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!
Winter has definitely arrived now, it’s cold, wet, windy and miserable today. To cheer us up here’s a video I found from a brighter nicer day, showing a day trip to Islay by RIB from Oban. Starting from Dunstaffnage they travelled to Port Ellen:
I hope you enjoyed the views from this trip, I found it quite interesting to see Port Ellen and other places from much lower down than the views usually seen from the ferry.
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.
Thought I’ll take you up in the air above Islay again today with two drone videos I’ve come across. The first one according to its title was more of a test, but as it has some very nice views of the snow capped hills of Jura (including the partly cloud covered Paps of Jura) I thought it was still worth sharing:
For the second video we travel across the island to the southern end of the Rhinns of Islay, to Portnahaven:
I hope you’ve enjoyed the videos from across Islay and Jura.
A quick update to the Updates from the Great Islay Swim posted last week. Bruichladdich have posted a nice video from the Sound of Islay leg of the swim, taking them from McArthur’s Head lighthouse to Rhuvaal lighthouse. I’ve walked from Bunnahabhain to Rhuvaal several times, I can’t imagine swimming all that (not to mention the rest from McArthur’s Head to Bunnahabhain). Watch the swimmers in action in the sun and the rain:
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 nice single topic Islay video tonight: Watching the MV Hebridean Isles departing from Port Askaig to cruise down the Sound of Islay towards the mainland. Filmed with a drone for some great views of the ferry and the Sound:
I’m pretty sure any Calmac ferries fan will love this video.
Very interesting to see it from this angle, especially as I thought only parts of the stern remain now. I might be wrong, but it looks to me as if there might be something left of the bow hiding below the water (visible towards the end of the video when he’s flying above it looking down)? What do you think?
OK, it’s not really that fast, it’s a timelapse video. But if you’re in a hurry and would like to see how a passage through the Sound of Islay looks this video should be just right for you. Let Jake take you through the Sound on the NLV Pharos: