Islay (pronounced as Eye-la) is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland. Home to some 3000 inhabitants the Island is arguably most famous for its whisky and ancient stone carvings. Warmed by the effects of the gulf stream the weather is usually at it best (driest) between April and July.
Islay can trace human habitation back as far as 10,800BC courtesy of a flint arrow head found in Bridgend in the 1990s. There is also evidence of neolithic settlements and the remains of Dun Nosebridge an iron age fort can be visited to the southeast of Bridgend.
The island’s famous stone carvings and intricate crosses date back into prehistory. The Kildalton Cross is the finest example of early Christian carved crosses in the United Kingdom. With spiralling scrolls and depictions of snakes, birds and lions to the front and biblical scenes to the rear the cross is truly beautiful. It is estimated that the cross dates back to the 8th century. There are many different examplesof stone carvings across the island and they allude to pictish, celtic and nordic influence on the island through history.
Whisky distillation began on the island after being introduced by monks sometime in the 13th century. The ready availability of peat, barley and crystal clear water meant that at one time more than 20 distilleries were working. Today only 8 distilleries are still in operation: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Port Charlotte. Bowmore is the oldest official distillery having been granted its licence in 1779. Islay malts are generally defined by a peaty smoky flavour with hints of seaweed, salt and iodine. The latter flavours might be explained by the fact that almost all of the distilleries are by the sea. The island is a mecca for whisky aficionados and tours and tastings are available at all 8 venues.
Islay has a festival of Music and Malt ( Feis Ile in gaelic) annually. Now celebrating its 30th year it runs from May 23rd until the 31st.
The island boasts its own links golf course at the Machrie Hotel in Port Ellen. Opened in 1891 and almost unchanged since then, the course is a very traditional links course. Players can opt for 18 or 6 hole games.
Islay is like Scotland in miniature with moor land, mountains, beaches, forests and rugged cliffs. Soldiers Rock, Lower Killeyan, Saligo Bay and Ardtalla beach are just some of the beautiful spots on the island worth visiting.
The island has 130 miles of coastline and unsurprisingly is renowned for its beaches many of which have golden sands and sweeping dunes. Visitors are advised not to swim on the western side of the island and locals suggest that swimmers to head for Laggan Bay or Loch Indaal.
Have you been to Islay? Please feel free to share you pictures or experiences.