One of the absolute must-do stops from Dalek’s Scotland trip was Islay, the Scottish island famed over the world for its whisky. What was surprising was how much natural beauty was present on the island and how friendly the locals were. This guide will summarise our Islay experiences along with tips for getting around by public transport.
Top tip: It is difficult to get to Islay (min 6.5 hours by public transport from Glasgow, described below) but the rewards are worth it.
The distilleries (and other whisky-related experiences)
8 9 distilleries on Islay and four of them are super-famous (Ardbeg, Bowmore, Lagavulin & Laphroaig). A visit to Islay must include visiting as many of the distilleries as possible for a whisky fan. We’ll list out the distilleries we visited and our experience there (checkout our top 5 whisky-related experiences in Scotland)
- Ardbeg: The only Islay distillery tour taken by us was the Ardbeg Full Range Tour & Tasting (£20 – 5 drams). It is very worth it, we love the Ardbeg range of whiskies and the distillery has a unique look & feel about it. Plus you get a £5 voucher to spend in the shop after your tasting (we used it on a Corryvreckan). There is a cafe as well where some courses come with a dram
- Laphroaig: They’re opening a bar in April 2017! During our visit, the staff would serve up a taste of any of the bottles at the shop. But for us, the #1 reason to visit was to buy the Laphroaig marmalade, the best incorporation of whisky in food that we’ve seen.
- Bowmore: The distillery has a tasting bar worth visiting. It is also close to the Bowmore Hotel which claims to have over 700 whiskies to keep the party going 🙂
- Briuchladdich: This distillery is home to the world’s most peated whisky – The Octomore (4x the peat contained in Laphroaig but tastes simply superb). They took give out tastes of whisky you might be interesting in trying before you buy (competition is hot on Islay as you can imagine).
- Kilchoman: We did not make it to Kilchoman (details soon) but the road to the distillery is the most scenic of the lot. And the whisky is pretty darn good!
- Lagavulin: It is an old distillery and seemed quite understaffed. Plus it does not have a tasting bar on the premises. It is the only Islay distillery visit without a positive experience.
Tip: The perfect place to stay in the south coast of Islay is the Old Excise House B&B at Lagavulin. It has luxurious & modern rooms at an affordable price with an excellent breakfast. Every whisky nerd’s dream is to live in an erstwhile excise house so this is your chance.
Cycling around Islay
We’re not a super-athletic couple and one half of us had not cycled for years. Dalek found a cycle hire in Port Charlotte and decided to hire a bike. It was an awesome experience. As no buses on Islay go towards the beautiful Machir Bay & Kilchoman distillery, it seemed like a good idea to cycle the 17 miles after years of not cycling. 😛 The trip had to be curtailed to Loch Gorm due to dying sunlight but it gave us one of our favourite pictures of the entire trip (below).
As Islay is mostly flat compared to the rest of Scotland, the elevation bits are infrequently encountered for noob cyclists like us. It did activate unused leg muscles 😀
Quick visit to Jura
The Isle of Jura (again made famous by the whisky of the same name) is a 5 minute ferry ride from Port Askaig on the east coast of Islay. Jura is one of the wildest places we’ve ever seen as there are 200 people who live there and 5000+ deer. Highly recommend taking a car and checking out the length of this island but even for a foot walker, there are short wild walks one can take. Dalek took the only scheduled bus for a short distance south to check out a very old standing stone. The driver was very kind and even dropped him back to the ferry terminal totally out of schedule (as he was the only passenger on the bus, a commonality in very rural Scotland).
Tip: There is a very large whirlpool called Corryvreckan just north of Jura. Boat trips leave for it from Islay and this is one of the top things we want to do if we can head back to Islay. There is a long walk on Jura that takes you close to the whirlpool as well.
Campsite Review : Port Mor campsite
This is a magnificent campsite on the bonnie shores of Loch Indaal. Very spacious pitching areas & immediate access to public transport. The rural location gives you access to spectacular night skies.
UK Campsite link (9/10) : http://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/sites/reviews.asp?revid=6956
Cost (per person per night): £8
Distance from public transit: Just outside the site
Toilets & showers: Excellent, very clean toilet block
Laundry facilities: High quality laundry machines, need £1 coins
Getting in & around
- If you’re flush with money / short on time, fly to Islay from Glasgow using Flybe. These flights are pretty expensive (much cheaper to fly to mainland Europe).
- Getting to Islay involves hopping on to a Scottish Citylink bus from Glasgow to Campbelltown (or driving) to get of at Kennacraig Ferry Terminal (note: this ferry terminal has no adjoining town / village). This takes around 3.5 hours. From there you can catch a ferry to either Port Ellen (south) or Port Askaig (east) run by CalMac that takes just under 2.5 hours.
- Buses on Islay are operated by Islay coaches and they have a 24 hour ticket for 10 GBP. If you manage your timetable properly, you can extract the maximum value for this ticket (which Dalek did).
- The PDF timetable for buses can be found here. Bowmore is the central hub for buses in Islay so most connections happen there.
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