Page Updated 31/05/15
Click the map's Google logo to go to Google Maps - for Directions, Street View etc.
Wikipedia Undiscovered Scotland Internet Guide to Scotland
Islay Info - very comprehensive site with links to other Islay related-sites.
Silver Surfers The Ileach (Islay's newspaper) The Islay Daily Newspaper
Discover Islay Fèis Ìle (Islay Festival) Islay Info Web Portal IslayJura Islay Blog
Islay Natural History
Place names of Islay - their meanings and pronunciations
Only general info for Islay is on this page - more specific details on accommodation etc are on the individual pages for various places in Islay - see links at bottom of page.
The meaning of the name Islay seems to have been lost in the mists of time - various spellings dating back to 690 Ilia, Ilea, Il, Yla, Yle, Ile, Ila have been used - the s is apparently a fairly modern introduction. The Gaelic spelling is Ìle, pronounced ee-leh.
The Hebridean Isles along with the Orkneys and Shetlands and some of the Highlands were historically ruled separately from the rest of Scotland. Since the 7th or 8th century these areas had been subject to Viking raiders who ultimately settled there. From then on for many years the area held allegiance to the King of Norway. in 1156 Somerled assumed the title of King of the Hebrides. His grandson founded Clan Donald, who became the Lords of the Isles, ruling from Finlaggan Castle on Islay.
Though the Isles were subsumed into the Kingdom of Scotland in 1493, the title of Lord of the Isles continues, currently held by some guy called Charles Windsor.
For a comprehensive book on Islay History, Geography and Whisky - Peat Smoke and Spirit: A Portrait of Islay and its Whiskies by Andrew Jefford.
Islay also has some older historical sites, including a large standing stone between Port Ellen and Laphroaig; Dun Nosebridge (an iron age fort); and the Kildalton Cross (one of the best preserved examples of a Celtic Cross). See Islay Info section on History.
Islay & Whisky
Islay is almost synonymous with Whisky. 8 distilleries - all open to the public, a maltings, a whisky shop, several whisky bars.
Links to the distillery websites at the bottom of the page. More details of the bars, hotels and shop on the relevant local pages - links to the various parts of Islay are also towards the bottom of the page.
Islay (pronounced eye-luh) - Queen of the Hebrides, ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles, who were at one time as powerful as the Scottish King, and in modern times the Whisky Island - home to 8 distilleries. Though not all its distilleries have peated whisky as their staple product, Islay Whisky is renowned worldwide for the smoky nature of its Whisky. More of that on the pages devoted to Islay's distilleries.
Islay is of a similar size to its northern neighbour Jura, but far more populous - though like Jura, a substantial part of the island is uninhabited and difficult to access. The East of Islay bordering the Sound of Islay is reached by the A846 from Bridgend to Port Askaig, and immediately to its south is the Dunlossit Estate, north of it only the distillery villages of Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila break the otherwise uninhabited coast. Just off the road - Loch Finlaggan and the ruins of the Castle which was once the seat of the Lords of the Isles.
South of Bridgend the island is split in two by Loch Indaal.
To the West the RSPB Reserve around Loch Gruinart, Bruichladdich &
Kilchoman Distilleries, Port Charlotte and the Rhinns of Islay; to the East the island's main town, Bowmore and its Distillery, the Airport, lots of peat, Port Ellen, the Oa (pronounced O) and Kildalton - and the famous distilleries of southern Islay - Port Ellen (closed), Laphroaig. Lagavulin & Ardbeg.
Arriving & Departing
Open Cycle Map Bing Map Sustrans Map
The main route to Islay is from Kennacraig (timetable Winter Summer)
(and twice a week to/from Oban - Winter/Summer) by CalMac ferry. There are two ferry ports on Islay - Port Ellen and Port Askaig. Four sailings each way a day (2 or 3 on Sundays) taking between 1 hr 45 mins and 2 hrs 20 mins depending on which ferry is used (the new MV Finlaggan is quicker than the older MV Hebridean Isles) and which port is used. Around 60% of ferries use the southern Port Ellen.
Getting to Islay (except for the limited Oban sailings) means first of all getting to Kennacraig. Because of the nature of the West Coast the road trip from Glasgow is around 100 miles; 57 from Dalmally; 55 from Oban all on A roads (more if you use the cycle routes for part of the way). Alternatively you can use other ferries for part of the journey, using either Bute, Arran or the Cowal peninsular as stepping stones.Nearest train stations (to Kennacraig): Dalmally (DAL) (57 miles), Oban (OBN) (55), Ardrossan Harbour (ADS) (30 miles plus 2 ferries). Live Train Times: DAL OBN, ADS.
Fares to Islay have reduced since 2012 as a result of the introduction of the Road Equivalent Tariff.
The quicker way to get to Islay is of course by air. Islay's airport (ILY) is at Glenegedale on the Low Road between Bowmore and Port Ellen. Flights from Glasgow (Flybe) and Oban (Hebridean Airways).
Other than the A846 (Port Askaig to Ardbeg) and the A847 (Bridgend to Port Charlotte) all roads on Islay are single track. Even the A roads are never very busy (except for a brief rush after the ferry docks), so it's a good place to cycle. When you pass an Ileach on the road you will be acknowledged by a raised hand - or just the odd finger (it's not a rude gesture!) - quite the opposite. After a while you'll join in, and probably continue for a while when you're back on the mainland.
Two roads head North from Port Ellen, the Low Road (A846 to Bowmore) and the High Road (B8016 to Bridgend). The Low Road is flat and straight - good for a quick trip, but there's plenty to see if you take it slow. The High Road is unsurprisingly more hilly, with even better views across Laggan Bay, and a little after half way you can take the Glen Road to Ballygrant - if it's not cloudy you should get a good view of the Paps of Jura, as in this photo (not one of mine for a change). There is a third route North from Port Ellen - along the beach from Kintra, though getting back to the road near the River Laggan took some doing.
Islay Cycles 07760 196592
Run from the Port Ellen Boatyard in the Business Park (behind the White Hart Hotel). Not a shop as such, but hire, sales, accessories and repairs available - see website/ring for further details.
Cycling Info on Islay Info
For a more complete description of cycling around Islay than my contribution (above), see Brian Palmer's guide on:
thewashingmachinepost.net (it's an Islay-centric cycling site!)
Brian describes himself as "the only cycle repairer and spare parts person in Bowmore", and can be contacted via Catherine MacTaggart who hires bikes from Bowmore Post Office (01496 810366). Brian has repaired my bike on more than one occasion.
Other places to hire a bike - Persabus (near Port Askaig on the road to Bunnahabhain) 01496 840753; Port Charlotte 01496 850488; Port Ellen 01496 302349.
Velo Club d'Ardbeg - buy the cycle jersey to join!
Washing Machine Post - Brian Palmer's Islay centric cycling site
Nearest Cycle Shops Lochgilphead (18 miles from Kennacraig), Oban.
Nevis Cycles 87 George Street, Oban 01631 566033
David Graham 13-15 Combie Street, Oban 01631 562069
Crinan Cycles 34 Argyll Street, Lochgilphead 01546 603511
Photos on this page were taken by me. Click on photo to enlarge. Full size versions available at: