Top 5 Things to do on Islay

A photo of the landscape of Islay

You spend that last week before your holidays tying up all your tasks. Then you start to pack the car, have those niggles with your traveling partner(s)- ‘did I switch the iron off, have you left food for the cat, you did lock the back door, didn’t you?….’ and you are finally on your way to the ferry. As you leave the clunk of the ferry ramp behind, the stunning Hebridean island of Islay unfolds before your eyes and all those worries start to fade away as you breathe in the fresh sea air. So the only thing that potentially needing thinking about is…’what shall we see and do on our holiday?’

Well, you need not worry as we have done the leg work for you and created your very own, bespoke top 5 things to do on Islay:

Islay Sea Adventures

Seal sun bathing on a rock

Step on board a 38ft Revenge Charter with Islay Sea Adventures at the marina of Port Ellen and soak up the view of Islay and its marine life. For those fishers amongst you can book fishing trips and those with a more daring disposition you can arrange to go diving and view some of the 97 wrecks off the coast off Islay.

Whisky Distillery Tours

Barrels of whisky in a line

No trip to Islay would be complete without visiting at least one of their eight prestigious whisky distilleries. This unique island produces some of the strongest flavoured Single Malt Whiskies in Scotland. 

The Museum Of Islay Life

Exterior view of the Museum of Islay Life building

This quaint little church house in Port Charlotte many items reflecting the history of Islay with around 2,000 objects from a variety of subjects. The Museum of Islay Life exhibits items from Mesolithic times to recent including artefacts found from archaeological investigations and rooms displaying how the inside of a croft would have once looked.

Islay Beaches

Family holding hands and splashing in water on the beach

You come to an island and you expect a beach or at least the sea! The Islay coastline spans 130 miles and hosts some the worlds most scenic beaches. Here you can also observe some of Islay’s wildlife including seals, and many species of bird. For some wild swimming you can choose from the following safest beaches to take a dip if you dare!: Laggan Bay, Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal.

The Isle of Jura

The Paps of Jura on the Scottish Isle of Jura

If you fancy a trip across the water it is a skip, hop and a jump where you can visit the equally stunning Isle of Jura, Islay’s neighbouring island. Simply board the ferry for a 15 minute crossing that separates the two islands and prepare to be wowed! People on this island are outnumbered by deer, with only 180 of the two-legged variety and 5,000 of the four-legged!

 

Whatever you choose to do, rest assured that here at Islay Cottages you can return to the most relaxing and cosy accommodation in one of our cottages or our stunning Georgian Kilchoman house. You will not want to leave, with so many great things to do in Islay!

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Wildlife Spotting on Islay

Scottish stag in a herd in winter

Scottish Wildlife

Islay is home to some truly magnificent natural beauty and Scottish wildlife. The island is a hot spot for wildlife and birdwatchers throughout the world and renowned for its offering of diverse and rare wild inhabitants. Planning a trip to Islay? Keep reading to find out more about wildlife spotting on Islay.

Grey Seals

Grey seal swimming in the sea in Scotland

Islay is the perfect place to observe grey seals in their natural habitat. With a colony native to the island, the seals have become fairly accustomed to a human presence and as such are happy to come within close proximity. Be warned – grey seals have a nasty bite and will not stop at anything to protect their young. It’s always important to remember never to approach a seal pup, even if it’s on its own as if your scent transfers to them, when the mother seal returns, she is likely to reject her pup. If you’re worried that a seal pup has been abandoned, stay downwind, so as to prevent your scent scaring away the mother and keep an eye on the baby. If you’re confident no mother is returning, then call the Scottish SPCA on 03000999999.

The best places to spot grey seals on the island are Port Wemyss and Portnahaven, as well as around the bays between Lagavulin and Artalla. Seals can also be found at Loch Gruinart nature reserve. Keep your peepers peeled as if you’re lucky you may even spot some basking sharks or dolphins, although, chances of spotting these species are considerably more in a boat.

