Generally known for it’s whisky production the island of Islay (pronounced Eyela) lies to on the west coast of Scotland. However, it has much more to offer than just Uisge Beatha ( ‘Water of Life’ is the translation from Gaelic). Although whisky fans can slake their thirst at 8 distilleries with a ninth due to open in 2016.
The Island’s history is unique in that the Laird of Islay, Daniel Campbell of Shawfield (Campbell bought Islay and part of neighbouring Jura for £12,000) and later Daniel Campbell (his grandson) created several villages to maximise farming productivity in the late 1800’s. This lead to Bowmore, Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Port Wemyss becoming home for many of the island’s population. Farming, flax and Linen mills, fishing and of course whisky were the mainstay of the Islands economy. Sadly, the agrarian and social reforms that came with the Campbell’s bold plans stalled when the family became bankrupt.
The island has over 120 miles of coast line and is home to some spectacular beaches. We would recommend Ardnave, Tayvullin, Loch Gruinart and the Long Strand. These all provide safe swimming and beautiful sandy stretches. Saligo Bay and Machair are found on the island’s west coast and are stunning with crashing waves and impressive shorelines but visitors should not attempt swimming as dangerous currents exist on both the east and west sides of the island.
The safest location for swimming is the MacTaggart Leisure Centre in Bowmore. A community funded initiative the pool is heated by the distillation processes of the neighbouring Bowmore Distillery. Gym and sauna facilities are also available and it is a great place to take kids if the weather is bad (be fair, they need the water to make all that whisky!).
The island’s geography and roads lend themselves to cycling. The island is easily traversed in a day by an experienced cyclist. It is useful to know that local drivers will wave as they pass other road users so feel free to return the greeting.