Rothesay to Sound of Shuna / Islay, Jura, Arran

Oban to Islay

We went back to Oban to wait for the ferry to Colonsay and Islay. There is a new development of shops near the ferry terminal called Heritage Wharf, and we found a seafood bar selling prawn and crab sandwiches. We were really looking forward to a few days in these remote islands.

MV ClansmanWe watched the Isle of Mull go and the Clansman arrive before getting into the queue for our sailing – once a week on a Wednesday. The Isle of Arran sailed in and had to dock behind the Clansman – these ferries are certainly very impressive to watch.

MV Isle of ArranEventually we drove on and ‘proceeded to sea’. The captain apologised several times for being 10 minutes late ‘because of the traffic’ - infinitely better than British Rail!

The sea was calm and we were able to see some of the places we had already visited, notably the Atlantic Bridge and Easdale Island.

ScalasaigWe arrived at Scalasaig after a couple of hours and the ferry did some amazing backing manoeuvres to park accurately at the small jetty. A few cars drove off but more came aboard, including a landrover who backed his horsebox all the way – I felt like clapping!

A huge density of cyclists came on and the remaining 2 hours on the boat were far more crowded.


Colonsay roadThe main road from the ferry stretched straight uphill and looked pretty much like a farm track. The island is 8 miles long and 3 wide and it is full of plant and birdlife as well as wild goats - but there are only 100 people. There is no camping or caravanning and only one hotel so day tripping is pretty popular – hence the preponderance of bikes on the ferry.

Kiloran BayThere are many beautiful sandy beaches, the largest is Kiloran Bay.

The dramatic cliffs of the western coast of Colonsay are home to enormous colonies of seabirds, notably fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags and gulls. The beaches and rocky inlets support colonies of ringed plover, terns, oyster catchers and eiders.

Oronsay PrioryIt is joined to Oronsay by a causeway at low tide where there are the ruins of an old priory. There is evidence that the islands have been inhabited since Neolithic times and in more modern times have changed ownership, currently being in the hands of Lord Strathcoma.

Arriving on ISLAY

Bunnahabhain distilleryAs the ferry entered the Sound of Jura we could see how close Islay and Jura are. At the narrowest point we passed two of Islay’s famous distilleries displaying their names in huge capital letters in case the onlooker couldn’t spot them amongst the scenery.

Jura ferryAnother ‘U’ turn of the ship brought us alongside where the tiny Jura ferry was waiting for the weekly drop from Oban.

Port AskaigIt was 7.30 by now so we followed the single stream of traffic around the hairpin bends from Port Askaig and ten miles along THE road to Bridgend. You could almost hear the locals sitting by the TV and saying, "the ferry’s late tonight".

We stayed at the Bridgend Hotel for two nights as it seemed OK and they were friendly. To be honest there isn’t an awful lot of choice. Bridgend is one of the biggest places – a pub, a shop and not much else.


Wait for ferryNext day we went to explore Jura, one of Scotland's most spectacular but least known islands. The ride on the Feolin ferry is only half a mile, but the scenery of Jura is totally different to Islay. Most of the 27-mile long island is rock, moor and trackless bog.

Jura 'A' roadMost people live in the southeast and there is one difficult, winding road that runs from the ferry at Feolin around the coast and stops half way up the eastern side. It is commonly called the Long Road.

Although it is classed as an A road, most of it has a lawn growing down the middle that is frequently grazed by cows and deer. There are twenty five times as many deer as people living there and as many adders – I’m glad I didn’t know this at the time! The name Jura comes from the Norse 'Dyr Oe' meaning Deer Island.

Paps and ferryThe Paps are three quartzite peaks in the south rising to 2,500 ft and their distinctive shape can be seen from the Argyll coast and from many of the other islands. The highest peak is Beinn an Oir and the other two are Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a'Chaolais.

Corryvreckan WhirlpoolAt the northern end of Jura, there are very fast tides and rocks on the seabed cause violent breakers and the famous Corryvreckan Whirlpool. In some conditions it is so loud it can be heard almost ten miles away and it is considered unnavigable by the Royal Navy.

