On our second day in Islay we had planned to take the little blue ferry at Port Askaig to go to Jura, a wild island which lies only 800m off Islay. After visiting the Isle of Jura distillery, we intended to follow the single track A 846 up to the end of the road in the north of the island. Then it would be time to go back to Islay for we wanted to end the day at Gruinart Bay, in the north-west of the island, to see the old Kilnave chapel and cross which stand close to the bay amidst a wild and beautiful landscape.
Thinking always of my island in the Hebrides.
Since the day in 2004 when we saw the Paps of Jura standing out on the horizon, so beautiful, so wild, we had been dreaming to go there. More than ten years later, on a very nice day in June, we were at last able to fulfill our dream and to get to this isle which George Orwell called an “extremely unget-at-able” place.
I’ve found a good map of Jura in Scotland An Encyclopedia of Places & Landscapes, an encyclopedia written by David Munro and Bruce Gittings.
This book was published by The Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 2006. It is an excellent book of reference and I open it very often.
Below is an extract of the Islay/Jura map I’ve found at the end of the volume:
On this map you can see the A846 road we followed from Islay to Jura. It is interrupted by the Sound of Islay which we crossed aboard the little blue ferry operating from Port Askaig to Feolin. Then and under the same name the single track road goes on and on, first heading south-eastward along the Sound of Islay and then northward, this time following the Sound of Jura up to the point where the public road stops, near Ardlussa. A poor quality road goes on up to Lealt but from that point visitors who want to see Orwell’s place at Barnhill Farm or the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool have to walk and it’s a long walk…
Many visitors to Jura bring private cars over via the Kennacraig/Islay and Port Askaig/Feolin ferries. It is also possible to hire cars on Islay. Don’t be fooled by the fact that there is no posted speed limit – you cannot reach over 40 miles an hour due to factors such as the number of bends in the road and the wild animals wandering in the road.
The single-track A846 road stretches from Feolin to Craighouse and beyond. The road continues past Craighouse and heads northwards through the smaller settlements of Lagg, Tarbert and Ardlussa and provides some stunning views of the Paps and Jura’s rugged coastline.
In Ardlussa, the road splits. The right fork takes you to the hamlet of Inverlussa, where it is possible to wild camp. The left fork takes you past a sign which says ‘End of Public Road 3 miles’. A private vehicle track runs from the road end to the far north of the island. This track passes Barnhill, where the writer George Orwell lived towards the end of his life and where he wrote his famous novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. This track provides the best access to a footpath leading to view of the Corryvrekkan whirlpool which lies between the northern tip of Jura and the island of Scarba.
Another book you absolutely need to have when you prepare a trip to the Scottish Islands is Hamish Haswell-Smith’s book The Scottish Islands. It is one of my Scottish “bibles” and it is wonderfully illustrated by the author.
In my edition of the book (2004) six pages are devoted to the Isle of Jura (47-52). The last edition of the book was published on 25 June 2015.
Now, let us begin at the beginning. We started our day at our Youth Hostel in Port Charlotte. After a good breakfast taken in its clear and vast dining room in company of cheerful people we set off.
We arrived at Port Askay at about 10 a.m to take the blue Eilean Dhura ferry which crosses the dangerous waters of the Sound of Jura. Many cars were already waiting to cross.
After a short crossing, here we were at last, ready to discover Jura, a name which conjures up images of our Jura mountains in France 😉
The Isle of Jura is only seven miles wide (11 km) and thirty miles long (48 km). Its population of less than 200 people is largely outnumbered by that of the red deer (about 5000). Most people live on the east coast of Jura, mainly in or near Craighouse where you can find post office, shop, hotel, school and doctor, not forgetting of course the famous distillery 😉
We loved Craighouse so much that we even took information about a plot of land for sale. It was a nice green place overlooking the bay, in the middle of the village. It included a derelict wooden shelter which might have been used by a sailor, a fisherman or even holiday-makers. It has been sold since… for 45,000 £
A little touch of the Riviera here;-) The climate of Jura is mild and you can even find palm trees in front of the Jura Hotel ! The influence of the Gulf Stream can be felt there as in many other places on the western coast of Scotland…
‘It is not a cold climate here, actually the mean temperature is probably warmer than in England, but there is not much sun and a great deal of rain’
One of the reasons for visiting the Isle of Jura is the beauty of its landscapes…
With only a few hours to spend on Jura we had to content ourselves with driving on the single track road from south to North up to the end of the road, but we came back from our short trip with unforgettable memories and many pictures.