European Otters

Brown otter sitting on a rock

If you’re seeking ot-ta wildlife, then Islay has a treat in store for you! A bad pun aside, Islay is a prime place to spot a European otter or two!

The otters on the island are notoriously tricky to spot, but if you wait a while, you are likely to be rewarded for your patience. You might spot them on the north of Bunnahabain, or on the Caol Ila beach.

Deer

Roe Deer on a sunny day Islay Scotland

Of course, no trip to the Scottish Highlands and Islands would be complete without spotting a stag! You may spot these majestic creatures throughout the island, but they can be very shy! The island is home to three species of deer – Fallow, Roe and Red deer. These species can be found all over the island and are a great challenge for those looking to add to their photography bucket list.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare leaping up in a field

The beautiful species of brown hare are all over the island. Easily spooked like the deer on Islay, the best time to sneak a peek at a brown hare is during dusk in the vicinity of Loch Gorm. Take things slow on the road as these adorable mammals may jump out onto the road! If you’re lucky, you may even be privileged to watching the hares play together in groups.

Islay Accommodation

Are you planning a trip to do some Scottish wildlife spotting on Islay? Why not book in and stay at one of our beautiful self-catering cottages? Please get in touch to find out more about booking with us.

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Our Favourite Islay Distilleries

A photo of some distillery barrels

Visiting Whisky Distilleries on Islay

Asides from Islay’s stunning natural beauty, if there’s one thing our island can hold a claim to fame about. And that’s producing world class malt whisky! Of course, with eight distilleries on the island alone, it can be hard to know where to begin. But don’t worry, we’re here to give you an insight into our favourite whisky distilleries on Islay.

NEWEST: Kilchoman Distillery

Right on the doorstep of our very own Kilchoman Cottages, is the aptly named Kilchoman Distillery. This is a relatively new player to the Islay whisky scene, arriving in 2005. The first new distillery to the island in 124 years!

The Kilchoman Distillery is unique because they hand-craft their whisky from barley that they grow on their own farm land, on site. Making it Scotland’s only Single Farm Single Malt. It’s also one of only a few remaining independent whisky distilleries.

OLDEST: Bowmore Distillery

If you’re staying at Tarbert House B&B, you’re very close to Bowmore Distillery. This is the oldest distillery on Islay, dating from 1779 or even earlier. 

This is a wonderful place to take a tour (there are several to choose from) and learn about whisky history and heritage. It’s also home to the Bowmore Whisky Tasting Bar. A welcoming bar with spectacular views across Loch Indaal, and experts on hand to help you find your perfect dram.

LARGEST: Caol Ila Distillery

If whisky is your thing, then a trip to the Caol Ila Distillery is simply a must. Its Gaelic name translates as “sound of Islay” and you should pronounce it “cull-eela”.  This distillery is about a mile north from Port Askaig. Founded in 1846, the distillery has seen closure and re-opening due to major events such as the Second World War.

Today, the whisky distillery produces around 7 million litres of the spirit each year. Caol Ila distillery is also the market leader on Islay, producing well over double the volume of whisky as the other distilleries on the island. As Islay’s giant, a tour around the Caol Ila distillery is a must-visit attraction for any whisky enthusiast. 

Islay Whisky Breaks

Of course, visiting all these distilleries can be exhausting! But if you’re staying with us at Islay Cottages, you can relax after a hard day’s tasting and touring. So, book now and get planning your trip around the many whisky distilleries on Islay!

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Nature Retreats to Islay

Otters on a branch on the water

Exploring Scottish Nature on Islay

Islay is famous for its spectacular wildlife and is home to many species. A beautiful, peaceful and easily-accessible island of the Inner Hebrides, it’s the perfect place to visit for a Scottish nature and wildlife retreat. 

