Islay and Jura – Two Wheelin’ all the Distilleries

I knew I’d be back some day to see more if Islay and this time a bit more ground was covered with bikes taken on to the island, and over to Jura, than on the previous trip. Five of us headed to Islay and based ourselves at the Port Mor campsite just west of Port Charlotte.

On the journey out we had a mix of sunshine, strong winds and showers and the sky at Port Askaig suggested bad things ahead, however, almost immediately after setting off westward on the bikes, things improved and the warm breeze soon had the roads dry for us. Nice colours were evident on the farmland and seascapes along the way as the miles got eaten up. I had forgotten how fast ground can be covered by bike and was enjoying it even with a bit of a headwind.

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Our first distillery involved a detour north to Kilchoman – just in the nick of time – to pick up a miniature and enjoy the scents of the place before it closed for the day. I was drawn a bit further north to the coast at Machir Bay – a lovely spot and perhaps Islay’s nicest beach and dune system – there are others on the map, but they look more easily accessed by boat than bikes.

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Before I made it to the wide expanse of sand some buzzards drew my attention, in the sky and landing on the ground, they seemed to be quietly buzzing each other repeatedly.

Passing over the dunes, I found surf was breaking on a gorgeous beach, stretching along way in both directions, remains of a boat on the sands and bright sunshine turning the waves turquoise as they grew taller and thinner on their way to collapsing – a stunning place with only a handful of others in the distance. It was easy to spend time here, but I eventually headed off to camp to get setup and out for the night, and our first whisky tastings of the weekend.

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Next day, our biggest, we made a beeline for Ardbeg, the furthest distillery away and the only one I had been to on the island previously. A bit disappointing that it was closed for an event and we shifted our attention to Lagavulin then Laphroaig – all three conveniently close together – before grabbing a snack at Port Ellen – Islay’s southernmost town and alternative ferry port.

Winds had been notable all day, but as we now turned north we blasted our way up the island’s main road, putting more effort in than necessary to enjoy the resulting speed the tailwind helped with.

Bowmore was the source of a taster and miniatures and we coffee-and-caked too to fuel us on our final few miles round Loch Indaal back to Port Mor.

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Our last day felt like retreat from something nice in a way, but we stretched it out with detours. First, a stop at the nearby Bruichladdich distillery for photos – it wasn’t open yet – then further on detours to Bunnahabhain and Caol Islay distilleries, both with some of the best views of the weekend. Across the narrows, the Paps of Jura dominate and thankfully we managed to squeeze in a trip across to Jura before our mainland ferry later in the day.

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From Port Askaig the ferry crosses the fast moving tidal stream to Feolin, where there is not much more than a waiting room. From there the road follows the coast south then crosses the island before swinging north to Criaghouse; our destination, the island’s main town and site of our final distillery. The latter was closed, but the cafe was not and we refueled again before returning all the way to Port Askaig for our ferry back to the mainland.

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Jura’s landscape is so different to neighbouring Islay; much less homes, farmland and generally more rugged and barren. We only saw a few of the island’s many deer, but did see a few sea eagles, first being mobbed by buzzards then on their own too – a nice finishing touch to a great trip.

Though we enjoyed Islay’s flatness, the northwest has a lot more hilly ground than I had realised and I can see a return trip involving some walking, maybe in conjunction with a visit to a final distillery we missed which is not quite online yet.

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