Corryvreckan means ‘speckled cauldron’ and It is said that this stretch of water is presided over by an old woman called Caillich who decides which ships shall sink - and many have.


palm treesThe mild climate allows palm trees and fuchsias to flourish and plants from Australasia grow in the garden at Jura House. Nowadays the islanders live on the east coast, mostly round Craighouse, where the distillery is located, with a hotel and a shop. The only place to get lunch, in fact to get anything, was the Jura Hotel so we had a very enjoyable pint in their garden.

Jura distilleryWe called into the distillery office where we were told we could buy a bottle of the Isle of Jura Single Malt, but it was deserted. The first official distillery on Jura was built in 1810 but there is evidence that illicit distilling took place as far back as 1502.

No petrolThere is no petrol available on the island as the notice in the shop window told us. If you want to camp, there is a field near the hotel and the fee is put in a collecting box on the bar to be shared out at Christmas.

What a wonderful 'laid back' place.


The Long Road

Long RoadWe bought a guidebook called 'The Long Road' and followed it as we went along. The road overlooked Small Isles Bay until we reached a turning to Ardfernal. Apart from a phone box there are a few cottages that are all owned by outsiders. At Lagg (another phone box) the road passed a house with several derelict cars and then ran through a wood.

Standing stone at TarbertWe followed a pair of breathless cyclists up a steep hill before emerging by an overgrown cattle grid and a lovely view of Tarbert Bay. This is the narrowest part of the island as West Loch Tarbet nearly cuts the island in two.

Some of the caves of the Jura coastline contain rudimentary altars as the islanders would rest there when transporting their dead to Iona or Oronsay for burial.

Lussa Bay

ArdlussaThe road runs for about another 5 miles to Ardlussa and peters out into farm tracks. George Orwell came here to a farmhouse called Barnhill to write the novel 1984, and it is certainly remote. No wonder it is such a strange book!

Inverlussa We followed the track to Inverlussa where a few small houses and a graveyard overlook the bay and another phone box, its number is probably Inverlussa 1 or Jura 3.

In the cemetery there are two graves belonging to a woman aged 128 and a man who ‘kept 180 Christmases’. Either the air is particularly good for the elderly in these parts or Christmas comes more than once a year!

We drove all the way back and managed to catch the ferry just as it was leaving, despite the efforts of several cows to block the road. A huge trunker full of whisky was waiting at the quay. The routine seems to be to unload the trailer or contents of your van and hook up with another one on the other shore. The Feolin Ferry was zooming back and forth as the ship to the mainland was due at Port Askaig.

I was impressed by the ruggedness and beauty of Jura, it is certainly somewhere I would like to return to for a peaceful holiday to do some walking and reading. I'll give it 10/10.


Road signIn contrast to Jura, Islay, known as the 'green isle', has a thriving economy due to the fertility of the island and the huge whisky industry – seven distilleries and two more that are no longer in production.

Bowmore DistilleryThe picturesque whitewashed villages date from the planned settlements of the Campbells in the late 18th century. There are prehistoric remains scattered all over the island.

The Irish came in the 3rd century and St. Columba founded a chapel at Kilchiaran. John, first Lord of the Isles, ruled the Hebrides from a castle at Finlaggan and erected a 14th century cross at Kilchoman. In 1830 the population of Islay was about 18,000 people, but the clearances by the Campbell Lairds of Islay reduced it to about 4,000.


FinlagganClose to Port Askaig, on two islats in Loch Finlaggan, are the ruins of a castle from where the Lords of the Isles ruled for three centuries. The lady in the visitor centre is a very enthusiastic volunteer and from there, the path and wooden walkway lead across the water to the remaining walls of a great hall and main residence as well as several well preserved gravestones. The smaller island is called Eilean na Comhairle which means Council Isle and the councillors had to reach it by boat.

FinlagganIn medieval times Islay was the centre of a kingdom that included much of Western Scotland, the Western Isles and parts of Northern Ireland.

For 350 years from the expulsion by Somerled of the Norse until the imposition of central power by King James IV in 1493, the MacDonalds ruled this large area from their capital here.


Having failed to find a shop at the Bunnahabhainn Distillery on the west coast, we went to Bowmore, the island’s main town, and had more luck in the distillery shop there.