Sea Life

Islay Sea Adventures offer wonderful nature-watching boat tours. So, if you fancy bobbing up and down on the waves and breathing in the salty sea air you can board a boat at Port Ellen Marina, which will take you along the East Coast and introduce you to some of Scotland’s most amazing creatures. From the cute puppy-eyed seals, huge basking sharks and friendly dolphins you are sure to be dazzled! 

Dry Land

Of course you do not have to board a boat to observe much of Islay’s wildlife. You can see much of what is on offer on foot on dry land. Seals can be observed along coastal routes. Or, if you venture inland you can stumble upon an otter near a river, or deer trotting across moorland. You may if you are lucky even spot the occasional hare darting across the heather. And if you’d like some expert guidance, Wild Islay Birding offer a choice of wildlife and bird-watching tours by mini-bus on the island.

Feathered Friends

You can spot many species of birds from any part of the island you visit. Geese and a variety of ducks bob and splash in the waters of Islay, while raptors such as the Golden Eagle and buzzards glide the skies, hunting out their next feed!

Nature Breaks to Islay

Here at Islay Cottages our properties have fabulous views of the sea, and also a fabulous special offer for nature lovers.  Stay in our cosy self-catering cottages with our Islay Sea Adventure Break and discounted tickets for Scottish nature boat tours.

 

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Scottish Highlands and Islands Packing List

Suitcase filled with clothes, camera, sunglasses

What to Pack for Scotland’s Highlands and Islands

The Scottish Highlands and Islands is one of the most magnificent places to visit on earth! But with our rugged landscapes and famously changeable Scottish weather, you might be wondering what to pack for a visit. So, here’s our list to give you a few pointers.

What to Wear in Scotland

Female walker in the Scottish Highlands

Comfy Clothes – Comfortable, practical clothes are best for exploring the Highlands and Islands. You may have heard that we experience all 4 seasons in one day here, and this is often true. So, you’ll need sunglasses and a raincoat at all times. (In the wind and rain, a hooded waterproof jacket is more useful than an umbrella, as it will not blow inside out!) In the winter, wrap up warm, as temperatures range from around 5C to below 0. In summer, it’s a milder 9 to 18, but it may still be windy and cold. If you bring lots of layers, for example top, jumper, rain jacket, warm coat, hat, scarf and gloves, then you’re prepared for all eventualities.

Sturdy Footwear – If you plan on doing lots of walking, you’ll need good sturdy walking shoes for the uneven terrain. And we’d suggest a pair of wellies too, for walking through shallow water, puddles and mud.

Evening Wear – Don’t forget to pack something for the evening too. If you’re planning on attending a ceilidh or dinner, you may want to dress up for the occasion.

Other Essentials – Of course, don’t forget your underwear, toothbrush, soaps, medication and other daily essentials. Those travelling by air must follow the rules for packing hand luggage.

What to Put in Your Backpack

Old, cracked map of Scotland with a compassMobile Phone – It goes without saying, you should take your phone along. But make sure you also have your mains charger and a portable charger, so you don’t run out of battery. If you’re travelling from abroad, ensure your phone is set up for use in the UK, and bring a mains adapter too.

Camera – This is a must, to capture those breath-taking scenes and special memories you’ll want to keep with you for the rest of your life.

Map and Compass – Today, many of us rely on our phones and sat navs for directions. But it’s always wise to have a solid back up, in the form of an old-fashioned road map and compass. You never know when technology might fail you, especially in the remotest areas of Scotland.

Water Bottle and Snacks – If you’re going out into the countryside, take some drinks and snacks to keep you energised. Although it’s lovely to visit the local shops and cafes, have some extra supplies on hand just in case they are closed, or further away than you anticipated.

Sun cream and Midge Spray – In the warmer months, generally May to October, you’ll need sun cream with you. Plus, an insect repellent to ward off those pesky beasties.

First Aid Kit – It’s always useful to carry a small first aid kit when travelling, in case of emergencies.

