Five things to do on Islay

There are always new discoveries to make on our island

Iain Hamilton is the General Manager of the The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links. He is also Islay born and bred. Here are his five suggestions of what to do on Islay when you visit away from the links

1. Visit one of Islay’s world-famous distilleries

“Take your pick from any of the nine distilleries on the island. There’s plenty of whisky to enjoy after your round. On the south coast you have Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardnahoe, which are all within a mile of each other. You can even do a whisky walk that takes you to all three. 

“The oldest distillery on the island is Bowmore, which is eight miles north of The Machrie.

“And it’s not just whisky. We have three gin houses between Islay and Jura – Islay Gin, Bruichladdich and Lussa – and also a brewery responsible for Islay Ales.”

2 See some amazing wildlife

“There’s so much to see. Let’s start with birds. There are two RSPB reserves – One on The Oa, in the south, and one at Loch Gruinart in the north. You can see a range of Hebridean birs and wildlife including Greenland barnacle, Greenland white-fronted geese, corncrakes, hen harriers and otters.

“You can go on sea adventures and sea safaris to take trips on the water. You will spot sea eagles, wild otters, seals, dolphins, porpoises and even occasionally whales. From the shore, you can spot seals in Seal Bay and at Portnahaven.

“We get some spectacular seafood from the island – we’re renowned for our scallops and oysters, as well as crab and lobster.

At the hotel, we proudly serve Islay beef on our menu. It’s a very lean and healthy meat.”

3 Enjoy unspoilt beaches

“Our beaches are among the best in the world. All bar one on the island are golden, sandy beaches, while Claggain Bay has huge pebbles and is a place where kids love to play. 

“Go to Kilchoman and visit Machir Bay, that’s one of my favourite places on the island.

“And of course the Big Strand – seven miles of beach right outside the hotel.

“If you want to take to the water you can go sea-kayaking, or you can hire bikes – there’s even a beach rugby tournament each May in Port Ellon.”

4 Experience country sports 

“There are lots of sporting pursuits to choose from – including hunting, shooting and fishing – on various estates on the island. You can fish for salmon and red trout. You can stalk for deer – Red and European Roe – and there is grouse and pheasant shooting.”

5 Drink in Islay’s history

“Islay is the seat of the lordship of the isles – go to the Finlaggan Visitor centre to learn about the Lords of the Isle and see the ruins. It dates back to the times when Scotland and the islands were separate kingdoms. 

Islay Woollen Mill is an ancient mill at Bridgend. It’s famous for making the tartans and tweeds that were used in the Rob Roy and Braveheart movies.

“We have a pottery museum – at Perabus Farm – where you can take a tour and even do your own pottery painting.

“I’d recommend visiting The Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte. “There’s lots of interesting things to see, notably the American Stars and Stripes that is normally hung in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The flag was sewn by Islay women after two American boats, the Tuscania and the Otranto, were sunk off Islay in the First World War. The flag was made for the funerals of the soldiers. 

“At Port Charlotte is Islay Natural History Trust. It includes wildlife, marine life and geology and is a place the kids will love as they can touch lots of the animals.”

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