The most southerly of the islands of the Hebrides, the Isle of Islay is only about 20 miles wide and 25 miles long. Generations of inhabitants have left their mark on this islands dating all the way back to the Vikings and proceeding through the feuds between the clans, the Clearances and the two world wars. The remnants of all these can be seen in the standing stones, forts, castles, deserted villages and the ruins that you will find here.
Islay is most famous for its 7 whisky distilleries, located in Ardberg, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caoi la, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich. The Islay Single Malt Whiskies are known for their distinctive flavour, usually due to the peat fires used to dry the grain.
The Isle of Islay is a common destination for birdwatchers. This is a paradise for the many species of birds that nest here, but walkers also like to roam the hills and trails from which they can get panoramic views of the sea, the countryside and even Ireland from the Mull of Oa.
The church of Bowmore is very unique in the fact that it is round, only one of two in Scotland. According to legend it was built this way so that the devil could never corner the parishioners. Celtic crosses provide evidence of a long gone culture. The Kildalton Cross is the only complete Celtic cross in Scotland that is still perfectly preserved. This cross was carved in blue stone about 1200 years ago.
Islay has a Stonehenge of its own along the road from Portnahaven to Kilchiaran. Only 3 of the stones are still standing, but when it was in the original shape it formed an ellipse. You can enjoy the peace and quiet when you visit these stones and reflect in solitude.
Visit the remote area of Kilchiaran and see the ruins of the once great Kilchiaran Chapel. Only the baptismal font remains, but just coming to this area is worth the visit.
There are several villages on the Isle of Islay Port Charlotte, with its whitewashed houses, Portnahaven, where you may be able to see the seals, Port Askaig, the only place where you can get the ferry to the Isle of Jura, Port Ellen, Bridgend and the capital, Bowmore.
The Bowmore McTaggart Leisure Centre has a 25m swimming pool which is heated by the surplus heat from the distillery. Other activities on the island include unforgettable golfing at the Machrie Golf Course, near Port Ellen, the Islay Dive Centre and horseback riding.
The Isle of Islay has something for everyone and will provide you with the vacation of a lifetime.
Caledonian MacBrayne Hebridean & Clyde Ferries: Islay
Details of all the islands Caledonian MacBrayne serve.
Some photographs © Matthew Hart