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Fiona Brownlee finds her spiritual home in the untouched corners of the Outer Hebrides
he Isle of Islay isn‘t on the island hopping trail of the
Outer Hebrides and isn't as easily accessible as the
more touristy islands of Mull and lona but it is well worth making the effort to get there. With tniles of golden beaches and a wide range of outdoor activities. there is a lot more to the island than the seven whisky distilleries for which it is famous (though it is always nice to end an exhilarating day in the fresh air with a wee dram). You can fly to lslay from (ilasgow but ttnless you are really strapped for time it is far more pleasurable to drive and get the ferry from Kennacraig at the top of the Kintyre peninsula. The drive via Loch l.omond and Loch l’yne takes in some marvellous scenery. ranging from the inspiring views at the top of the aptly named Rest and Be 'l‘hankful to the picturesque villages of lnverary and 'l‘arbett. In the three hours it takes to drive from (ilasgow you can almost feel yottrself unwinding and by the titne you reach the ferry the stress of city life is already far behind.
The ferry takes around two hours to get to lslay. sailing past the island of (iigha with the distinctive 'paps’ of .lura in the distance. The boat arrives at either Port Askaig or Port lillen. l’ott Askaig is the crossing to hope for on a rough day. The ‘sound‘ between lslay and .lura is mttch more sheltered and you travel so close to the .lura shore that you can almost claim to have 'bagged‘ another island in one trip. The Port lillen route passes whitewashed distilleries with the names of famous malts such as Ardbeg. l.agavu|in and l.aphroaig emblazoned on their walls in big black letters and the curiously shaped lighthouse and stretch of golden sand heralds your arrival.
To simplify the geography of Islay. it is easiest to divide it
112 THE LIST Ma. ‘ .l-r‘ ”
into three sections with the tnain town of Bowmore at the centre. To the north-east of Bowmore are l’ort Askaig and Bridgend. Port lillen is to its south. and the village of Port Charlotte. with its perfectly white-washed holiday homes and manicured gardens. is to the west. All have their advantages but with a car they are accessible in one visit so your choice of accommodation should not preclude your being able to take in everything that the island has to offer.
My spiritual home is Kintra. four miles down a single- track road from Port lillen. It is a working farm on a marvellous. if isolated. spot nestled in an imposing headland at the end of a seven-mile stretch of beach. In addition to 862B the (iaelic speaking owners have converted three old buildings into cottages with incredible views of the sea and wood burning fires for those days when the rain is lashing down outside. Rolling breakers crash onto the beach and kayakers and surfers are frequently to be found there riding the waves and camping in the dunes but during the summer months it is equally likely to be used by families seeking an away from it all holiday with a safe beach for children. The only thing lacking at Kintra is a restaurant. The Old (iranary. which used to provide sustenance to campers and cottage dwellers. closed a few years ago so now the only option is to self cater. drive to Bowmore or paddle across the burn and walk up the internationally famed golf course to the Machrie Hotel. which serves evening meals in the converted byre. Remember to take a torch for the return journey.
Personally. I prefer to eat outside and enjoy hunting for driftwood in order to build a barbecue on the beach. Although the grocers in Port lillen sell everything you need for an al
Islay’s non-alcoholic highlights include Bunnahabhain (top); Port Askaig (left); and Claggan Bay (right)