 

We hope this has helped you plan what to pack for a visit to Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. If you’re travelling to our beautiful island of Islay (and you MUST), check out our lovely self-catering accommodation and please get in touch with any questions. Have a wonderful trip!

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Experience a Scottish Christmas on Islay

Close up of Christmas tree with fairy lights

A Traditional Scottish Christmas

December is here and we’re feeling festive at Islay Cottages. Christmas is fast approaching, a time for families and friends to unite, celebrate and reflect. We don’t think there’s anywhere better to experience a traditional Scottish Christmas than right here on our beautiful island. There’s a great sense of community and togetherness here as we enter the festive period. And although the weather is getting chilly now, when we all get together to celebrate, Christmastime is truly warm and cosy.

Believe it or not, Christmas is a relatively new celebration for the Scots. It was banned for many years, and it only became an official public holiday in 1958. Before then, Hogmanay (New Year) was our main winter festival, and it’s still hugely popular today. However, we do now welcome Christmas with open arms. And in true Scots style, a good drink is a must to celebrate Christmas with friends and family!

Things to do on Islay this Christmas

Glass of whisky and a folded scarf in front of open fireThere’s a lot happening on Islay over the festive period. If you’re staying with us this December, take a look at this great guide to festive things to do on Islay from our friends at Peatzeria Restaurant. We have fantastic local events, carol services, live music and fairs. Not forgetting some fabulous Hogmanay celebrations on New Year’s Eve. 

On Christmas Day itself, our holiday cottages are the perfect place to get together and enjoy a traditional Scottish Christmas. And why not walk off your Christmas meal with a crisp refreshing stroll on the sandy beaches? Followed swiftly, of course, by a warm dram beside the roaring log fire back at your cottage. 

Islay Winter Breaks

To find out more about spending a Scottish Christmas on Islay, take a look at our great Winter Breaks offer or call 01496 850 382. 

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Highland Cow Q&A

A Highland Cow with Scottish Highlands in the background

Here on Islay, we are no strangers to the Highland cow, a distinctive type of cattle that originated in Scotland. This hairy, horned beast can often be spotted grazing our rugged landscapes, whatever the weather. They’re a hardy breed, and they thrive where others would struggle. But they are friendly too, and popular with tourists.

The Highland cow has become an icon of Scotland, but how much do you know about these long-haired creatures of the Highlands? Today we answer some of the most-asked questions about Highland cows.

Where do Highland cows live?

Close upWell, of course they come from the Scottish Highlands. The breed originated not far from Islay, in the Western Isles of Scotland. And it is the oldest breed of cattle in the world, first registered in 1885. But today, you’ll find them all over Scotland and other parts of the world too. Places such as America, Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, to name a few.

How big is a Highland cow?

4 Highland cows walking on country roadHighland cattle are smaller than other breeds of cow you may be familiar with, such as Friesians or Jerseys. Female Highland cows weigh around 500 kg and males about 800 kg.

Can you milk a Highland cow?

Three Highland cows grazingYes, you can milk a female Highland cow, although you wouldn’t get the same large quantities of milk you’d get from a dairy cow. Highland cows have smaller teats and their milk has a higher content of butterfat.

Are Highland cows dangerous?

No, Highland cows are not thought to be dangerous. They generally have a gentle, friendly nature. As with all large animals though, do take care not to spook them. And, be extra careful around mothers with calves, are they are very protective of their young.

Why are Highland cows so hairy?

The Highland cow’s shaggy coat helps it survive the cold Scottish winter. Their undercoats keep them warm, while their longer guard hairs protect them from the rain and snow. During the summer they shed most of this hair, to prevent them from overheating. They also have long eyelashes and a long fringe which defends their eyes against the elements and stops insects from getting in.

Do female Highland cows have horns?

Yes, but the horns of males and females do differ slightly. The male’s horns are shorter, thicker and only curve upwards a little. While the female’s horns are longer, thinner and curve upwards more.

