It’s not often my jaw hits the floor when I see a destination for the first time. However, as we flew in on the early flight from Glasgow to Islay, over the Paps of Jura, I sat open-mouthed at the stunning scenery.
We got to see the views twice, as it happens, because the airport didn’t open until 9am and we had to circle the islands until someone opened the doors!
However, whilst we landed on Islay, our actual destination was still a bus and ferry ride away. Our driver/guide, Alec of the Jura Bus Service whisked us to Port Askaig to catch the short ferry ride to Jura. In fact, the ferry and time on board it is quite similar to the Portaferry-Strangford service.
The views from the ferry are incredible, the Paps of Jura overlook the area and it is a photographer’s paradise. Once on Jura, we learn there is one single track road which runs for around 25 miles up the coast of the island. Alec is very proud of the island and is a mine of information. He tells us there are around 180 inhabitants, one shop, pub, church, hotel, 5000+ deer and of course, the famous distillery.
The distillery, operating at the centre of the island’s only town, Craighouse, since 1810 is synonymous with the island as it is the area’s largest employer and a major tourist attraction. The distillery is a 24/7 operation and produces around 2 million litres a year.
Its whiskies are regular award-winners and a favourite among whisky aficionados. I met up with one of Whisky’s most famous ambassadors, Willie Cochrane, who has worked at the Jura Distillery for 35 years. He knows every inch of the building and is proud to show off the distillery, and its famous product, to thousands of visitors every year.
The distillery has a rather luxurious unique building next door, known as Jura Lodge. The lodge contains incredible décor in its 4 bedrooms and open-plan living/dining area. There’s even a suit of armour in the living room! The stylish retreat doesn’t have a television or mobile phone reception and sitting in the opulence of the lodge, you start to feel totally disconnected from the real world.
There’s also a resident ghost, but luckily she didn’t make an appearance during my stay. The Lodge is available to rent, but at a costly £2500 a night, it doesn’t come cheap.
Island life is totally unique. On a walk up the island’s one road, we stopped at the tiny parish church which houses an un-manned library where locals pop in to swap books, we visited a graveyard where a number of Knights Templar rest. We called in at the Island’s only grocery Shop, which is like stepping back in time, and one of those places where, depending on the weather, you can get today’s news tomorrow!
Nightlife on the island revolves around The Jura Hotel, it is home to the island’s pub and also serves as a restaurant. The new owners have recently revamped the interior and the hotel provides a warm, welcoming ambience to all who walk in the door. The hotel also offers camping facilities, acts as the Island’s petrol station and, very usefully, has WiFi Internet.
The privacy the Island offers has attracted many famous people. George Orwell wrote his book “1984” whilst staying in a house on the island and Prime Minister David Cameron regularly stays at his in-law’s estate.
It’s said that whisky is the water of life (Scots Gaelic: usquebaugh) and one of the headstones in the island graveyard marks the life of a man who “saw 180 Christmases in his own home”.
There is no doubt that whisky is central to life on Jura and the island has to be seen to be believed.