Most people who have travelled to/from Islay via Port Askaig will at some point have noticed the ruins on Am Fraoch Eilean on the Jura side at the southern end of the Sound of Islay. This is Claig Castle, once a quite important castle on the west coast of Scotland. Someone from Cine Gate has flown a drone over it for a closer look:
It is probably around 500 years old, dating back to medieval times, and once was a Macdonald stronghold. Certainly an excellent position to control the area and any traffic passing through the Sound of Islay!
There are a number of lighthouses on and around Islay and Jura. Some are fairly easy to see and visit, others require quite a lot of effort, either a long walk or a trip with a boat. uklighthousetour is on a mission to visit lighthouses around the UK and recently visited Islay and Jura. Three blog entries describe what they found:
From my recent Islay visit I returned with a quite large souvenir which is now hanging on one of my walls. A few weeks ago Pat Farrington announced on Facebook that she had some maps of Islay, Jura and Colonsay in Gaelic for sale. I contacted her that I was interested and if I could pick one up during my Islay visit in November (they were sold pick up / delivery on Islay only).
We agreed to meet in Bowmore, where £10 and in return the map changed hands. From Bowmore I drove over to Islay House Square, where I dropped it off at Islay Studios to be framed. Mark had mentioned that they had framed another copy, I decided to do the same to keep it in prime condition and make it easier to hang up. I picked a light coloured wood as most of my furniture is pine and I wanted them to go together.
Here’s how it looks with the map hanging above my ‘Islay Shelf’ (where I keep my Islay single malts, my Islay books and various souvenirs):
I’m very happy how it turned out, I think it fits very well above the shelf. The map looks very nice in the frame, it covers many places including villages, hills, mountains, lochs and more. Of course all in Gaelic, as that’s the whole point of the map. The speech bubble is a lamp (hence the cable), but it didn’t look very nice switched on for a picture, so I turned it off (it looks very nice otherwise and is lit while I’m typing this).
Something that I’ve heard mentioned before seems to be back on the agenda again: Replacing the big ferries directly from the mainland to Islay with smaller ferries from the mainland to Jura, drive down Jura and then take the second ferry from Jura over the Sound of Islay to Port Askaig. In an article New plans for the future of Scotland’s ferry fleet would see more smaller vessels in the Herald we find:
Under the new proposal, Mull and Jura could play vital roles acting as these “land bridges”, slash journey times and increase service frequency to Islay and the Outer Hebrides.
Likewise, Islay passengers would get a ferry from Keills on the mainland and travel to Lagg on Jura, before crossing to Islay. One other advantage is that carbon emissions would be greatly reduced without the need for hybrid fuel ferries.
Pedersen added: “Both are much shorter than the current Kennacraig to Port Askaig/Port Ellen service on Islay and would allow up to ten daily crossings and the option of direct bus services between the islands and Glasgow.”
I’m not entirely convinced. To start with I don’t see the single track roads leading to Keills on the mainland and on Jura from Lagg to Feolin Ferry coping with all the additional traffic. They would need to be widened, strengthened and regularly maintained, which I suspect will cost many many millions and take many years if not decades to achieve (if possible at all). I suspect the residents of Craighouse won’t be too happy suddenly having a main A-road going right through their village. Similarly the residents along the Crinan Canal and Tavvallich (I assume the mainland part of the route would go along there). Complete new ferry terminals where currently no infrastructure exists at all would have to be developed and built, also the one at Feolin Ferry would need expansion. While admittedly smaller than the current large Kennacraig to Islay ferry I would think a Keills to Lagg ferry still would need to be of a reasonable size to cope with the volumes and the conditions in the Sound of Jura. The current ferry over the Sound of Islay would probably need an upgrade as well to cope with the volumes required.
That’s not to say the idea isn’t possible, I just feel it will be much more difficult than it seems at first glance. What do you think, will this happen, should this happen?
As mentioned in the intro, this idea isn’t new. What I hadn’t realised is that it goes back to the 1960 (yes, I know, strictly speaking it goes back way further than that, as the overland route via Jura was the original route to Islay before steamers etc came into play). Neil King has more on his blog in West Tarbert Pier – Part 1:
The Government was presented with two alternative proposals for Islay. [..] The other was the radically different so-called “Overland Route” which involved using Jura as a stepping stone to Islay via new, shorter car ferry routes from Keills in Argyll to Lagg in Jura and from Feolin on Jura to Port Askaig. (This had, in fact, been the original route to Islay until the development of steamship services in the second quarter of the 19th century replaced it with the route to WTP.)
In February 1968, the Government rejected the Overland Route on grounds of cost. As well as new ferries, it would have involved upgrading more than 30 miles (50km) of single track roads to Keills and on Jura at an overall cost of £3.2m. Instead, the Government preferred to spend £1.1m on a new ro-ro car ferry to operate from a new pier at Escart Bay, about a mile down the loch from WTP. This would serve Port Askaig, Colonsay and Port Ellen. Jura would be served by a new ferry across the Sound of Islay to Feolin instead of the traditional call at Craighouse en route to Port Askaig and Gigha would have its own independent ferry. This option could also be delivered much more quickly than the Overland Route and within the predicted remaining life of the Lochiel.