Bowmore DistilleryThe main landmark at the harbour end of the village is Bowmore Distillery. This was licensed in 1779, becoming Islay's first legal distillery. It seems clear that distilling went on here and in other places on Islay for may years before, though on a more 'informal basis'.

BowmoreBowmore lies near the head of Loch Indaal, and is the geographical and administrative centre of the Island as well as being its largest settlement. It replaced the village of Kilarrow in 1768 when the Laird decided it was too close to his house.

Round ChurchThe town was the first planned one in Scotland and is laid out in a grid pattern with the main street running up the hill in a straight line from the harbour to the Round Church at the top. The Round Church was built ‘with no corners the Devil could hide in’.

We spent a short time there and then took the "Low Road" south in a dead straight line for about 12 miles. To the east is a vast area of trackless mountain and peat bog; while to the west is Laggan Bay with an airport and golf course.

Mull of Oa

American MemorialThe Oa peninsula is the most southerly part with an awesome cliff coastline and a history of smuggling. Oa, Bu and Ae are the three shortest place names in Britain.

We had to open a gate to drive along the single twisty road to the Mull where an American Memorial was erected to commemorate the loss of US servicemen whose ship was torpedoed here. The most interesting part of the ride was stopping for a flock of sheep to pass.

Port Ellen

Port EllenThis is the largest place on Islay and a white terrace lines the harbour. Port Ellen was founded in 1821 by Walter Frederick Campbell, then Laird of Islay, and was named after his wife. Despite the lovely sunshine, the town looked a little depressing and ragged around the fringes.

Port Ellen distilleryWe were now in the main whisky area and found the maltings that serve a number of Islay's distilleries. By 1825 Port Ellen distillery had been founded but this closed in 1983.

LaphroaigTo the east a road runs through an attractive part of the island with three white-painted distilleries at Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, the last of which has only recently come back into use.

Lagavulin Ardbeg

Kildalton High CrossEight miles on, by a ruined chapel is the Kildalton High Cross, dating from 800, it was carved by a man from Iona and is one of the finest in the Hebrides.

Peat stacksNorth from Port Ellen there was a choice of roads back. We took the old "High Road", a single track that runs across the peat moss in an almost dead straight line to Bridgend.

All the way back we passed piles of peat that had been cut and stacked to dry.

Loch IndaalAfter dinner we went down to the marshy bay at Bridgend and watched the sunset and lights of the distant villages around Loch Indaal.

The Rhinns of Islay

Bruichladdich DistilleryRhinns is derived from the Gaelic word for promontory and the village of Port Charlotte is named after the founder’s mother – the Queen of the Rhinns. It is just to the south of the Bruichladdich Distillery, situated on the shore of the loch with its sandy beaches.

Port CharlottePort Charlotte is a pretty village and has the most expensive hotel on the island (we had tried but it was unfortunately full).

The main street, named like all the other streets in the village in Gaelic, is designed on a split level. Houses on one side are raised above the road, while those on the shore side are set below.

Port CharlotteAn old warehouse backing onto the sea is now used partly as the Islay Wildlife Information Centre. A squat lighthouse sits on the shore and there is a creamery and museum. In the tearoom, before visiting the Museum of Islay Life, we bought a painting of the loch by a local artist.

The museum includes coverage of Islay's many archeological treasures alongside material about the island's equally numerous shipwrecks, plus a recreation of life in a croft.

Rhinns Point

PortnahavenThe road culminates at the twin fishing villages of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss. At Portnahaven, there is a deep bay with little whitewashed cottages around its steep banks.

Isle of OrsayPort Wemyss lies a little to the south and is harbourless. It looks across a narrow sound to the Isle of Orsay, with the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse built here by Robert Stevenson in 1825. Orsay and its smaller neighbouring island of Eilean Mhic Coinnich shelter the harbour of Portnahaven from the weather coming in from the south and west.

Church with two doorsAbove the head of the harbour is the church. White-painted like just about every other building in the area, it is particularly interesting for having two doors. One was intended for the use of residents of Portnahaven, the other for the residents of Port Wemyss.

