Hugh Smith’s Islay Letter

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Why Port Wemyss?

Visitors to the island are often at a loss to understand where the attractive village of Port Wemyss,  situated at the western tip of the Rhinns peninsula,  gets its name from as it does not seem to have any local or Highland connections.

The village was created in 1832  by Walter  Frederick Campbell, the island laird, and replaced an earlier settlement called Luib of which hardly any trace remains today.

Campbell hoped that the new village would attract residents from the inland areas of the peninsula and that they would, in turn, develop new skills as fishermen.

He called his new creation Wemysshaven after  the eighth Earl of Wemyss who was the father of his first wife Lady Eleanor. Sadly, Lady Eleanor died at an early age and Campbell named the village of Port Ellen after her and built the Carraig Fhada lighthouse at Kilnaughton Bay in her memory. She is interred in a marble tomb at the Round Church at Bowmore and their infant daughter Margaret Susan is also buried in the Bowmore church. Lady Eleanor, a member of the Charteris family, was also the mother of the polymath and folk tale collector John Frances Campbell, better known to Gaels everywhere as Iain Òg Ìle.

As the fishing took off at the new village, which stands above  the coastline, the name was changed to Port Wemyss  and the fertile land above the rocky shore began to be utilised for crofting purposes.

It, along with its neighbouring village of Portnahaven, looks across  to the island of Orsay which is dominated by the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse, built in 1825 by Robert Stevenson of the lighthouse dynasty.

The village is still referred to by the older Gaelic-speaking residents as Bun Othan (the mouth of the river) and is a reference to the stream which acts as a boundary between the two picturesque Rhinns villages.

And if you should be hapless enough as to mistakenly refer to a Port Wemyss resident as coming from Portnahaven – or vice versa – you do so at your peril!

B&B award

Glenegedale House, the quality B & B establishment situated close to the island’s airport, has been honoured with the Hidden Gem Award at a recent Evivio  presentation held at the Café de Paris in London’s  West End.

The popular B & B proprietors Graeme and Emma Clark are delighted with their totally unexpected Evivio success which they describe as a great honour and a huge boost to their business, and to the island as a whole. Many congratulations.

Christmas coffee morning

There will be lots of festive cheer at the Round Church Christmas coffee morning which takes place on Saturday December 2,  in the Bowmore buffet hall, beginning at 10.30am.

Among the treats on offer will be homebaking and produce, gifts ideas, bargain books and bric-a-brac. Competitions and guessing games will exercise the grey cells and seasonal music will add to the merriment.

Admission is £4 and the proceeds will go towards the upkeep of the island’s most iconic building which is currently undergoing a £10,000 stone treatment and refurbishment programme.

Getting switched on!

Continuing the Yuletide theme the Bowmore village Christmas lights’ official switch on also takes place on December 2 before, what it is hoped, will be a large and appreciative group of spectators.

This ‘light-hearted’ ceremony begins at Morrison Square at 5pm and will include seasonal entertainment around the village Christmas tree.

This year’s festive  lights cover a larger area of the village thanks to the generosity of local businesses and private donors.

Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810658


Photos: Port Wemyss as seen from Portnahaven.

Award winning Glenegedale  House.