Our trip to the Isles Islay & Jura, Scotland

November 2016

Our trip to the islands of Islay and Jura was going to be special enough but just to add some extra specialness, we were also going to stop off at Aileen’s favourite town – Inveraray and visit its famous Inveraray jail. Then on to an overnight stay at Stonefield Castle before catching the ferry to Islay the next morning. Our trip included 3 overnight stays – Stonefield castle, Islay hotel and Jura hotel. Hopefully packing in as much as possible.

Inveraray is situated on the A83 in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It is on the western shore of Loch Fyne and has a long history, which has helped define its architecture and hospitable way of life. I can well understand why Aileen enjoys visiting this special wee town. When entering the town from the east, you will go over a humped back bridge and if you look to your right, you will be met with a sight to behold. Inveraray Castle with its unusual green colour and gothic style.

On this particular visit, though, we decided to visit Inveraray Jail. We choose the self-guided tour, complete with headphones, allowing us to wander around a building that oozed history, tragic stories and fascinating facts.  We would thoroughly recommend a visit to this thought-provoking place.

After a quick lunch, we were on our way again. Staying on the A83, we finally arrived at our accommodation for the night, Stonefield Castle.  It’s a bit pricey, although there are Groupon deals available at times but it’s worth it if you are looking to stay in a castle for the night. Its well-maintained grounds are perfect for a stroll and the views across the Mull of Kintyre Peninsula are very special. Again, this would be an ‘On the Way’ recommendation.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we set off for the fishing village of Tarbert where we would catch the ferry to Islay. Arriving early, we decided to climb a nearby hill and say hello to the locals!

This would be our first trip to Islay and the tight schedule created a bit of a whistle-stop tour of the Island. So once we had checked into the Islay hotel, we set off in the car for a quickish look around.

I don’t know if it’s because Aileen and I have been spoilt by Scottish scenery over the years but personally, I was underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, It’s a beautiful Island and I feel I am doing it an injustice considering we only stayed for one night but I’m being honest with how I felt.

There were highlights such as quaint little villages like Portnahaven.

Distilleries galore and not just whisky but also Gin as its popularity continues to grow.

Most Scottish Islands will regularly delight you with glimpses of their wildlife and Islay doesn’t disappoint.

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Port Ellen, where our hotel was situated, had a sleepy charm to it with colourful houses and the village of Bowmore had an unusual round church The local grocery shop is an interesting place to stand and observe the local’s interactions. Clearly, the weekly shop is a great chance to catch up on all the Island gossip.

So yes please go to Islay and explore it but you might need to stay longer than one night!

The next day we set off for Jura. This trip involved a short ferry from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin on Jura, the journey takes only 10 minutes. 

Jura has fewer people living on it than Islay, it has one main road the A846, which becomes a single track road from Lussagiven, taking you from the Feolin Ferry port to Kinuachdrachd at the north of the Island.    Along the way, you will be treated to the Paps of Jura to your left and to your right you can see the Scottish mainland with endless hills and mountains. 

I loved Jura. I loved its remoteness, its scenery, it’s hotel and its single-track roads.

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 Again, we only stayed for one night but for some reason, I remember our stay in Jura much clearer than our stay in Islay.

Of course, creating memories needs moments in time than linger with you and become hardwired into your special memory bank and Jura did that.

During our ‘Jura road trip,’ we decided to go off the beaten single track and take a road that we hoped would lead to a spot for some seal watching. This road had no passing places with little room for error either side. We eventually reached a set of large gates, possibly the entrance to a local estate owned by laird! This created a dilemma as our journey back would mean reversing at least a couple of miles and who’s to say what we would meet. Maybe an angry laird! So I persuaded Aileen that I could do a 3 point turn. With a sharp fall into a stream at one side and a bog to the other, Aileen got out and began to give me some instruction. I began to manoeuvre the car, quickly realising that a 3 point turn had been a tad ambitious. I kept a close eye on Aileen’s instructions in the mirror. To be honest, her instructions closely matched a highland dance routine. Arms flying in all directions and darting from side to side. I decided to make an executive decision and inch a bit further into the bog. I was now perfectly placed for one last reverse and we would be on our way. That’s when my heart sunk as I heard that unmistakable sound of my front wheels spinning frantically and mud was now flying in all directions.    Luckily Aileen had avoided the mud but our car was covered in it and we were now stuck in a bog in the middle of nowhere. 

