Another year, another Hebridean island. This time we spent a week on Islay. (For non-Scottish readers, it’s probably worth mentioning that the second syllable of the island’s name is pronounced “la”, rather than “lay”. Nothing betrays the whisky dilettante more quickly than a profession of enthusiasm for Is-LAY malts.)
We stayed in another one of those turf-roofed, stone-walled, eco-friendly houses that seem to have become all the rage in the Highlands and Islands self-catering market.
This one was called A’ Mhoine Bheag, which is a name any Scottish hillwalker would make a detour to avoid if it appeared on a route map—it means “the little bog”. But the house was airy and comfortable and showed not the slightest sign of sinking into the ground, so that was all good.
Islay being the home of several world-famous distilleries, we set aside a distillery tour for a rainy day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a rainy day, so this was as close as we got to the inside of a distillery:
White buildings were a bit of a theme on Islay:
From isolated lighthouses to entire villages, someone was making a killing on white masonry paint:
Another theme on Islay is its tooth-grittingly bad roads. There’s an amazingly straight stretch of tarmac between Port Ellen and Bowmore along which the locals blast at 70mph, but (by virtue of being built across a peat bog) it has quite the most alarming undulations along its length, limiting those who don’t want to become unexpectedly airborne to a more sedate 50.* Elsewhere, roads can consist of a ridge of grass flanked by potholes—and sometimes they omit the ridge of grass. Islay is the only place I’ve been where the direction signs include “C” roads.
(If you enlarge the image above, you’ll detect evidence for a little-known but nonetheless significant Rural Scottish Tradition—discharging firearms at road signs. No-one knows why this occurs. We only know that it is so.)
But these hellish roads get you to interesting places. One of them is the Big Strand, 12 kilometres of (oddly un-Gaelic, un-Norse) beach, directly exposed to the Atlantic swell that rolls endlessly in through the gap between Ireland and the Outer Hebrides.
Another possibility is Islay’s sparse (but green and pleasant) woodland:
And then there’s the dramatic coastline between the beaches:
The view above looks south from the American Monument on Mull of Oa, which commemorates the servicemen who died in the sinkings of the troop ships SS Tuscania and HMS Otranto off these rugged coasts in 1918.
The Mull of Oa (the name is pronounced “oh”, not “oh-a”, as if it were some mind-boggling Scottish Presbyterian sequel to The Story of O) is the westernmost point of The Oa, which is a nature reserve and also the location of our A’ Mhoine Bheag lodge. Our little traipse around the vicinity of the monument generated welcome encounters with choughs and golden eagles. My wildlife cam, posed outside our front door, took a lot of pictures of grass waving in the wind, mice, hoodie crows and pheasants, but also a surprising visit from a snipe:
I’ve no idea why a snipe would want to walk past our front door in the early hours, but (s)he was very welcome.
That’s it for now. More Hebrides soon.
* Which would be a violation of The Oikofuge’s Third Law: Never become airborne using any mode of transport that is not actually generating lift.
4 thoughts on “Islay”
It seems you had a gorgeous spot on the Little Bog. And great you had no rainy days .. (One distillery is the same as another .., the samples could be different ) You’ve had driving challenges on more than one island . Just part of the charm, eh ? BC’s images are great and they really make the travelogue super complete .
( Birthday card arrived , causing a chuckle. Thanks . I’ll be 76 ! ). .
I confess the charm of the roads wore a little thin after I’d nursed a slow puncture around the island for three days. The three garages we visited all wanted us to leave the wheel with them. I did have a spare wheel (in contrast to many cars these days), but it was one of those temporary “space-savers”, so I didn’t fancy driving around the island on that while waiting for a phone call about the dodgy tyre. Fortunately it was a very slow leak, there are petrol stations with air pumps at either end of the island, and I was able to order new tyres on-line so that they were waiting for us at Lochgilphead, a short distance up the road from the ferry port on the mainland. We had replacement front tyres within twenty minutes of arriving there, so it all worked out fine in the end.
Lovely photos taken by the BC. The blue flowers (Bluebells I guess?) over a great contrast to what appears to be the stark beauty of the rest of the island.
It must have been lovely sitting back and watching the sunset through the window of the eco-house.
Yes, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, of which something like half the world’s population are in the British Isles. They produce a great display in April-May.