‘Jura is the wildest island in the Inner Hebrides. It is a vas area of rock and blanket bog, most of it without roads or habitation of any kind and the haunt of deer and wild goats. Crossing this terrain of rough ankle-twisting rock and scree, or knee-high grass, heather, and bracken is painfully slow. But this gives it added fascination (..)
It is dangerous to wander about after mid-August when the stag shooting season has begun and at any time it is sensible to request permission. (Enquire at the Isle of Jura Hotel at Craighouse.) There are many adders so wear sensible footwear. During a 3km walk on a hot summer day, I passed seven different rocks with adders sunbathing on them.
North along the beach from the ferry landing at Feolin is the largest heronry on the island. At least fifteen pairs of golden eagles are resident in the hills… common seals frequent the skerries, mainly on the south shoreline. ‘
(The Scottish Islands – Hamish Haswell-Smith)
So close… and so inaccessible! The Paps of Jura…
How tempting it is to walk and climb up these mountains which don’t seem so inaccessible when you look at them ! Warning, however… many dangers are looming there…
Among other dangers, Mr Haswell-Smith warns about the presence of adders: ‘There are many adders so wear sensible footwear. During a 3km walk on a hot summer day,” he writes, “I passed seven different rocks with adders sunbathing on them.” Great ! How adders could have well come to live and thrive here, I wonder… stags can be aggressive too… so, take care if you venture there!
There are three Paps :
- Beinn an Oir (a Corbett) : 2575 ft (785m) – (Gaelic: “the mountain of gold”)
- Beinn Shiantaidh2476ft 755 m (Gaelic: “the holy mountain”)
- Beinn a’ Chaolais : 2408 ft (734m) (Gaelic: “the mountain of the Kyle”)
They are best seen from the ferry, from Islay or the Kintyre…
This board gives some useful information about one of Jura’s walks. Here’s an extract:
Knockrome & Ardfarnal Crofting Township
Evans’s Walk is called after Henry Evans who took the lease of what is now Forest, Inver and part of Tarbert Estate in 1888.
Having only one leg he went round the hill on horseback. The track was made so that he and his entourage could travel to Blenabatrick on the west coast. Evans spent much of his time here studying deer. His book Red Deer of Jura (1890) was at that time a revolutionary insight into what is now called deer management.
Remember in mountain terms the Jura hills are small but they are exposed to the forces of the Atlantic so weather conditions change quickly. Enjoy your walk but be prepared.
- Wear suitable clothing, boots and take a map, compass and whistle.
- Did you check the weather forecast?
- Do not remove plants. Leave birds and animals alone.
- Guard agains the risk of fire
- During the deer cull look out for signs which provied further information
- Follow the Access Code
Blue sky, blue waters, blue hills… the landscape is varied and absolutely wonderful !
We enjoyed very much our picnic on a green plot of land just in front of this lovely beach…
Indeed everybody seems happy to live here… and not only human beings 😉
By the way, not all people appreciate the intrusion in their garden of these wild creatures. A lady told us that she was fed up with these greedy goats ! And beware of them, anyway! Look at their horns!
There are many other wild animals in Jura: deers, hares, seals, birds and among them golden eagles and herons. But but we didn’t even see a single wild deer in Jura, only domestic ones peacefully grazing within enclosed lands.
Here and there you can see farm animals: sheep of course but also Highland cows. Note the black colour of the baby…
Without a touch of the uncanny we would have missed something, so we were quite happy to find one in Inverlussa cemetery 😉
We like old churchyards, especially Scottish churchyards where we’ve made fascinating discoveries, looking at the old graves, trying to decipher the mysterious and inscriptions and symbols engraved on the weatherbeaten stones. Inverlussa cemetery is a small graveyard surrounded, as such a place must be, by an old mossy stone wall. It is situated in the north of Jura and set in a peaceful and shaded spot close to the river Lussa. Not easy task to open the rusty gate which finally yielded with a creaking that could have awakened the dead! We were looking for Mary MacCrain’s grave who is said to have lived up to the age of 128. Mary’s longevity record is generally attributed to the vivifying air of the Isle of Jura, to her healthy way of life and maybe, as my husband suggested, with the help of a few drops of the sacred Scottish beverage 😉 – “Usquebaugh”… eau de vie 😉 – But there was something more to arouse our curiosity on the gravestone . Here’s what you can read on it: “Mary MacCrain Died in 1856 aged 128, descendant of Gillouir MacCrain who kept One Hundred & Eighty Christmasses in his own house and who died in the reign of Charles I”. Scottish humour at its best here! Fortunately, Hamish Haswell-Smith gave me the clue to this mysterious engraving for, in spite of the good quality of the air in Jura, I was not ready to accept that a man could have lived there, as it is said the Ancient Testament patriarchs did, to the age of 180 !! Mr Haswell-Smith writes : “Until the 20th century Jura chose to recognise both the old and the new calendar so two Hogmanays and two Christmases could be celebrated each year.”