Just as this scene was about to turn into the domestic of all domestics, we both heard the squeak of the large iron gates being opened and out drove a man looking bemused by what he was faced with. Was it the laird coming to give us a telling off for ruining his bog?

As it turned out, it was a fellow tourist who had had the sense to drive up to the gate, open it and drive on to the seal viewing point. This wasn’t a gate to a lairds private land but nothing more than a benign boundary gate. He was now on his way back, luckily for us, and was more than prepared to help push our car out the bog; at the risk of being covered in copious amounts of mud. As it turned out, he was also staying at our hotel.

We were now back on the road deciding to waste no more time and head for the north of the Island.

We quickly rejoined the single track road north but before long, we had stopped again. This time we were hypnotised by the views of snow-capped mountains and miles of nothingness.

We felt the need to get out for a wee stroll into the nothingness but with no obvious established paths, we decided to turn back as we didn’t want to disturb the flora. Although there was time for Aileen to have her obligatory loss of footing and nose dive into the bog. Luckily I managed to pull her out without the need for any help from a passing tourist!

The remainder of our trip to the north of the Island was relatively incident free and we relaxed into our default setting of wonderment.

Later that evening, back at the hotel, we met the tourist who had helped us get our car out of the bog. Let’s just say he was shown our appreciation with some large glasses of alcohol.

And that was our trip to the Islands of Islay and Jura. As you will no doubt have realised by now, we don’t do typical travel blogs full of step by step facts or 10 things you should know about – whatever.

No, we prefer to include some helpful links and give you a general personal flavour of our trips. Please feel free to read our other blogs, set out in a similar personal and times humorous way.

 

Please feel free to subscribe to future stories, if they are your kind of thing.

 

 

 

Haltwhistle

Haltwhistle is a small town in Northumberland, England and may not be on your travel radar but think again.

Sections of Hadrian’s Wall are close by.  It is nicknamed the centre of Britain, because of its geographical position in the exact centre of the country. It is a popular place to stop, especially with walkers and cyclists. The Pennine Way, national long-distance trail includes Haltwhistle as a well earned rest. There are a number of campsites in and around the area. The town even hosts its own walking festival, so you can put your best foot forward on a range of walks, including the Haltwhistle Rings – 22 circular walks through historic countryside bordering the town.

Just under 5 miles away is the Sycamore Gap Tree, which featured in the 1991 Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and has subsequently become known as the “Robin Hood Tree”

    

My dad has stayed in Haltwhistle for several years but it has only been recently that I have appreciated it’s style and surroundings. Maybe it’s an age thing.

We would definitely recommend  Haltwhistle as a place to visit, stopover or stay and we will be making the most of it during future visits,

Lake Lugano

Following the success of our West Highland Way trip the previous year, we decided to meet up again for ’round 2′. This time we were going to go abroad and this time Aileen and I were not going to be the organisers! We looked forward to sitting back whilst another couple stepped up to the mark and delivered a well-organised trip that would need lots of planning, coordinating dates, coordinating sleeping arrangements and spending hours researching local sights and entertainment. This would be fun to watch. After all, Aileen and I are the king and queen of organisation. Let’s just see how much the stress of it all takes its toll!

So it came as a bit of a surprise when, a couple of days later, we received a phone call from Gordon.

He had been tasked with this arduous task and he informed us that it was all sorted!

It turned out that Gordon, who had just retired from the police, had put his name into a scheme that offers retired police officers the chance of staying free at various properties. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be lucky enough to be picked but low and behold Gordon was the lucky man. So all we had to do as a team was book our flights.
Lavena Ponte Tresa, looking out over Lake Lugano with the Swiss mountains in the distance, was a perfect location. The accommodation itself was also perfect. We would be staying in an old rustic villa spread out over 3 floors and with plenty of charm, as well as a large garden and a tennis court. We all felt fortunate to be given this villa for a week.

