Travel: Islay

I don’t generally think of myself as being a beach person. This is largely due to common perceptions about what beach holidays include – sunbathing, extremely hot weather, the probability of sunburn. However, there are other ways of enjoying beaches and, for me, Hebridean beaches cannot be beaten. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on Hebridean beaches, most memorably on Iona when I worked there about seven years ago, and on both Iona and Eriskay when travelling through the islands with friends four years ago. These beaches were beautiful, calm and peaceful. The sound of the waves lapping against the shore, among all the little coves and rock pools, is incredibly soothing. It’s the closest I get to a happy place. These beaches were a good spot in which to unwind, pray, clamber and explore, and a complete contrast to my current city life.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on holiday on Islay with family. Islay is best known for its distilleries, having eight of them on a relatively small island (Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Caol Ila). I’m not a whisky drinker, but am married to one, so some time was spent dropping off and picking others up from distilleries. Bunnahabhain distillery is a bit off the beaten track; it’s quite close to Port Askaig, which is one the ferry ports on Islay, but is a four mile drive down a small, winding road, so after dropping off some of our party we needed to kill some time during their distillery tour. We ended up on a mini adventure, discovering a beautiful, secluded beach near the Bunnahabhain distillery. It was practically perfect, including the following joys:

  • It was hidden away and involved a scramble to reach it, just like a Famous Five-style adventure
  • There was a stream flowing into the sea, which we had to cross over a little bridge, resulting in the slowest, most gentle game of Pooh sticks I have ever played
  • There was grass right up to the beach
  • The beach was covered with pebbles, rocks and shells, including pastel-coloured snail shells and shards of crab shells, presumably after the crabs had been eaten by birds
  • There were a handful of Oyster catchers sharing the beach with us and a bird of prey in the distance
  • There were spectacular views across the Sound of Islay to the Paps of Jura

That’s the kind of beach trip I enjoy!

Other highlights of Islay included:

  • Meal at Yan’s Kitchen in Port Charlotte. I had goat’s cheese with black pudding for a starter, which was a spectacular combination
  • The RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart – there are two walks at it, a woodland walk – which was beautiful, like wandering through a fairy glade, lots of wild flowers, twisted trees and butterflies, and a moorland walk – where we came practically face to face with a deer.
  • View from our holiday cottage of the lighthouse and Loch Indaal. As ever in this part of the world, the view changes all the time – we watched the sea in good weather and bad, secure in the cottage.
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