Welcome to Islay Airport
Famous for great malt whisky and known as the “Queen of the Hebrides” (Banrigh nan Eilean)
Situated at the south-western extremity of the Scottish Highlands, the Kintyre peninsula and the outlying islands of Islay and Jura are perfect for those seeking relaxation. Striking seascapes characterise this area, with fascinating coastlines comprised of mighty cliffs and golden sands offering first class walking and wildlife watching opportunities. And that’s before you’ve sampled the peerless hospitality, the Gaelic heritage and culture, along with the classic malt whiskies for which the area is renowned worldwide.
Islay has a number of villages with terraces of small, single-storey houses lining the foreshore such as Port Ellen, Port Charlotte and Port Askaig. Bowmore, Islay’s main town has a unique, round church, said to have been designed to ensure that evil spirits had no corner in which to hide.
Islay measures about 25 miles north to south by 20 miles east to west, though it is of irregular shape. It is the most southerly of the Western Isles and is famous for its single malt whiskies. There are no fewer than 8 distilleries in operation on the island and evidence on the ground of 2 more that are sadly no longer in production.
In medieval period, Islay was the centre of a kingdom that included much of western Scotland plus the Western Isles and parts of Northern Ireland. For 350 years from the expulsion by Somerled of the Norse until the imposition of central power by King James IV in 1493.
In 1830 the population of Islay was about 18,000 people, fairly densely spread across the island in crofting and farming communities. A programme of clearance and emigration, plus the establishment of a series of fishing ports like Portnahaven, Port Charlotte and Port Ellen by the Campbell Lairds of Islay produced the pattern you see today, when the total population of the island stands at about 4,000 people.
Bowmore, is about ten miles from both Port Askaig and Port Ellen, is the island’s capital and administrative centre and is situated on the western coast at the head of Loch Indaal. The town was founded in 1768 and built in a striking grid plan with the main street running up the hill in a straight line from the harbour to the Round Church at the top.
Wherever you travel in this area, you’re never far from a whisky distillery. Islay is home to eight working distilleries, producing world-famous whiskies such as Laphroaig and Bowmore, renowned for their peaty qualities. Here, you’ll also find Kilchorman, a recently opened farm distillery.
Islay’s Whisky Distilleries
- Ardbeg (Port Ellen) – telephone 01496 30 22 44. Established in 1815, bought by Glenmorangie in 1997. Tours, Visitor Centre and Old Kiln Cafe. Open Monday – Friday all year (plus weekends June to August). Pre-booking advisable for tours (maximum 10 per group).
- Bowmore Distillery – telephone 01496 810 671. The oldest distillery on Islay. Tours given all year round Monday-Friday. Saturday morning tours summer only. Facilities for disabled. Gift Shop.
- Bruichladdich Distillery is on the road to Port Charlotte. Closed in 1993 but reopened in May 2001. Guided tours Monday – Saturday all year round (booking required). Tel: 01496 850 190 Shop open Monday – Saturday.
- Bunnahabain Distillery (north of Port Askaig) – telephone 01496 840646. Gift shop. Tours available Monday to Friday from March to October. October – December by appointment only.
- Caol Ila Distillery (Port Askaig) – telephone 01496 302760. Guided tours available Monday to Friday April & October (prior booking required). Gift Shop.
- Kilchoman Distillery – the first to be built on Islay since 1881. Tel: 01496 850011. Tours, Visitor Centre and Cafe. Monday to Saturday May, June & September. Open daily in July & August. Monday to Friday October – December
- Lagavulin Distillery (near Port Ellen) – telephone 01496 302730. Guided tours Monday to Friday (prior booking required). Open all year.
- Laphroaig Distillery (near Port Ellen) – telephone 01496 302418. Open all year. Guided tours by appointment only. Visitor Centre is open Monday to Friday. There is an annual shut down for maintenance: July and August.
The islands of Islay and Jura are something of a mecca for wildlife lovers. With well over a hundred breeding bird species in summer and some of Europe’s largest populations of wintering wildfowl, they are a year round destination for ornithologists. Add to this some exceptional marine wildlife, including minke whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks and literally thousands of seals, alongside some of Britain’s best opportunities to spy otters, red deer and golden eagles and you have a natural paradise. A particular highlight is the arrival of around 50,000 barnacle and white-fronted geese from the Arctic Circle each autumn.
- The Paps of Jura from Port Askaig – Tiny Port Askaig on Islay is something of a ferry hub, serving Colonsay, the mainland and Jura. Its proximity to the last makes it an ideal location to view the Paps of Jura, three rounded mountains rising out of the sea to over 730m. Relax with a drink outside the Port Askaig Hotel and soak up the view.
- Arran from Carradale – The village of Carradale on the eastern side of Kintyre makes an excellent base from which to explore the peninsula. The delightful beach and harbour area offer stunning views over the Kilbrannan Sound to the dramatic hills of Arran.
- Machir Bay from the north – Ranking as many visitors’ favourite Islay beach, but lacking the crowds you might expect to find elsewhere, Machir Bay is a stunning mile and a half of white sand on the edge of the Atlantic. Reach via Loch Gorm in the north-west of the island, some of the finest views can be enjoyed on your approach from the car park west of Kilchorman.
- Mull of Kintyre to Antrim – The Mull of Kintyre marks the point where Great Britain comes closest to Ireland. With only 12 miles of water separating the two, the views on a clear day can be breathtaking. When travelling to the Mull, cars must be left at “The Gap” situated over a mile from (and high above) the lighthouse at the very tip. You can either tackle the strenuous walk to and from the lighthouse or enjoy the vista from a marked viewpoint nearer the car park.
Islay Heritage and Gardens
- Kildalton Cross – Widely considered to be one of the finest Celtic high crosses found anywhere on earth, the 8th century Kildalton Cross sits just off the A846 a few miles north-east of Ardbeg. It features biblical scenes such as the Virgin and Child, Cain murdering Abel and David taking on the might of the lion. Adjacent Kildalton Chapel dates from the 13th century.
- Round Church, Bowmore – Built circularly to ensure that the devil could not hide in any corners, Bowmore’s Round Church – dating from 1767 – sits at the top of Main Street and dominates the village. The central tower bears more than a little resemblance to a lighthouse, while the interior – though suitably plain for a Presbyterian place of worship – is certainly atmospheric.
- Finlaggan – From the 12th century until the 16th, Finlaggan (situated on a loch of the same name in northeast Islay) acted as seat of the Lords of the Isles. This assembly had a high degree of self-rule from Kintyre to the Butt of Lewis and occupied a series of crannogs (artificial islands built for defence purposes) in the loch. Archaeologists have uncovered some amazing artefacts, the stories of which are explained at the visitor centre.
For more information on what to see and do on the Island, please visit the local tourist board (details below). The Local Tourist Board is:
VisitScotland Tourist Information Centre (The centre is open all year round)
Isle of Islay
Telephone: 00 44 8707 200 617
Fax: 00 44 1 496 810 363
Website: www.visitscottishheartlands.com or www.visitscotland.com