Wherever Islay my hat
Isle of Islay, Scotland


This story first appeared in The Spellbinding Scotland Issue, available in print and digital.

This story first appeared in The Spellbinding Scotland Issue, available in print and digital.

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At a tad over 100 miles, the drive from central Glasgow to Kennacraig ferry terminal isn’t exactly the longest road trip I’ve ever made, but mile for mile it’s one of the most spectacular and varied. Cruising along the A83 as it snakes through western Scotland, I take in the vast open waters of Loch Lomond, surrounded by the magnificent ancient woodlands of the Trossachs National Park, past rugged, rock-strewn hills and mountains, some so high, more than 3,000ft in fact, they’re known as ‘Munros’. Finally, I hug the coastline – long stretches of kelp-covered beach. Point to point, I could have made it in a matter of hours but, with so many awe-inspiring places to stop, I take it slow.

On the crossing to the Isle of Islay, my heart starts to quail at what lies ahead – it’s peak season and the ferries are chock-a-block with passengers and cars. But I needn’t worry – the island’s roads are almost empty, so I can stop and soak up the breathtaking scenery. Islay’s known as the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ and it’s easy to see why – it’s as tranquil as it is beautiful, with deserted beaches that lure visitors back time and again. I trek through farmland up to the American Monument that sits atop dramatic granite cliffs and commemorates the loss of two US troop ships, then visit Kildalton Cross, which has graced this spot since the eighth century and inspired a local golf trophy.

To get the full picture of Islay, I charter a speedboat tour with skipper Gus, whose father started the company Islay Sea Adventures. We get up close to colonies of seals and spy on the wild deer and seabirds who make the rocky, coastal outcrops their home. Whales and dolphins are a common sight here, apparently, but we are out of luck today. As for a glimpse of a sea eagle or sea otter… Fortunately, Gus is just as fascinating, with a quick wit, a twinkle in his eye and a wealth of entertaining anecdotes about island life, its visitors and his impressive collection of whisky.

Martin was a guest at The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links. His boat trip was organised by Islay Sea Adventures, the island’s only luxury wildlife-experience operator.

www.themachrie.com | www.islay-sea-adventures.co.uk

Photography by Martin Perry