Road blockThe west coast is rocky and isolated but we ventured north to see a stone circle near Kelsay. A herd of cows were not only blocking the road but also surrounding the stones! Even worse, the road was closed a mile further on so we couldn’t get to Kilchiaran Chapel or the Kilchoman Cross.

Since 1989 Lossit Bay has been the site of an experimental wave powered turbine generating electricity, using the air compressed by waves in a large underground concrete chamber to power a turbine. (We have since found out that Wavegen Islay started commercial power generation In 2000.)

ShortcutTo avoid the long haul back around the south coast we decided to take a short cut to Octofad. The road looked all right to start with but as there were no turning places and deep ditches on either side, we were committed. It got worse and worse until we reached a gate into the forest. We saw some red deer and tentatively carried on to the next gate. With sighs of relief, we finally reached the main road.

Loch Gruinart

Loch GruinartIn October, thousands of barnacle and white-fronted geese arrive from Greenland to spend the winter here. We went to the RSPB visitor centre near the mudflats and a remote control camera is placed in the nesting site so we could watch the current lack of birds in closeup.

advertA short walk away, a new bird hide had been built. Although 50,000 of these creatures fly in each year, we saw two cows and a bluebottle!

I thought this picture on the right was pretty good!

Port Askaig

Caol IlaThe ferry from Kennacraig takes 2 hours and docks alternately at Port Askaig and at Port Ellen in the south. It was due to leave at 3.30 so we paid a call to the last distillery at Caol Ila. They opened up the shop just for us and let us try their single malt - and very nice it was too.

Waiting for the ferryBack at Port Askaig, the lorries of whisky were beginning to queue for the ferry and we sat in the garden of the hotel to have some lunch.

Ships from West Loch Tarbert on Kintyre have called here since the 1700s and it was the destination of a steamer service from Glasgow as early as 1825. Port Askaig is only a tiny settlement dominated by the ferry traffic, with a few houses and a hotel. It is also home to the Islay Lifeboat, whose station opened in 1934.

The Isle of Arran steamed around the corner and unloaded and we ‘proceeded to sea’ exactly on time. I love these boats!


Arriving at KennacraigThe sea crossing was amazing, as it was so warm and still. There were patches in the turquoise sea that were as still as a looking glass and we saw loads of jellyfish below the surface. We seemed to take ages to leave Jura behind and then all land was in the distance before we passed close to the north of Gigha.

The ship had to twist and turn past the rocks as it went up West Loch Tarbert but its manoeuvrings were as precise as usual and we arrived at Kennacraig at 5.30.

Stonefield CastleTwenty minutes later we arrived at Stonefield Castle, north of Tarbert for the night. We have stayed here before and were given a room with a garden view. It was so hot we decided to take a walk in the gardens and around the little harbour. After dinner we went to the bar and tasted a couple more of the local malts.

ClaonaigIn the morning we were due to catch an early ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza on Arran. The ferry was not bookable but there were only four cars, plus the late one who missed it by 2 minutes!


ISLE OF ARRAN (Back in Buteshire)

GoatfellArran is the most southerly and accessible of the Scottish islands. It is often referred to as Scotland in miniature as its geology is similar, but on a smaller scale. The northern part is underpopulated, as it is a bleak, mountainous region with granite peaks such as Goatfell, rising to 2,886-ft and popular with climbers.

The Highland Boundary Fault dividing line runs through the middle and the south is milder and green but most people live around the southeast. The geology attracts numerous students of the subject (me included) since James Hutton came in the 18th century.

A main road runs around the entire 56-mile coast and the ‘String Road’ runs across the central divide. The other popular pastime is golf and there are seven courses. Tourism is now the most important industry and the island has more of an atmosphere of the mainland than the other islands we have visited.

Lochranza and the North East

MV Loch TarbertThe ferry only took half an hour to cross the Sound of Bute but it was cold once we got out to sea.

Lochranza is a village with a little castle that was rebuilt in the 16th century but which fell into disrepair. It is the most scenically attractive of Arran's villages, surrounded on three sides by hills and facing the ruin of its castle built on a shingle spit sticking into the Loch.

Lochranza castleThe castle is L-shaped in plan. Much of what can be seen today is the result of rebuilding in the 16th Century, but there are remnants from the original castle built before 1261 for the MacSweens. In 1262 it was granted by Alexander III to Walter Stewart, the Earl of Menteith.

