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Islay North is steeped in clan history as well as being home to the Royal Society for Protection of Birds nature reserve and farm at Loch Gruinart. The nature reserve is an important place for migrating birds – including 45 per cent of the world’s population of Greenland barnacle geese in winter – and other wildlife, from butterflies to otters and hares to seals.
Finlaggan was the administrative centre of the Lordship of the Isles in the 1300-1400s.
The story can be followed at the Finlaggan Visitor Centre, while the ruined Kilnave Chapel overlooks the scene of a bloody clan battle between the McDonalds and MacLeans.
Five of the island’s eight distilleries can be found in the north, as well as the other main ferry port of Port Askaig. The Gaelic language has a strong presence on the island and Bowmore is home to Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, the Galeic language and culture centre.
Compared to Jura, neighbouring Islay is overcrowded; there are only 180 people living on Jura but lots and lots more deer.
The island has a small village, Craighouse, and its west coast has no full-time inhabitants.
Jura is dominated by its three magnificent mountains, the Paps of Jura: Beinn an Oir Beinn Shiantaidh and Beinn a’ Chaolais, they can be seen as far away as Northern Ireland in the south and Skye in the north.
To the north of Jura lies the Gulf of Corryvreckan where, tidal conditions produce a whirlpool classed as the third largest in the world. The waves can reach 30 feet and the roar of the waters can be heard up to 10 miles away.
Islay’s not called the Queen of the Hebrides for nothing and she’s been home to people since 8,000BC. They knew they were on to a good thing; even today the Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild compared to the mainland.
A remarkable history, breathtaking scenery and eight distilleries, what more could an island want?
Many of today’s visitors are the feathered kind, earning Islay a reputation as a bird watching destination; huge flocks of migrating Barnacle Geese arrive each year and the island is home to an important colony of the now rare chough.
The lochs are teeming with brown trout and the island has hosted major fishing competitions.
The southern half of this majestic island is home to Port Ellen, founded in 1821 by Walter Frederick Campbell, then Laird of Islay who called the village after his wife Eleanor.
Its deep water harbour is one of two ferry ports on the island; the other is at Port Askaig in the north. Port Ellen Distillery closed in 1983 but Port Ellen Maltings continues to dominate the skyline.
Along the south coast are three of the island’s remaining working distilleries, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.
Strategically placed around the sea loch Loch Indaal are the picturesque villages of Portnahaven, Port Wemyss and Port Charlotte, on the west side, while on the east shore is the other centre of population of Bowmore.