10am and noon on a Friday morning, the trip was planned out. We went to bed early in order to wake up at 2am on Saturday morning. It was the only way to get the first ferry from Kennacraig (6.30am check in for a 7am departure) and enjoy sunrise over Kintyre. The ferry also gave us a couple of hours to get breakfast and a nap. (Photos from the journey can be found here.)


We arrived in Port Ellen just after 9am and stretched our legs along the southern coast towards Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries, enjoying fresh air and craggy scenery (and an ancient, forlorn standing stone). Islay has a ton of distilleries dotted about and we weren’t sure if we should get a liquid souvenir here, or leave it for later (we left it for later).


The American Monument

Our next stop was a breezy walk on the Mull of Oa to the American Monument, commemorating the loss of two troop ships in World War One, both carrying US servicemen (almost exactly a century before our visit). The survivors were rescued by the islanders, who also buried the dead.


Islay’s distilleries all share a paint scheme, with the names painted in large friendly letters.

There are a lot of single-track roads on Islay (the potholes were in the process of being filled in while we were there), and as I’ve discovered before if there’s one thing that brings selfish driving into sharp relief, it’s a single track road. You might expect younger drivers to be bad for this, but the tourists driving around Islay look like they tend to come from older generations, and drive absurdly large status symbols cars (driving about in a small car teaches you to be a considerate driver out of sheer necessity). I imagined the worst points to encounter a jowly, slack-jawed retiree driving like they owned the road, and at high speed: sharp uphill bends, blind summits, halfway between passing places. Those were precisely the points where we met. At least I was expecting them!



It was a relief to get onto the main road and head to Bowmore. We picked up a bottle of whisky from the local distillery, and didn’t hang about. Our various walks had eaten up more of our day than we realised, so we drove down to Portnahaven in the south-west (it was summery and tranquil), and then to the golden sands and turquoise waters of Machir Bay on the west coast.


Machir Bay

By this point it was mid-afternoon and our packed lunch and snacks were a distant memory. We’d originally thought about hillwalking or visiting Bunnahabhain, but decided food and a sit down at Port Askaig would be preferable.


Finlaggan used to be the seat of a local kingdom

On the way to the port, we stopped by the ruins of Finlaggan, established by a Norse-Gaelic chief in the 11th century, and a major celtic naval power in western Scotland, complete with its own small parliament. It lasted until one Lord of the Isles annoyed Scottish King James IV enough to declare his titles forfeit, have the lands confiscated and the buildings pulled down. This is all a chunk of Scottish history I knew nothing about – who’d’ve thought Islay was so important?


The Paps of Jura. [Insert your own jokes here.]

At Port Askaig we had a long, leisurely meal in an 18th-century inn built next to a 16th-century pub, and went for a short walk with a view of neighbouring island Jura across the water. The ferry trip back allowed us to have a nap before the long night drive home (we returned to the mainland after 10pm).

The drive home took longer than expected – a road accident near Lochgilphead earlier in the afternoon meant traffic was sent on a detour via Oban, up the west coast. We drove in shifts, and got back at 3am.

Like I said, the definition of ‘day trip’ can be stretched somewhat. Great day, though!
(More photos from the trip can be found here.)


4 responses to “Day Tripper: a day on the isle of Islay

  1. Pingback: Day tripper: tyres on Kintyre | Observaterry·

  2. Pingback: Day tripper: coasting along North Yorkshire | Observaterry·

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