 

So now you know a little more about the Scottish Highland cow (Heilan coo in Scots). Look out for them on your next visit to Islay. And if you’re already planning your next trip, take a look at our special accommodation offers today.

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Romantic Island Escape

A middle aged couple walking hand in hand on a beach

♥ Romantic Breaks in Scotland – Love is in the air…A couple with the girl getting a piggy back from her male partner

Are you looking for romantic breaks in Scotland? Then why not make an adventure of it and visit the stunning island of Islay? Islay is a perfect romantic getaway, with scenery and views to set any heart fluttering! With Valentines Day just around the corner, this could be the perfect gift for your loved one to get those sparks flying!

Walk hand in hand along our golden sandy beaches…

If you enjoy a romantic stroll, then do it in style. With a huge choice of beautiful beaches to choose from you are spoilt for choice. From Machir Bay with its huge expanse of sand, Sanaigmore with its protected cove and Kilnaughton Bay, wherein the right conditions the sand will ‘sing’ to you. Together, arm in arm, you can also watch the seals from Kilinallan and sing to them! The perfect setting for romance to blossom.

A romantic tipple for two…Two whisky glasses, a bottle of whisky and a whisky barrel

No break to Islay would be complete without a visit to one of our famous Islay whisky distilleries. Like our beaches, there are plenty to choose from! Some of the strongest malt whiskeys come from Islay, which depending on your palette, you will love or not! However, what we can be sure about is that love will ignite after a couple of tipples! If you want to treat your other half to something special, you can find out more about Distillery Tours on Islay here.

You want a ‘Pizza my Heart’?A heart shaped pizza

If you fancy some delicious dining for two then head along to Islay’s recent and very popular new addition! Peatzeria opened its doors last year to locals and tourists and it has been a huge success with 5 star reviews! A pizzeria (as you may have figured by the name) that offers a vast selection of delicious pizzas as well as a variety of other dishes. Furthermore, it boasts, stunning and romantic views over Lochindaal, where you and your loved one can share a ‘Lady and the Tramp’ moment over a bowl of pasta! A couples feet, warming by the fire

Snuggle up in each other’s arms…

Why not snuggle up by a roaring fire? Here at Islay Cottages, we have 5 cosy cottages and a stunning, large Georgian House at Kilchoman, in a rural setting with views of the sea. We also have an additional cottage in Bowmore which backs onto Lochindaal and boasts beautiful views. What is more, we have a fabulous romantic offer.  If you book with us you will receive a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne upon your arrival! All you need to do is light the fire and indulge yourselves!

Fall in love all over again…

If this has got sparks flying and you would like to come and stay with us then please get in touch. Be it romantic Scottish short breaks, weekend getaways or longer stays we have it covered. And all with a sprinkling of romance!

You can call us on 01496 850 32 or you can book online. For online, you can view our tariffs and availability from the booking bar or the availability section in the main navigation. Then simply fill out the online booking form. We look forward to hearing from you and see love bloom!

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Not a Whisky Spirit

Pumpkins in an eerie forest

Scottish ghost stories from the island of Islay

Halloween is looming and with this in mind, we thought we would look at some of our other types of spirits that inhabit this old, historical island. If you like to hear Scottish ghost stories and want to be spooked then read on and find out what eerie friends live alongside us on this island.

A ghostly figure walking through a dark wood

Kildalton Castle and its employee…

Near Port Ellen (also famous for another haunting) nestled the once Kildalton Castle. Like most castles in Scotland, it was said to have its very own resident ghost. Many years ago there was an employee who had a ‘very distinct appearance’ who worked for the then laird. Often he would need to leave the island. Despite his absence, he was seen wandering around the large castle building. Then one day, long after this man was dead and buried, two women were sitting in Craigmore forest and saw a figure walking towards them. Important note is that Craigmore forest was once the property of the Laird. Significantly, the figure that approached, was clothed in the fashion of a bygone era. He was also accompanied by a terrier dog. As he and his dog passed the ladies, to their astonishment, there was no sound. They then simply disappeared into the bushes. Upon returning home, one of the women described this apparition to their mother, who had once worked for the laird. At once she recognised the description of this man. He was the long-dead factor who had once been employed by the old laird.

