In the Herald - Idyllic Islay offers the ideal retreat

Date Published 
Wed 8 Dec 2021

Islay has become one of my favourite Scottish destinations for getting away from in it all.  This wonderful island is relatively easy to get to and offers splendid isolation, fantastic scenery, fabulous natural history and, of course, stunning whisky!

We visited in early July this year by island hopping to Arra, across to Claonaig, driving to Kennacraig and then taking the Finlaggan Ferry across to Port Askaig on Islay.

We stayed for a week in a converted barn called Smiddy Cottage on Smaul Farm on the far west of the island.  This secluded spot is only a short walk from the awe inspiring Saligo bay where the Atlantic Ocean rolls onto a vast sandy beach.  Remnants of the Home Chain radar station, used in the second world war, are still very much in evidence but are now only used for shelter by the sheep and ponies that wander the dunes.

As you walk further north the shore becomes rocky and the beaches are covered with smooth weathered pebbles and cobbles.  On the days when we were exploring the coast we saw virtually no-one else.  Grey seals were inquisitive and they were keen to see what was going on, getting remarkably close to us as we ambled across the folded rocks that make up the dramatic coast line.  Nesting kittiwakes and oystercatchers made their presence known with loud calls to warn us away from their nests.  Countless rock pipets and stonechats popped up and posed for their photograph amongst the sea pink flowers.

Walking as far north as we could safely go, we came to the Opera House Rocks named for their resemblance to the famous Sydney landmark.  We stopped to have lunch and to just enjoy the sights and sounds of this idyllic location before heading back to the cottage for dinner.

No trip to Islay is complete without visiting a few distilleries and, despite the ongoing Covid restrictions, many were still open to visit.  Adrbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig are particularly pretty distilleries to visit and are conveniently close together.  With whisky supplies replenished, we headed off to Sanaigmore Bay and Adrnave Point at the north of the island.  Here we found choughs (crows with an orange beak and legs) as well as many brown hares.  The beautiful isolated sandy bays really look like they should be in the Caribbean and not in the West of Scotland.

Back at Smiddy Cottage the big open skies afforded us fabulous views across Saligo bay.  As the sun set over the wild Atlantic we could clearly hear the rhythmic crashing of the waves on the beach.  I hope it won’t be long before we get a chance to return once again to this magical island.

Clive Watkins