Is Islay Worth Visiting?
Is Islay worth visiting? You may be turning your thoughts to travel once more after being under house arrest for four months. Recent announcements by the Scottish government that tourism can effectively re-open from 15th July 2020 is music to our ears.
Accommodation owners will breathe a sigh of relief at being able to open their doors once more and offer their wonderful hospitality. Staycations are the holiday of choice this year as the international travel market is in disarray, with the loss of two major tour operators Flybe and Thomson. Therefore, with looming school holidays you may be searching for that perfect getaway on terra firma.
Scotland is in Our (Brave) Hearts
Scotland is the UK’s number 1 choice of destination, so naturally you may want to know more about its more popular destinations. This blog is focused on the Inner Hebridean island of Islay.
Islay is Worth Visiting Because…
Scotland’s isles make up a large part of our British Isles, so with an abundance to choose from, picking one may feel difficult. Why Islay?
Well, Do You Love Whisky?
If the answer is you love your single malts and want to know more, this is the place for you.
Islay is best known for its single malt whiskies. The abundance of peat, pure water and barley, yield the natural ingredients that are perfect for distilleries. It is a must for the whisky connoisseur because it boasts 8 distilleries on an island 25 miles long!
This could be a new challenge. Instead of running a marathon, how about walking the same distance taking in each distillery, staying at accommodation along the way?
Impress Your Friends
We all know a wine buff, but how about being qualified in Whisky? If you like to get geeky about your dram, then look no further than the Islay Whisky Academy. I don’t even drink and this excited me! They offer the opportunity in the ‘Spirit of Education’ (love a good pun) to study milling, mashing, fermentation, distilling, maturation and libation. There are a lot ‘tions’ there but it sounds fun.
You can learn in the time you have available choosing from one-hour lectures to 6 week online courses! Or (and here is your excuse to visit) 1 to 5 day residentials!
Whisky For Girls
So, you want to persuade your lady to accompany you on such a visit, but she prefers Prosecco, so it doesn’t quite float her boat? Again Islay Whisky Academy have thought of everything, they do Whisky For Girls, a blog by Rachel MacNeill that highlights the more feminine attributes the single malt can bring.
Hipflasks and Driftwood
A wonderful surprise gift for someone you love, or some self-indulgence. A tour for the soul, Hipflasks and Driftwood. Taking you back to the wonder and magic of childhood, but with a single malt to warm the cockles. Choose your own personal adventure for the day, sit in the ruins of an ancient church with Scotch and chocolate. Or, a fairy picnic in the woods with twinkling lights and sparkling wine. How about sailing over to Jura with a Lussa Gin made with bog myrtle and rose petals? Culminating in a beach bonfire with single malt in a hip flask. Life can’t get much better than that surely.
Is Rugby Your Sport of Choice?
Rugby is more synonymous with the English North rather than Scotland. However, Islay always likes to be different. It hosts the only UK beach rugby tournament on the second Saturday of June at White Hart Beach. Around 30 teams compete to become champions and it is open to males and females. A must for rugby fans.
Festivals for Culture Lovers
There is a festival for everyone on Islay. Whether you love walking, fishing, cycling, music, running you will find a festival of choice.
- Walking Festival in April lasting 7 days, walks on Jura and Islay.
- Islay Festival of Malt and Music – lasts 1 week and is held at the end of May
- Cantilena Festival follows the ethos to develop new and specific sounds and styles of playing
- Islay Book Festival is held at Port Ellen during September at the local primary school and is open to adults and children, hosting famous authors.
- The Ride of The Falling Rain is a 100-mile cycle ride along the roads of Islay and takes place on a Sunday in August
- Islay Half Marathon takes place in August. The route starts at Bowmore through to the airport and back ends with a licensed dance.
- Islay Jazz Festival held at venues around the island during September. Usually in a distillery filling shed.
- Tope Fishing Festival held August bank holiday weekend. Medium sized sharks that are common visitors in waters of Islay.
- The Port Charlotte Hotel offers regular Traditional Music entertainment
There is so much to do on Islay that golf is overlooked, which is unusual in Scotland. Islay Golf Course welcomes visitors and has a stunning backdrop. Take plenty of spare golf balls it is that close to the sea!
Christianity came to Islay after 500AD, remarkably there are still remnants from these early settlers in the form of carved stone crosses at Kilnave and Kildalton. Kildalton Cross is built in the Iona tradition with Pictish, Irish, Northumbrian and Celtic motifs.
Soon after the Vikings invaded Islay and settled and eventually founded the Donald Clan. In the early 13th Century the Scots reclaimed the island and the Lordship was established at Finlaggan, which became the seat of main power for Western Scotland.
Cultoon Stone Circle hailing from the bronze age with only one upright stone is worth a visit.
To learn more about Islay’s fascinating culture and evolution visit Museum of Islay Life at Port Charlotte
There is a certain romance in hearing tales of shipwrecks, illustrated with gritty images of ghostly ship remains and stormy seas. Usually more associated with the Cornish coastline, Islay has its fair share of grim nautical endings.
The geography of the coastline produces angry tides, particularly around the Mull of Oa and the Sound between Jura and Islay. The many hidden rock formations have also proved fatal for inexperienced navigators as shown in the shipwreck map illustration.
In summary if you are sporty, cultural, an avid reader or a lover of history, Islay will not disappoint. And still, I have barely mentioned the emerald green sea, sandy white beaches, rivers and abundant wildlife. After all it is Scotland and that’s what it is already famous for, so why point out the obvious?
Islay must be high on your list of choices this year. Pack your spirit of adventure and head west to have fun, whilst supporting our businesses coming back to life after a tough start to the year.
Andrew & Caroline July 2020