Road Trip: The Isle of Islay

My favourite place in the world is on the edge of nowhere – you drive a 16 mile single track road (after your 2 hour journey from suburbia) to arrive to the rough coast of Scotland where mobile phone reception and 3G don’t comply.


You get to this rugged coastline of rocks, stones and the odd patch of flawless sand, to look over to the stunning (and iconic, to those familiar with it) skyline which is the Isles of Jura and Islay. I have probably hundreds of photographs of this view – it never looks the same. Sunny days, moody days, stormy days – and their corresponding sunsets.


I love watching the ferry breaking the water. Even though the wind and spray removed my make up and slapped me about the face!

As a child, I visited Jura a couple of times per year. My dad and his friends would take their boats over (which was an experience, let me tell you. Rough and ready you must be!) and go to the pub in the Craighouse Hotel. I only visited Islay once with my gran in 2002; I remember this because I was writing ‘KATE TO WIN’ in the sand because she was my favourite Big Brother contestant. Such an odd child. Anyway, my sister and I had such fond memories of that trip – amazing food (my first encounter with Brie, no less), driving around the island with my Granbob Squarepants and having her educate us about Islay.


We returned this time as adults with my dad as he’s never been (apart from a quick visit on his boat to Port Askaig which is right next to Jura). Islay seemed huge when I was young, and I’ve worked out why. My gran probably drove the roads at an average speed of 30mph, and my dad drives at double that. We drove around the entire island on the one day, which shattered my illusion of how big Islay is!


Now, this is where I need to be honest. There is very little to actually do on Islay. It’s a gorgeous island -there is no doubt about that – but advice is to go over a weekend. Then you’ll find the local town halls packed for a good ceilidh (we were invited to two and saw a sign for another one but we were back on the mainland before the weekend). There are some museums, but after that it’s all about the countless distilleries – Islay’s bread and butter – and then beaches, farmland, beautiful drives, eating and drinking.



Port Ellen is where the ferry docked, and whilst the town really doesn’t have anything to offer me personally, the beach is beautiful. They have a distillery right on the water, so it’s nice to walk along the golden sand and see the steam billowing out of their chimney.




Bowmore is probably the second largest town on Islay – it has more to offer in terms of shops and places onto eat and drink. We had lunch in The Harbour Inn – you should note that I’m not reviewing them – which is a shame because they have such a cute nautically decorated bar. I expected it to be quite a nice lunch spot, rather than barely average and smelling of weed…it gave us a laugh mind you!

If you’re into whisky then I’d suggest checking out the Bowmore distillery – it’s absolutely beautiful. I didn’t, as I’m not a whisky fan but I enjoyed seeing the building itself! It was stunning and right on the water.


Port Charlotte is a gorgeous little town which is home to a museum of Islay life. £3 to get in, and you can peruse their wartime souvenirs and letters, carved stones and caveman pottery…not the most riveting, but still, history init?


Portnahaven is STUNNING. It’s a tiny village on a hilly cove at the most southern point of the island. Where the two pieces of land that form the mouth of the cove meet is something to stand and stare at. You can see a line between the smooth waves of the water in the cove and the rocky Atlantic waves. The weather was calm when I visited and the waves were still crashing up and tumbling into the cove. Years back I remember it was far more violent and the waves were huge; it’s breathtaking.



I get really enthusiastic talking about these photographs and how you can see a line where the bay water meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a sight to be seen if you ask me!

Admittedly, we ate, drank, and explored without doing anything particularly touristy. My favourite part was going to the Islay House Square. You walk down a lovely country lane…


The air is filled with the beautiful smell of peat. You’re met by some local businesses and art galleries. We had a browse and then moved onto the garden.



You can walk around the gardens, through the vegetable patches and buy fruit, vegetables and herbs. I’ve decided that when I’m retired/win the lottery I’m going to create a place just like this. People who know me will laugh as I’m a prolific plant killer, but if I had the time I think I’d be an amazing gardener.




You can take a walk around the house which is gorgeous – a mixture of the classic Argyll looking building with whitewash and quite square, and round sandstone turrets. It’s a stunning house.


We retired to our hotel, The Ballygrant Inn for the night. I was so pleased with my view – I looked out of my room window and saw the famous ‘paps’ of Jura from a different angle. The two huge humps I’m used to seeing from the mainland is actually four smaller humps!


We headed to the bar for the night for some food. The bar is a typical lounge with a pool table and darts board, but it also has a wood burner which made the bar really beautifully cosy. The locals are hilarious folks as well – we had a great night having a drink and hearing the locals talk about Islay. The locals also spent time laughing at my dad who pronounced ‘Portnahaven’ about 7 different ways over the course of the conversation!

We enjoyed walks on the beach and touring the island before catching our ferry and making our way back to the mainland to enjoy a few more days in the edge of nowhere before reality had to kick back in!


I found this photo at the pier amusing, so I took a photo and had decided to make a sarcastic comment. As we waited on our ferry my sister jumped out her skin, ‘OHMAGOD!…oh, I thought that car was driving off the edge!’ – the car drove onto the Jura ferry, which in her defence, is tiny. I wonder if anyone has mistaken the sea for a ferry and actually just driven off the edge of the pier…


I stood and watched Islay get smaller and smaller – it was such a beautiful view with the clear and bright weather!

So off we sailed, back to the mainland to grab some dinner and return to the last few days of our holiday. Cheers Islay, you were smashing!


  1. AMAZING pics! Love this part of the world but have never been to Islay, it’s now firmly on the ‘islands to do’ list. I can only hope it’s as sunny.. great post 🙂


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