Today I'll take you on a photographic tour to the south-east of Islay, another one of my favourite parts of the island, and not only because we find three of Islay's most famous distilleries here (Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin). This part of the island is quite different from other parts of the island, the coastal area is quite treacherous with rocky outcrops but also with a few nice bays and beaches, there is an abundance in wildlife and also the vegetation is different, perhaps also due to the fact that this part of the island has a more sheltered position from the winter storms. All in all an area of Islay not to be missed when you're holidaying on the island, also when you don't have an appetite for the whisky produced at the three Kildalton distilleries.
View of Lagavulin Distillery from Dunyvaig Castle
We start our tour at the lovely village of Port Ellen and follow the signs for Ardbeg. This road is still classified as an A road, the a846, until you reach Ardbeg. The first point of interest is a huge standing stone just outside Port Ellen near a track on your left. If you continue on the main road the first of the three Kildalton Distilleries appears. Laphroaig distillery is situated on the right while on the left you see the Friends of Laphroaig land, often with many wee flags planted by proud owners of a square foot of land. If you're not into whisky tasting you might want to visit the distillery anyway, the newly opened museum is interesting for everyone.
The main road continues and just before you reach Lagavulin there is a beautiful bay on your right with the ruined remains of Dunyvaig castle, a former stronghold of Clan Donald. On this side of the bay you can find Stormcats, Islay's boatbuilders. If you follow the shore you see the beautiful white buildings of Lagavulin, another iconic distillery on Islay's south coast. And again, if you're not into whisky have at least a walk around the beautiful distillery buildings, take a look at the pier and have a stroll through the village of Lagavulin, you will enjoy it. Access to the castle is possible. directly after the village of Lagavulin is a wee track on your right, drive in there and park your car. You can now walk down the grass towards the bay and castle. The views of Lagavulin distillery from this position are beautiful.
View from the road just before Ardbeg Distillery
Not far from Lagavulin is Ardbeg Distillery, make sure to take in the views over the Sound of Jura towards the mainland just before you reach the distillery. If you're starting te become hungry this is perhaps the perfect time for a perfect lunch in the Old Kiln Cafe, situated inside the distillery buildings of Ardbeg. So you see even if you don't like whisky there is still a good reason to visit each distillery on this route and if you do like the fine drams produced here, well I guess you need some more time to complete this tour... Continue reading....
Ardbeg Pier and Warehoudse nr1
Opposite Ardbeg Distillery is the beautiful Callumkill Estate and a track, walkers only, to Ardbeg's water reservoir and the overgrown ruins of the former plaque village of Solam. The main road now becomes single track but not less interesting. Just after you've left Ardbeg the road takes a turn to the right and you end up to what I always call "Seal Bay", which is in fact named Loch an t-SÃ ilein. It's here where you often find many seals, sometimes more than thirty, lying lazy on the rocks and wee islets.
After you've left the bay you enter beautiful woodland from which the part on your right belongs to Kildalton Estate. Next to the main entrance of the estate is a beautiful stone cottage which belongs to "Roland", the owner of the new Port Ellen Hotel. On the grounds of the Kildalton Estate are the ruins of Kildalton Castle, once a beautiful house but now left to the mercy of nature. The former ruins can not be visited unless you have permission from the owners of the estate, the Middletons.
You've now covered five miles of this road and there are another five miles ahead if you want to make it to Ardtalla, where the road ends. But before we reach that there is a lot on offer. First of all there is Kildalton Cross and Chapel. Kildalton Cross is one of the finest early Christian crosses in Scotland and dates from the second half of the 8th century, this is a must when you're on Islay. If you take a moment to walk up the wee hill east of the chapel you have a great view over the area and chapel site. To the east is the private track to Ardmore House, beautifully situated near a sheltered bay.
Claggain Bay looking north
The road heads further north and passes Kintour, which is a mile before Claggain Bay. Just before you reach Claggain Bay you can see a standing stone in a field on your right and further down Trudernish Point are the remains of an old fort. This is also a good moment to stop and take in the beautiful views over Claggain Bay and the mainland. Claggain Bay is one of the finest and most peaceful bays on Islay, the sand is beautiful white, the pebbles have all sorts of colours and the place just breaths tranquility. I always love it here. Just to sit here and listen to the waves, to hear the birds sing, to watch the terns dive for fish and to watch a distant fishing boat passing by is total relaxation. Spend some time here and I guarantee you that you will be back. Locals say that when you take a pebble home from Claggain Bay you have to come back to Islay, I say spend an hour here and you don't need that pebble anymore :-)
Claggain Bay looking south
So far your view has perhaps been focussed towards the sea but north east from Claggain Bay is Islay's tallest hill, Bheinn Bheigier, which is Gaelic for mountain of the vicar and is pronounced as "Bane vic-ar." I have been told that the track north of Claggain Bay is a good starting point if you want to climb this hill.
You probably know the saying that there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, well there is also a pot of gold at the end of this track, a wee hidden gem called Ardtalla Beach, just north of Claggain Bay, through the gates of Ardtalla Estate on your right. Ardtalla Beach is in my humble opinion the finest stretch of beach you can find anywhere on Islay. The place is a delight, the views are stunning, the sand is almost as white as snow, you can see birds and trees and seals and most of all the beach is nicely sheltered from cold northerly or westerly winds, in short this is a wee bit of heaven and a fine reward when you've completed this tour. Sorry if I let myself go here completely, you'll understand why when you see it for yourself ;-)
Ardtalla is where the road ends, for vehicles and bikes that is. If you're on foot you can make the trip a lot longer and head over a track to Proaig or as far as Mc Arthur's Head where you find the lighthouse proudly situated at the entrance of the Sound of Islay.
I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour, next time I'll take you to another beautiful part of the island!