In 1306 it is said to have been the spot at which Robert the Bruce landed on his return from Ireland, and before his successful bid for the Scottish Crown. During the 1490s it was used as a base from which James IV could attack the MacDonalds, the Lords of the Isles. 1614 saw its occupation by James VI and Cromwell occupied it in the 1650s. It has been disused since the 18th Century.

Aran distilleryWe drove to Scotland’s newest distillery and went into the visitor centre, opened by the Queen in 1997, where we bought a rather nice wall hanging - and some of the malt.

A woman in the car park said "Is this where they make whisky?" Andy says he thinks women should have a theory test before they get married!

Glen SannoxThe road climbed up over the mountains with some wonderful views, before reaching the coast at Sannox, a pretty village with palm trees, a beach and a 9-hole golf course. Above the village, there are old barite mines in Glen Sannox and you can walk to this spectacular glen.

SannoxThe seaside village of Corrie has a silted harbour that was built in 1882 to ship locally quarried limestone and from her you can walk up to Goatfell, Arran's highest peak. The name means windy hill and comes from the Norse, "Gast Bheinn".


Arran AromaticsA little further on we found the Arran Heritage Museum set in a converted farmhouse and a touristy shopping attraction where we got some of the local cheese and fantastic Arran mustard before visiting Arran Aromatics.

The busiest place on Arran is Brodick, although it doesn’t have much to offer besides a sandy bay and a ferry terminal. Of the island's 5000 inhabitants, over 1000 live here.

BrodickMuch of the rest of Brodick is strung out along the landward side of the main road. At the eastern end is a tiny harbour complete with a few boats but dominating everything else is Goatfell.

Brodick Castle was probably used as a defensive site by the Vikings until they were driven from Arran. The original castle was built some time after 1266 for the Stewarts of Menteith. During the Wars of Independence it was held by the English but retaken by the Scots in 1307.

Brodick CastleEnglish ships damaged the castle in 1406, and further damage was caused by MacDonald, Lord of the Isles in 1455. Meanwhile, ownership of the castle finally passed to the Hamiltons in 1503. The castle was rebuilt by them in 1510, but suffered further damage in 1528 during clan battles between Campbells and MacLeans, and again in 1544 at the hands of Henry VIII's forces.

In 1639 the castle was captured by the Campbells, then recaptured by the Hamiltons. And in the 1650s the castle was occupied, and extended, by Cromwell. Brodick Castle and Country Park now belongs to the National Trust and in 1977, restoration work uncovered a staircase leading to a hidden room entirely contained within the thickness of the castle walls.

Bavarian Summer HouseThe gardens are worth a visit with there are some lovely views over Brodick Bay. The "Ice House" was used to pack ice in the winter in a hole in the ground to store it for the summer and the Bavarian Summer House is a hexagonal wooden structure decorated with arrangements of fir cones.


Holy IslandLamlash does not have a sandy beach although it is built around a sweeping bay overlooking Holy Island. There is a minuscule ferryboat for walkers to get to the island. Holy Island is 3km long and was brought in 1991 for £400,000 to provide a meditation centre for Bhuddist monks and nuns. The human residents are outnumbered by the sheep and wild goats, though the most numerous inhabitants are the rabbits.

LamlashLamlash epitomises the Victorian charm and gentility that originally brought so many trippers to Arran and has kept many coming back ever since. Lamlash Bay was an important naval anchorage during the first world war, and relics of that time are still visible. The bay is now home to many leisure boats.

LamlashIts unusual name dates back to an Irish monk called Las who, in about 590 lived on Holy Island. Las was more normally knows as Molas, and the Gaelic name of Holy Island was, as a result, Eilean Molaise. This gradually evolved through Elmolaise and Lemolash to Lamlash, which is what Holy Island was called until early in the 19th century.

The South of Arran

At the southern tip of Arran, we looked over the Sound to Pladda Island and Ailsa Craig in the distance. Pladda was on the market for the first time ever in 1990 for £80,000, complete with its own water supply. Its name comes from the Norse for 'Flat Isle' and the lighthouse was built by Stevenson in the 1820s, and was automated in the 1980s.