A ghost peering through a window

Port Ellen haunting

Next, is the haunting in Port Ellen. Presently, a country hotel this building was once a distillery. When the building was still in use as a distillery in the nineteenth century a thirsty burglar paid a visit. Indeed, being surrounded by barrels of fine malt whisky he had a tipple or two or three or four. As a result, not being sharp with sobriety, he made for the closest exit. Important to note, this was a second-floor window! Unfortunately, he did not survive the fall and is said to still haunt the building to this day. From time to time he can be seen at the spot where he fell surprising any visitors in his path. The window has since been bricked over. 

Bowmore’s headless horseman

A headless horseman

Upon his return home one stormy Scottish night, crofter Lachlan Ban, saw something that spooked him. A headless horseman, galloped away from his house leaving him frozen in fear. As he approached the front of his house, the door was ajar. When he stepped inside the fire had blown out and there stood a bottle of Bowmore whisky and an empty dram. Of course there then came an explanation to this paranormal experience. Ban’s brother had passed that Friday night. Furthermore, he stated that the wind had blown the front door open and blown out the fire. Additionally, he mentioned he had brought the whisky to share with him and could wait no longer. So had had a quick dram himself before leaving. In the light of the terrible weather, he had galloped off with his cloak pulled tight over his head. Nevertheless, this story still haunts the island. To this day, true islanders never offer an opened bottle of whisky to their guests in fear of attracting the headless horseman. Maybe, something to do with the fact that Ban was too embarrassed to tell real the story!

Come and visit this spooktacular island!

So why not come along to Islay and see it for yourself. Maybe you will see a ghost or two while you are here! Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit this stunning island. If you are looking for somewhere to stay then get in touch with us here at Islay Cottages today.

 

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The Jura Music Festival

A fiddle player and an accordion player

Music to your ears at the Jura Music FestivalA fiddle, guitar, ukulele and accordion

The Scottish Traditional Music Awards ‘Best Music Festivals’ nominees are ready to do it again! Having reached the top 3, being pipped to the post by Celtic Connections, the Jura Music Festival is set to host another astonishing music event this 2017! So why not start thinking about a musical Autumn break and visit us here on Islay and Jura? Running from 22nd- 24th of September, music will echo the Isles!

Top class musicians performing and running workshops

As a result of a dedicated and passionate Committee, as well local residents, the festival has become as accomplished as it is. As a result of its stature, a pool of top class musicians will be hosting exciting performances and inspiring workshops for all to enjoy. 

Important to point out is that Jura has music in its core. With artists such as Peat Smoke and the Roaches, Simon Moran from Deoch and Dorus, Danny Moran a top traditional musician and many more Jura has plenty of rhythm and beat. So they know what they are doing when it comes to music.

So what is on at this year’s event?

Hence the popularity of The Jura Musci Festival, there is a strong lineup this year.  Heron Valley, The Fold and BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year finalists, Talisk, are performing on Saturday. Furthermore, you can enjoy the sounds of Ho-Ro and Tide Lines on Sunday. There is more information on the acts performing here. Furthermore, you can come along with your dancing shoes and enjoy the fabulous Saturday night Ceilidh!

Looking for accommodation?

A view of Kilchoman House and Cottages from a nearby hill.

If this is music to your ears and you are looking for accommodation then check out our holiday cottages on Islay. Here you can relax in our quaint and cosy cottages with views of the sea. As well as our cottages, larger groups can book our stunning Georgian house. See our accommodation here for more information.  What is more, we are only a 30-minute drive from the 5-minute ferry crossing to Jura at Port Askaig. So, if you are planning visit one of the top music festivals in Scotland, we would be delighted to accommodate you on your stay. Book online here or call us on 01496 850382.

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