We did stop at Ardlussa though we would have liked very much to go further north and see Barnhill Farm where George Orwell wrote 1984 and still further on to try an catch the famous Corrywreckan phenomenom so well described in Jules Verne’s The Green Ray (Le rayon vert) but to embark in such adventure would have required of us to walk for about 7 + 7 miles aller-retour (22 km) in a wild and unknown territory and without being prepared.
The gaelic name of the Corryvreckan whirlpool means “cauldron of the speckled seas” or “cauldron of the plaid”.
The western coast of the Isle of Jura must also be worth to see with its raised beaches, caves and rocky arches, rich wildlife but you need to be a very good walker with good equipement to try the experience. Below is an extract of a very interesting article I’ve found on the web and which gives a good idea of what can be expected by those who want to go there anyway:
The west coast of Jura route is not an established, well-defined, long-distance footpath starting at point ‘a’ and finishing at point ‘b’. There are a number of alternative start and end points and the walk can vary from 48–89km (30–55 miles) in total. The route from Kinuachdrachd – near the northernmost point of the island – around the west coast to Ruantallain, then east to the road at the head of Loch Tarbert, is a well-rounded walk in its own right, taking 3-4 days. However, it is possible to continue west along the southern shore of the loch to Glenbatrick Bay and then carrying on either around the coast to Feolin Ferry or up through Glen Batrick past the Paps of Jura and on to the Long Road (A846) north of Craighouse. These longer routes take 4-6 days
Chief among the difficulties facing west coast walkers is the often demanding terrain combined with an almost total lack of paths and a complete absence of way-marking. Beyond Corryvreckan at the island’s northern tip, the only tracks are those made by deer and wild goats, although these are often immensely useful. Generations of Jura’s deer and feral goats have worked out the best routes around the island’s castellated and crenellated coastline and their tracks are generally worth following; they weave their ways efficiently through the broken, rocky terrain often encountered below the cliffs, contour around hillsides and find the easiest route around or across bogs or raised beaches. Indeed, in his book Waterlog, Roger Deakin suggests that ‘hooves not boots’ are the ideal equipment for walking here.
Another big reason to visit Jura and the first one for many visitors, is its distillery 😉
The Isle of Jura Distillery is situated in Craighouse. It is not as old as distillation itself, far from it, for it was built in 1963 . We visited it with great interest and enjoyed the degustation very much too. Generally speaking the whisky produced in Jura is less peaty than the whiskies produced on Islay (and Skye) and we like that.
Look at these impressive copper stills… they are among the largest ones in Scotland.
Here’s is a bottle of the famous 30-year old whisky “Jura 1984″ which belongs to a limited series of bottles containing a 30-year old whisky, named after 1984, George Orwell’s famous novel written in Barnhill, on the Isle of Jura. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for 22 years, 6 years of Gonzalez Byass Matusalem sherry and a final couple of years in Amoroso and Apostoles oloroso casks.
“Avis aux amateurs” : 1984 numbered bottles of this cuvée spéciale were released in 2014 but you’ll have to pay the price to get one (750 £) though after the Brexit we should need less money to buy one 😉
Barnhill is a solitary farmhouse, remotely situated at grid reference NR705970 in the north of the island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides. It stands on the site of a larger settlement known in Gaelic since the fifteenth century as Cnoc an t-Sabhail, the English name Barnhill having only been in use since the early twentieth century. The house has become famous as having briefly been the home of the British novelist George Orwell, who lived there intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1950, and who completed his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four while living there. Despite its isolation, Barnhill has in recent years become something of a shrine for Orwellians.
I have given up the cottage in Hertfordshire and taken another in the island of Jura in the Hebrides…I think I can make it quite comfortable with a little trouble, and then I shall have a nice place to retire to occasionally at almost no rent ‘….”
Below is the five different whiskies we tasted in the distillery, I found a good description of them on wikipedia but they have forgotten “Elixir”, my favourite one.
- “Origin” is a ten-year-old whisky. This lightly peated malt is made from a selection of aged Jura single malt whiskies.
- “Diurachs’ Own” is sixteen years old.
- “Superstition” a single malt “lightly peated with hints of smoke.”