Something a bit different today. Something slightly unexpected. There’s quite a bit of talk about ‘YouTubers’ these days, how they become successful, that a lot of young people have aspirations to become a famous ‘YouTuber’ and more. In any case, it’s hard work, very hard work (and probably a bit of luck) to achieve that goal. I don’t follow many of them (among other things because I have very little to no interest in video gaming or gossip or fashion, which many of them seem to cover). One of the few I do follow and watch quite regularly is Tom Scott (website, YouTube channel). He covers a variety of interesting things incl his probably most popular series ‘Things You Might Not Know’.
So what does all this have to do with Islay and Jura?
Well, earlier this week Tom started a three part series titled ‘How To Be Popular On The Internet’ (Part 1, part 2). Watching part 1 the start is on a rainy Scottish island. Somehow (don’t ask me how, it was just a hunch) I had a feeling I knew this place. So I did some digging. Looking at this picture on his Instagram account I became even more convinced he would end up on Jura with a view over the Sound of Islay and Caol Ila in the distance. But what would this have to do with ‘How To Be Popular On The Internet’? George Orwell’s 1984 came to mind, but didn’t really make sense. Then I thought of the KLF, their book ‘The Manual’ and that they burned £1,000,000 on Jura. Which kind of made sense for this series.
Part 2 didn’t provide the answer, it was all set on the sleeper train to Scotland. Today part 3 came out and gave the answer:
I don’t know if Tom only visited Jura for long enough to film the video or if he also learned more about Jura (and Islay) while he was there. I should think there are a number of things he could use for his ‘Things You Might Not Know’ series, like the Corryvreckan whirlpool (once considered unnavigable) or the Round Church in Bowmore (to my knowledge there are only a handful of round churches in the UK). Unfortunately the wave power station on the Rhinns of Islay is now gone, I think he would have found that quite interesting.
Taking you to Islay’s neighbour Jura today for not one but two videos, showing some of Jura’s beautiful remote nature, wildlife and landscape. The first one is a longer video taking us on a walk to Cruib Bothy, showing what they saw during the walk and the stay at the bothy:
The second one is a bit shorter and takes us on a drone flight over Ruantallain Estate. Some brilliant views and scenery:
I hope you enjoyed the two videos, Jura is definitely worth an excursion from Islay.
In April I went to Islay for the Islay walking week and more. For various reasons I haven’t got round to write about the week so far, better get my act together now. As hoped it turned out a great week, even the weather largely held up.
Not having been on Islay for a year due to my heart operation I only went on three walks this time, freeing up some time for other activities. One was taking pictures of the remaining red phone boxes on Islay before they disappear. Here’s one of them at Ardbeg:
But back to the walking: As mentioned I went on to three walks, the opening walk on the Oa, the long walk out to Bholsa and the excursion to Jura. I had considered going to Colonsay and Oronsay, but having been so many times already I changed my mind and in the event the ferry was cancelled that day anyway.
The walk on the Oa was beautiful, the weather turned out better than expected and the Sun came out for the most important part of the walk along the steep cliffs (a very heavy rain shower arrived just as we got back to the road and were arranging transport back to the cars, couldn’t have timed it much better). While it was hazy for most of the time the views were impressive. It even cleared up for a short time and we could see over to Ireland.
The walk to Bholsa in the far north of Islay was educational, as it was led by geologist and book author David Webster. He explained how the landscape had formed, where the rock formations came from and much more. Some of the rocks are of volcanic origin, were once 1,800°C hot and located in what’s Iceland today (hope I remembered that correctly).
The last day took us over the Sound of Islay to Jura for a walk north along the shore. From Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse we looked over to the construction site of the future Ardnahoe distillery. Unfortunately some quite heavy rain set in soon after we left the lighthouse after lunch, ruining some of the best photo opportunities. I’ll have to revisit this during my next visit. Luckily the rain stopped and by the time we returned to Port Askaig the Sun had come out and we could sit out in the garden for an after walk drink and look back at a great week.
On my non-walking days I was busy with a variety of other activities, including catching up with friends, visiting Bruichladdich and Laphroaig distilleries, visiting Islay Ales brewery, trying out the new Peatzeria pizzeria, walking on the beach in Machir Bay as well as Saligo Bay and birdwatching at Gruinart.
In summary, a great week! Looking forward to both my next Islay visit in June as well as the Islay walking week 2018.
A few years ago (well, let’s call it a decade ago) I wrote a post about what I believed to be palm trees on Islay and Jura. Except … they aren’t palm trees. Someone corrected me in the comments, but sadly those comments have since been lost. Recently I came across a post discussing these trees, so I thought it’s worth revisiting the topic so that I have something to refer to when it comes up again.
As mentioned in the previous post the trees in question can be found in a variety of locations on both Islay and Jura, including around Port Ellen, in Bruichladdich and also in the community garden in Bridgend (at least back in 2007, when this picture was taken):
I must have had a hunch when I wrote this post and mentioned that the picture was from 2007. Sadly the tree has since been damaged in a storm, hopefully it will grow back to its former size. Many thanks to Steve Bavin of Islay Ales for the update!
End of update, original text continues below:
On Jura some of the best known ones can be spotted near the Jura Hotel garden, outside of the Jura distillery:
So what are these trees really if they are not palm trees? Well, we can read from some people from New Zealand (who should know them, as that’s where these trees are from), when visiting Jura in 2016 they taught the distillery staff about them. The tree is called Cordyline Australis, or cabbage tree. In the UK it is apparently also known as Torbay Palm and Torquay Palm, although that still doesn’t make it a palm tree. Among other things it doesn’t fare well in hot tropical climates, an area where you would expect palm trees to thrive.
So now you know, may be it will be helpful in a pub quiz one day?