Pladda IslandThe much more distant Ailsa Craig, complete with its 338m peak, lies off the Ayrshire coast. The name comes from the Gaelic "Fairy Rock"; and its contrast with Pladda, rising just 20m from the sea, could hardly be greater.

Whiting BayWe bought some sandwiches and had a picnic on the sands at Whiting Bay but it was too hot to stay long. Nearby are the island's most impressive Glenashdale Water Falls, and an art gallery and boats can be hired from here to Holy Isle.

Kildonan viewProbably the most peaceful part of Arran, the villages of Kildonan and Kilmory have some nice sandy beaches with rock pools. Kildonan lies a short distance off the road and there are many good walks near the coast where you may see large colonies of grey seal. It was named after the Irish monk St. Donan, who lived here in the 6th century.

KildonanThere is a castle, now an ivy-clad ruin, standing on the old raised beach. Originally a 13th century keep, it was one of three fortresses ensuring Arran's strategic importance in the approaches to the Clyde.

It was built by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, but by 1406 had passed to King Robert III, and later to the Earl of Arran.

The Kilmory Cairns are a set of Neolithic chambered cairns, which lie southwest of the village. Skeletal remains and a flint knife were found inside. The villages of Lagg, Sliddery and Corrie Cravie are noted for their tropical vegetation due to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, the name Sliddery comes from the Gaelic meaning 'field of slaughter' because it was here that a marauding band of Vikings were trounced.

The West Coast of Arran

Before checking into our hotel at Blackwaterfoot, we ventured further up the west coast. Along the Western shore are a series of natural caves in the sandstone rock which may have been inhabited by ancient man as there are ancient carvings on the walls.

King’s CaveThe King’s Cave is supposed to be one of those places where Robert the Bruce was inspired by the perseverance of a spider. While hiding out in the cave he watched a spider try to built its home, never giving up no matter how many times it failed until the web held. Bruce was said to have been inspired and finally led the Scots to victory at Bannockburn.

Machrie MoorThere are three other caves here which may have been used by Fingal. The cliffs have basaltic pillars just like those on Staffa, the site of the famous Fingal's Cave.

At the western end of the String Road, there are six stone circles on the wide expanse of Machrie Moor. If we had visited Machrie Moor four thousand years ago we would have found ourselves in one of the most important Bronze Age centres anywhere in the UK.

Machrie MoorThe tallest monolith is 18-ft high and to get to the granite and sandstone rings we had to walk a mile or so through the sheep.

Machrie MoorThere were a couple of weirdoes sitting by the main stone circle – either meditating or high on something. They annoyed me because I wanted to take a decent photograph.

One of the stone circles is known as Fingal's cauldron seat, named after one of the legendary Irish warlords who came to Arran in ancient times. A stone within the circle has a hole through it, where Fingal is said to have tethered his dog.

Twelve ApostlesAt the north west, almost back at Lochranza, is the village of Catacol. There is a row of identical white cottages sitting on the seafront known as the Twelve Apostles, originally built to house crofters.


Blackwaterfoot harbourThe west coast of Arran is less developed than the east, and the largest settlement is the small village of Blackwaterfoot, overlooking Drumnadoon Bay. The village is formed by a collection of buildings focused on a minuscule harbour, which in turn is where the Blackwaterfoot Burn drops over natural rock weirs and flows under a stone bridge into the sea.

Blackwaterfoot beachBlackwaterfoot is also home to one of the larger hotels on Arran, in the form of the Kinloch Hotel, overlooking the sea next to the harbour and enjoying the spectacular views over to Kintyre.

Post box on the String RoadWe stayed there and were not impressed. The meal was absolutely disgusting and the service crummy but the Glaswegian Karaoke singer was quite amusing.

The next morning we had a walk on the beach before attempting breakfast and drove back to Brodick across the 'String Road', built in 1817 by Thomas Telford. The name comes from the description of sailors who thought it looked like a length of string laid out over the hills across the middle of Arran.

MV Caledonian IslesWe boarded the largest ship yet – the Caledonian Isles – for the hour-long trip to Ardrossan, and nine ferries later - the journey home.