Lake Lugano is stunning and we had a perfect lakeside view.

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Lavena Ponte Tresa is a border point between Italy and Switzerland which involves a short walk across what feels like a token border into the Swiss town of Ponte Tresa. Both towns are keen to keep their national identity with Italian and Swiss flags prominent in their respective towns but the ease of walking from one to the other makes it difficult to immediately feel that you have entered another country.

With this in mind, Aileen and I decided to hire bikes and cycle beyond the border and deeper into Switzerland. In the end, to be honest, our cycle to Lugano wasn’t exactly a cycle into the Swiss Alps but it did at least give us that sense of cycling in a different country. We cycled through some small villages, stopped at a local cafe with no spoken English to be heard and marveled at the beautiful scenery.

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Our second trip into Switzerland did feel like a trip to the Swiss Alps as all 6 of us walked over the border and boarded a train to Rivara for the Monte Tamaro cable car taking us up 1,530 m then on foot to the summit at 1,962 m. The views were stunning and well worth the trip.

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It’s a great place for all the family and being the big kids that we are, we could resist the Alpine coaster bobs. Described as ‘An awesome, breathtaking downhill ride’. We were given our instructions before we set off downhill. Basically – that’s your brake and about 30 metres from the finish, apply your brake or you’ll overshoot. Hindsight is a great thing and it would probably have made more sense to put those that wanted to go faster at the front but as we had just randomly taken our turn and as fate would have it, this created a bit of a domestic. Steve was keen to show off his army training and’An awesome, breathtaking downhill ride’ was perfect but he had done the gentlemanly thing and stepped aside to let his wife Susan go first.

Susan, who was clearly petrified and still had the instructor warning in her head regards braking, decided to apply the brakes about 150 metres from the end. Resulting in safe but slow, extremely slow, decent.

Swiss mountains are renowned for the human yodel traveling great distances but on this occasion, it was Steve’s dejected tones – ‘Susan!’ ‘Susan!’ ‘Go faster!’ ‘You’re spoiling my ride’ That could be heard for miles around.

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Lake Lugano doesn’t have the same popularity as other Italian lakes but the proximity to Switzerland and the ease of walking over the border just added to our memorable trip. We would highly recommend this lovely part of the world.

Bridge over the Atlantic

We decided to take advantage of a spring Groupon deal and headed to Argyle, Scotland. We arrived at our hotel Lochmelfort for an overnight. Once checked in, we were shown to our room. The hotel had a certain amount of grandeur about it but it also had a more basic wing and this is where we were shown to. Unfortunately, the room door was locked from the inside and our hotel rep looked concerned. Was there still somebody inside? Was there a body inside? How would he get us in we wondered? He proceeded to ignore every hotel health and safety book and opened the room next to us, climbed out onto the balcony and completed a maneuver that Spiderman would have been proud of! Opening our door, now from the inside, he calmly stated ”sorry about that” handed us our key and walked off. Needless to say, our balcony door remained firmly locked for the remainder of our stay.

Clachan Bridge is about 8 miles from the town of Oban on Scotland’s west coast and was built between 1792 and 1793 and links the Island of Seil to the mainland.

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Our trip to this bridge took in some lovely scenery as well as the historic Kilmartin Church, with its ancient carved stones.

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Clachan Bridge is well worth seeing. It might just be because of its unofficial name but it felt like a special place to stand on and take a selfie – as you do.

Crinan Canal

Described as Britain’s most beautiful shortcut, the Crinan Canal is one of those must do cycle routes. The route follows an iconic canal and as a cyclist, you will share it with walkers, canal boats, canoes, Kayaks and fishermen. All enjoying the beautiful scenery and historic surrounding.

We decided to drive to Ardrishaig and cycle along the canal to Crinan. This is a round trip but the canal is only 9 miles long, so 18 miles with a half way stop at Crinan, makes for a pleasant and relaxing journey.

 

One of the residents has an eye-catching abode and was more than happy to spend some of his time talking to us about his love of the Canal and why he has moved there from Canada to set up home.