- “Prophecy” is a heavily peated malt, bottled without chill filtration. In the early 1700s, the Campbells of Jura evicted a man who prophesised that the last Campbell to leave the island would be one-eyed with his belongings carried in a cart drawn by a lone white horse. In 1938 Charles Campbell, blind in one eye from a war injury, fell on hard times and led his white horse to the old pier for the last time.
- “Elixir” fruity and spicy and not peated.
The visit of the distillery ends on a degustation during which the guide helps us to improve our knowledge of Jura whiskies making us play different sorts of game…
Labelled 500 £ in the shop !
5:00 pm… alas it’s time to say good bye to Jura and sail back to Islay.
18:00… we arrive at Gruinart Bay. It’s our last stop before going back to our Youth Hostel at Port Charlotte.
Is this a double-headed cow or have I tasted Jura whisky too much ! Look how these cows are of the darkest black while the baby is light brown 😉
Loch Gruinart (pronounce Groo-nyart) is perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of Islay offering stunning views combined with unique wildlife, rare birds and thousands of geese in the wintertime. From the parking close to the bird hide a track takes the visitor through some sheltered woodland offering nice views over the loch, good birding opportunities and viewing platform.
Gruinart Bay is famous for its rich wildlife and especially for its birds but Kilnave chapel, its cemetery and its cross are well-worth the detour. First thing to do when you arrive there, if you do, is to immerse in the atmosphere, enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the place, observing the richness of wildlife, and finally asking questions about the old ruined church and churchyard standing here, lost in the middle of nowhere…
History is nearly palpable here but who should guess today that a tragedy took place in such a lovely and peaceful place. I open The Scottish Islands and I read page 41:
“In 1598 there was a vicious clan battle commemorated by a stone at the road junction south-west of the head of Loch Gruinart. James VI had granted land in Islay to the quarellsome Sir Lachlan MacLean of Duart on Mull. The local Macdonalds understandably would not accept this so about four hundred MacLeans, with their chief, invaded the island. Nearly all of them, including Sir Lachlan, were slain. About thirty took sanctuary in the ancient church of Kilnave (In gaelic : “Church of the saints) by Loch Gruinart but the Macdonalds set fire to the church and they were all burned to death.”
And it was not the end …
In 1614 the Scots King granted Islay to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor but he had to fight for more than four years to gain possession from the Macdonalds…
A place to haunt if not haunted itself 😉 Just try and imagine its changing atmosphere according to the hour of the day, the tide and season…
The ancient cross is still standing there, like a sentinel… testifying to the sancticty of the place in spite of its bloody history…
The presence of this 8th century Christian cross in the burial ground of the medieval chapel of Kilnave suggests that it was an important religious centre in the ancient times but it is in such a bad condition that it is very difficult to make an idea of what it used to be. On some pictures one can see it was carved and richly ornamented with the sophisticated and refined designs one can find in similar crosses: bosses, spiral work, interlaced motifs…
Being exhausted after such a busy day we did not wait for the sunset and drove back to our Youth Hostel in Port Charlotte… a very good place to recuperate!
Islay’s only Youth Hostel in Port Charlotte has been awarded Gold in the Green Tourism Business Scheme Award. The accolade is in recognition of the new Green initiatives put in place there. Initiatives at Port Charlotte Youth Hostel include comprehensive green information for guests, a good waste management system and reuse of different materials. The Youth Hostel has low energy lighting and guests are encouraged to use public transport.
This achievement can be accredited to Karl and Lorna who manage Port Charlotte Youth Hostel. Both are very aware of environmental issues and are committed to working as sustainably as possible. Their commitment was also recognised by VisitScotland when last year the Youth Hostel was promoted from a 3 star to a 4 star VisitScotland graded Youth Hostel. (…)
Bonne lecture !
A bientôt. Le voyage continue 😉
Below is an extract of one of Iain and Margaret‘s last messages ;-). No need to say how it aroused my curiosity !
… neither of us has yet set foot on Jura .. .. but last night we discussed a little book / booklet we used to have on the island .. .. very simply printed and produced, and written by a man who was then the local church Minister. As we recall, the pages had been reproduced on an old Gestetner duplicator and stapled together .. .. The Long Road was the title, Youngson(?) the author.)
This lovely little travel book was printed and edited by Peter Youngson in 1987. I am very happy to have found one copy and eager to receive it and follow “The Long Road” once again, mentally this time but in the best company. Dear Iain and Margaret, many thanks for having mentioned this little book to us, underlining the touching way it was produced 😉