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Thursday, 29 January 2015

WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO ISLE OF ISLAY IN SCOTLAND

Port Wemyss, Isle of Islay





When I was asked to go to Islay with my boyfriend's family, my first thoughts were, 'Where? Never heard of it.' After looking at a few dozen pictures of Islay on the internet, my second thoughts were, 'Yeah, looks alright. Not much there but I'll go...' Little did I know that this Island would be one of the most unforgettable places that I have ever been to.

I won't bore you with all of the 'touristy' info that Wikipedia provides so I will just give you a very short summary of what and where Islay is; Islay, known as the "Queen of the Herbrides," is the fifth-largest Scottish Island and has a population of 3228+. Covering 130 miles of coastline alone, Islay, home to eight famous whisky distilleries, has beautiful scenery and wildlife, and not to mention, it occupies the friendliest bunch of people you will ever meet.

After a six hour car journey from Coventry to Glasgow, a two hour journey from Glasgow to Kennacraig, travelling through the incredible Loch's of Scotland (including Loch Lomond), and a breathtaking ferry ride to Port Askaig, the mist of the sea air eventually dispersed and Islay revealed itself.

When I stepped off the ferry and caught my first glimpse of this quaint, little Island I instantly felt happy, as if all of the muscles in my body had just come loose from years of strain and stiffness of the city life, and had finally settled back into their rightful place.

Driving from Port Ellen to Port Charlotte in a mini van with 16 people was a journey that I would happily do over and over again. Every mile of the way, the view of the island got more and more beautiful. The grass got greener, the sky got bluer and my eyes were trying to take in every single detail, as if it were a competition to be the first person to see it all first.

We stayed in a hostel called Port Charlotte, in a town also called Port Charlotte. Now, I don't have much experience of hostels but from what I know and have heard, Port Charlotte felt more like an exciting, new place you visit on a school trip and that took me back to my childhood. There were bunk beds, a room for the girls and a room for the boys (and also the married folks and the oldies), a huge, shared kitchen and dining room with three, large tables and a drying room to hang our wet shit. I instantly felt the same kind of freedom I felt when I was a kid, as if I had just stepped back in time and my schoolmates and I were about to collect our walking boots and kayaks from a shed in Dol-y-Moch.

View from Port Charlotte Hostel
The reception staff (Karl and Lorna) were absolutely lovely. A friendly and inviting, married couple who ran the hostel for nine months of the year and travelled for the rest. As soon as we had arrived they told us we had the place to ourselves. Nobody else was booked in so they could encourage a family experience for us all.

After fighting over bunk beds and rooms, we all split off in our own directions to explore the Isle of Islay. It rained on and off a little throughout the first afternoon but at around 6:00pm the sun came out. We were walking through fields, surrounded by sheep and sea and we saw the most beautiful rainbow.

We visited a few places that I would recommend you go to if you were to venture to Islay. I have listed some places below that I really enjoyed and where we met friendly and interesting locals: 

We ate in this restaurant on the second night for Jack's (my boyfriend), Uncle Duncan's birthday. Although, there were 16 of us taking up the entire restaurant, it was the most comfortable and understated restaurant/pub I had ever been to. The staff were lovely, traditional locals who looked proud of their jobs and enjoyed joining in on their customer's experience at their family-run restaurant. The food was incredible and fresh and when I say fresh, I mean it... Just as the waitress had finished taking the birthday boy's food order (considering to change his mind because there were no mussels for the sea flood platter), two young girls came running in wearing wet suits, as they had quite, literally caught the fish of the day. It was the mussels! I had a steak pie with chips and gravy and it is probably the best pie I have ever tasted. 

Great experience. I never knew how interesting it would be to watch and learn how the unique, Laphroaig whiskey of Islay is made. You get to have a taste of some the ingredients during the tour and a whisky tasting part at the end of the tour. I don't like the taste of whisky but the experience was really fun. 

This was more of a historical experience, where we learnt about Finlaggan and the Lordship of the Isles. The settlement is situated in Loch Finlaggan and dates back to the 14th century. It's a beautiful and peaceful place to wander through, which I would recommend you do on a dry day. 

This was my favourite place we visited. As soon as we drove into Port Wemyss, I loved it. Just imagine a small, serene village with white, washed cottages and a view of sea and seals everywhere you turned. It was a peaceful town with a family feel and a place where you instantly felt welcome. We walked along the rocks and hills to get a closer look at the wild seals, which was such a brilliant experience. We also went and had coffee and cake at a local and informal family run cafe, Burnside Lodge, a converted fishing house. We sat in the front garden, ridiculously relaxed, admiring the beautiful view ahead.


Laphroaig Whiskey Distillery, Port Ellen


So, if you have some spare cash lying about and you need a break from the January and February blues, get yourself to Islay. I would fully recommend it to anybody who enjoys scenic holidays or just fancies a break from the city life. If you do decide to go to Islay, you will enjoy the freedom of car-free roads, the tranquil and uplifting atmosphere, the inspiring landscape and don't forget to look out for the ISLAY WAVE! Islay really is a land of it's own.

How high the gulls fly O'er Islay
How sad the farm lad deep in play
Felt like a grain on your sand

How well the sheep's bell music makes
Roving the cliff when fancy takes
Felt like a tide left me here

How blessed the forest with birdsong
How neat the cut peat laid so long 
Felt like a seed on your land

Isle of Islay, Donovan


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