‘Westering home, and a song in the air,
Light in the eye and it’s goodbye to care.
Laughter o’ love, and a welcoming there,
Isle of my heart, my own one.’
This love song to Islay was written in the 1920s and its lovely tune played in my head as we set sail on the ‘Hebridean Isles’ for 5 days on the Queen of the Hebrides.
The most southerly of these islands, Islay (pronounced Eye – La or in Gaelic Eel -i as in ‘it’) is a soft, arable island of low hills and great sweeps of pale sand beaches, rugged coast and whitewashed villages.Oh – and 9 whisky distilleries! There can be few whisky fans who have not tried one of the famously peaty Islay Malts or longed to visit this island of the Uisge Beatha – the Water of Life.
With a Saturday morning sailing from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, we set off from our home in Glasgow the afternoon before , as it’s a 3hr + drive.With a nice B&B booked in nearby Tarbert, we could enjoy the drive and relax in the village with some time to explore.
A serious landslip (very common) on the Rest and Be Thankful road meant we had an extra 45 mins or so detour, but it’s a very lovely drive from Loch Lomond onwards, so it was no hardship.My only disappointment was that our plan to visit Crarae Gardens, south of Inveraray, didn’t happen as by the time we got there, the skies had opened and it was bucketing down.
Our B&B – Fasgadh House – was in a lovely old house on the outskirts of Tarbert and just a 5 minute walk to the shops and restaurants. Great outlook across Loch Tarbert too.
The rain had stopped by now, so off we set for a wander, making our way up to the village’s 13th century ruined castle. It was extended and used by Robert the Bruce and has a fascinating history. For more on the castle: https://www.tarbertcastle.info/index.asp?pageid=276100
There are some nice shops selling good shower gels/hand soap/fragrant candles etc which I can rarely resist but I had to this time as the car was already jam packed with so much ‘stuff’ – almost the kitchen sink – as we were wild camping part of the time. Actually we camped only 3 nights out of the 9 we were away (we also spent time in Glencoe and Skye after Islay) but any fool can be miserable camping, so comfort items (my pillow for a start!) were coming with us.
We decided to eat in and bought cooked chicken thighs and spicy wings, coleslaw , decent bread, tomatoes and pickles and some dips, all washed down with the Co-op’s best Chardonnay. Chris often says – ‘I know how to give a girl a good time, don’t I?” when we eat in, but we go away a lot and the costs would mount up if we ate out all the time. I actually don’t mind a bit and in fact I’m not a fan of eating out often as too frequently the cost/quality is disappointing.Plus, I like the privacy and quiet of our nice accommodation too (did I say quiet? Not for long!)
We are fairly early bedders and risers, especially so after the 4hr drive and given the early-ish start next day. Unfortunately the other room in the house had two really noisy women in it! I could have brained them when they lurched in after midnight, yakking at the top of their voices, door slammed shut, then proceded to talk and laugh at decibel level on their mobiles. It woke me immediately.Who are these people that behave like that?? Why do they never remember that they are sharing a house? Chris and I always talk quite softly in a hotel or B&B, out of courtesy for others. It’s a reminder – and I’ve had it often given our regular travels – of the annoyance that can be Other People!
At 12.30pm I forced myself out of my comfy, warm bed and knocked on their door asking – politely, calmly – if they could please keep the noise down as we were trying to sleep. I got a hard stare from a hard face, a quick, silent nod and then she shut the door angrily.But thankfully, the racket stopped. As we made our way quietly down the stairs next morning, around 8am, I had a great urge to clatter and rattle our way down instead but resisted.Why stoop to their level? Ah, it’s great to be prefect:)
Gorgeous weather, a long queue for the ferry, but we had booked so no worries about a space. It’s just under a 2 hour sail to Port Askaig, a beautiful sail in good weather. We spotted a porpoise and also around 4 dolphins hunting once the ship left West Loch Tarbert behind and headed out into the open sea. The Paps of Jura were stlll in cloud; those three shapely mountains (not two as the name suggests!) are one of my favourite West Coast views.
Arrived Port Askaig just before 12noon in warm sunshine and little did we know, but we now had 10 days of wonderful weather ahead of us….
First port of call after picking up supplies in the village of Bowmore was the Ardnave Peninsula.We had wild camped there before; it’s a remote and lovely part of Islay. The last short section of road is bumpy but it’s a popular area for people wanting a family beach or kayaking day, with shallow, safe water all around the coast.
An easy 10 minute walk took us across the fields of sheep and cattle and down to the shore where we found an excellent grassy spot to pitch the tent.
Then out with the sandwiches I’d made up and Chris got the faithful Trangia stove on for tea. Not a bad spot for lunch!
Though we were slightly taken aback at how many people were around – 6 or so that we could see nearby; including a family kayaking. Such is a ‘busy’ beach in the Hebrides, when we are so used to having sands pretty much to ourselves! Still, it was school holiday time, stay-cations were higher because of Covid and the weather was perfect.
The rest of the day was spent walking round the Ardnave peninsula, following the various sheep tracks over the machair. It’s a lovely area and the loop gives a good 2 hour walk of around 4 miles, though it can be shortened. Delightful it was too -Walkhighlands gives it a 4 star rating – with lots of seals singing hauntingly offshore. For more on this walk: ARDNAVE and the SINGING SEALS
Chris loves a good BBQ and we had found Chicken Pakora in the Co-op, an Indian dish of spicy chicken in an almost Dayglo red batter which is an obsession for curry fans in Scotland. I’ve tried in vain to find Pakora in England’s Indian restaurants and it doesn’t exist.Their loss!
We picked up some great Rib Eye steak too. Before that, we popped open some Champagne (Lidl special and excellent stuff at £10.99), it’s my favourite aperitif and we enjoyed a few glasses sitting in the camping chairs and doing little more than watching the tide race in over the huge sands of Loch Gruinart. Camping is not everyone’s cup of tea and I didn’t appreciate it until my 40s, but a wild camp, in good weather, in a beautiful location is an experience money cannot buy. I wouldn’t want to do it every night but on occasional nights here and there, it’s perfect. Peace perfect peace and thankfully, a light breeze kept the dreaded midges away – they are guaranteed to ruin a camp and chase us indoors early. Mind you, simply walking about keeps them at bay too and nursing a glass of something while strolling around isn’t too much of a hardship:)
At 8pm, I had a notion to drive briefly up to the ruin of 14th century Kilnave Chapel which I could see from our camp. The entrance to the graveyard is dominated by the remains of a fine Celtic Cross and the whole location is lonely and evocative.
Chris couldn’t be persuaded to move from his chair and wine, so I took off for the 5 min drive.Beautiful place, my favourite ruined church on Islay. I was back in time to watch the sun going down over the loch and the Paps, the only sound, the seals singing mournfully offshore and the occasional piping call of an Oystercatcher. Relaxing, natural sounds, calming somehow and I slept like a log but woke around 5.30am to witness a lovely sunrise.
Next Day: Bowmore , the Mull of Oa hike and 5 star luxury at The Machrie Hotel – ISLAY -MULL OF OA/BEINN MHOR HIKE