Islay and Jura are fantastic places for those who love the outdoors and activities – but they are also surprisingly good places just to relax, unwind and watch the world go by. It’s a great place for families and dogs, for romantic breaks and just to get away from it all. There’s a wealth of history to uncover or just relax with a drink in hand and taking in the spectacular views.
From the hills, mountains and lochs, long unspoiled sandy beaches and secluded coves there are so many places to explore on the islands – you don’t have to go far to find a spot all to yourself. There are waterfalls, rivers and burns and many a delightful afternoon can be spent on simple pleasures like looking for creatures in the rocky pools of the shore, or building a beach barbecue and cooking as the sun sets over the sea.
For those who want to be doing something more active there is plenty to do to burn off some energy. Activities include cycling, kayaking, fatbiking, paddleboarding, swimming, e-biking, cycling, boat trips, birdwatching, shooting, fishing, golf, foraging, hiking – and of course whisky tasting and whisky tours.
To learn more about the island visit The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte, where you can read (and see) more of the island’s history through some well-presented information boards and artefacts, and don’t miss the Natural History Museum to learn more about this area’s flora and fauna. There RSPB centre near Gruinart has lots of information on birds, wetlands and wildlife too. Most distilleries have visitor centres with more historical information, and opportunities for shopping, eating and whisky tours and tastings.
There are lots of sites of historical interest – such as Finlaggan, the seat of the Lords of the Isles, Dunnyvaig castle or Kildalton Cross on Islay or Barnhill George Orwell’s house on Jura. Throughout the islands you’ll find standing stones, burial grounds or places where our ancestors once lived.
A boat trip to see local wildlife in the sea, air and on land is a popular thing to do and a fantastic way to see more of the islands and the animals that live in and around them. Seals are usually guaranteed as there are several colonies here, dolphins often join the boats, you can spot otters on the shoreline and whales have even been known to put in an appearance. The islands are home to wild goats, and plenty of sheep and cattle which you’ll often find wandering free or grazing along the shore – sometimes even walking on the beach. Keep your eyes on the skies for buzzards, hen harriers, Golden Eagles and Sea Eagles as well as thousands of other birds – including in winter Islay’s famous barnacle geese. The RSPB site on the Oa and the one at Gruinart are good places to start for some birdwatching.
The Gulf of Corryvreckan spearates Jura from the smaller island of Scarba to the north. The Corryvreckan Whirlpool (the third largest in the world) as it is called, is caused by an underwater sea stack which reaches almost to the surface and causes the whirlpool when the tides change. You can get trips by boat to see this incredible natural phenomena in action or you can see it from Jura – but it’s a long walk from the nearest road to where you might view it.
There are also lots of beautiful inland lochs to walk around or to visit – they’re often overlooked with so many fantastic beaches to discover – but they are really worth visiting. There are some stunning lighthouses around the islands too and with white sand beaches and turquoise waters a holiday here can be the most Instagram-able experience!
Those that like to shop will find a number of small, independent shops dotted around the islands, with quality local artisan crafts and products for sale. There are photographic and art galleries, distillery shops with a range of gifts and goods, local woven wool items and places to buy books, jewellery, soaps and other gifts. Small craft shops alongside crofts are not uncommon and there are weekly craft fairs throughout the summer season, so whilst there are no shopping centres here there are plenty of opportunities for buying beautiful things.