My grandparents used to live on Islay, my auntie had a house here, and I came here a lot as a kid – so coming back as an adult (or as close to an ‘adult’ as I am) was a pretty nostalgic trip. It was nice to revisit places I have vauge memories of and be reminded of the good times we had here as a family when we were younger.
If you don’t already know, Islay is off the western coast of Scotland and is part of the Inner Hebrides. It’s about miles 25 miles from one end to the other and it has a population of just over 3000 people. 3000 on the whole island! The teeny tiny town I’m from, actually I don’t even know if its classed as a town, more a village, has about 3000 people living in it – that’s mad! However over 120,000 tourists visit every year – but when we were there, even though it was August and so still peak season it seemed very quiet. That’s what I liked about it – you really notice quietness unlike anywhere I’ve been before. There isn’t any noise pollution, there isn’t any traffic, nowhere is crowded, you don’t get much phone signal or Wi-Fi so you do feel pretty shut off from the world which is really peaceful and a welcomed break from the chaos and stress of normality.
So what is there to do in Islay? Well number one is of course drink Whiskey! Islay is famous for its many production of it so if you like the national drink your in for a treat! And even if you don’t it’s a good thing to experience. There are loads of distilleries; Laphroig, Lagavullin, Bunnahabhain to name a few. We visited the Ardbeg distillery which has been producing Whiskey for over 200 years and has won loads of awards. You can do the full distillery tour but we just opted for doing the table tasting whilst having our lunch. They bring over samples of 5 different types and explain a bit about them. I am partial to a whiskey and coke now and again but this stuff blows your head off. I definitely haven’t been converted to a malt drinker!
TIP! I highly recommend having a designated driver with you for doing these tastings (or doing a tour) as they aren’t shy with the measures and some of the whiskey we tried were over 50% abv!
The next one we visited was Bruichladdie, but this was mostly because this is where they produce The Botanist Gin – I’d had enough whiskey for one day! So if your a fan of gin it’s worth stopping in here.
If whiskey doesn’t interest you there are some pretty beautiful sights to be seen around Islay – actually it’s pretty much just all beautiful views. Driving around the island the landscape seemed to be fairly flat which meant you have a lot of uninteupted views and no where is over developed. There are also stunning beaches to visit, but it does help if you have good weather which isn’t exactly frequent in Scotland unfortunately! We were lucky and got a really sunny day the first day so we got to enjoy walking along the beach with blue skies. Watch out for the jellyfish though – there are hundreds of them on he beach – although I’m not sure those ones sting you, but they are still rather gross!
Even if the weather isn’t great it’s still very scenic, you just have to spend the majority of your time admiring it through a window. The second day we spent there was mega wild and wet and windy and we were getting blown all over the place even just getting from the hotel to the car which was parked right outside. However it was nice admiring the views from one of the many hotels or pubs with their tartan carpets and ceilidh music over a glass of wine and chatting to the locals – they are very chatty, which is saying a lot coming from me.
Getting There: We got the ferry from Kennacraig which takes just over 2 hours and cost us £15 per person and £30 for the car. It’s a beautiful journey (as long as the sea is relatively calm) but I struggled to stay awake to appreciate it having got up at 5am for the ferry! You can also get the ferry from Oban but I think it takes a lot longer. It’s definitely worth taking the car as I can’t imagine public transport is too frequent, or punctual.
Eating and Drinking: We had lunch in the Ardbeg distillery which was lovely and really reasonably priced, which was surprising as Islay is pretty expensive! I can recommend the Roast Beef and Blue Cheese Mayo panini, although everyone’s food looked very nice.
For dinner we ate in a restaurant called Peatzeria in Bowmore. It’s in a little converted church which is really cute, and they serve an unusual selection of pizza toppings including lobster, scallops, smoked haddock and black pudding. It’s definitely worth a visit, the food was amazing!
If you are looking for a glamourous or wild night out Islay probably isn’t the place for you. Luckily we weren’t! But me and my sister did fancy going for a few drinks so we ended up in the Lochside Hotel which a local had recommended to us as being a good place to go (not that there are too many options). Drinks are pretty expensive, but I think that’s the case everywhere – the little bar next door has a juke box and pool table and there were people there who liked a swally so we couldn’t complain too much – We enjoyed ourselves and made some friends (as we always do!)
Where to stay: We stayed in the Bowmore Hotel which is in the main village. Our room was lovely and so was the view. The bar here is one of the other ‘hotspots’ on a Saturday night but it was closed by the time we got here (closes at 1am) so I can’t tell you what it was like. Breakfast is included and you can order whatever you like and it’s freshly made to order, but unfortunately we slept in for it. It’s only on till 9am (not half 9 like my sister assured me it was), but the lady was nice enough to make us a sausage sandwich which was amazing! Proper thick square sausage on soft white bread. Great hangover cure!