One of Islay’s closest neighbours is the Isle of Jura, a little more than a stone-throw away from Islay’s east coast and separated from Islay by a narrow strait called the Sound of Islay. Jura is roughly the same size as Islay and its name is believed to originate from the Norse “Island of the Deer”. Despite its size Jura is only inhabited by approx. 180 people, who are outnumbered by the huge population of deer. Latest counts by gamekeepers show that Jura has almost 5,500 deer, making an encounter with one of these majestic animals inevitable when visiting Jura. Speaking of which, Jura can be reached by car from Port Askaig. A small ferry, suitable for eight cars, will take one car and two passengers across for £15, reservations are not necessary. A stop at the local petrol station at Port Askaig however is recommended. The ferry runs at approx 30min intervals daily from 7.30am till 6.30pm.
On a clear day the trip from Port Askaig to Feolin on Jura is a delight with stunning views towards the famous Paps of Jura. Feolin is nothing more than an anchoring place for the ferry and starting point for the only road on Jura, officially classified as the A846, which is actually more then it deserves in some places. The single track road follows the Sound of Islay south-east for the first few miles before it turns north-east just after Jura House, built around 1880 by the Campbell’s of Jura. There is a beautiful walled garden open for visitors near Jura House and well worth a visit. Jura House itself is not open for the public.
After another three miles of beautiful landscape the little village of Craighouse appears, which is the main village on Jura. Here most people live and this is also the place of Jura’s only whisky distillery, which is open for visitors by appointment only. Craighouse is a very quiet and lovely little village, home to the Jura Hotel, the local village shop and post office, a gift shop/tea room and the local Parish Church which is open for visitors and has a room in the back of the building with a display of old photographs.
Opposite the church is a lovely sheltered white sandy beach offering stunning views over the Small Isles, just off Jura’s coast, and the Kintyre Peninsula with the mountains of Arran visible in the distance. The road continues north and after a few miles, just after the river Corran, the majestic Paps of Jura are within reach. This is also a good starting point for a climb to one of Jura’s Paps by following the river Corran to the Loch. From there a choice can be made which one to climb. This is one of the shortest routes to the Paps and it is about 4 miles long. The Paps, together with four other lesser peaks, form part of the route for the Jura Fell Race, held each year at the end of May. This is considered one of the toughest fell races in Britain, involving a distance of over 16 miles and a total climb of over 7,000 feet. The Paps of Jura consist of three quartzite peaks; Beinn a’Chaolais, The Mountain of the Sound, Beinn an Oir, The Mountain of Gold and Beinn Shiantaidh which is known as The Sacred Mountain.
The road continues north, offering grand views over the Sound of Jura and changing landscapes on the west side of the island. A few miles north of Lagg and near Tarbert is a little track towards Loch Tarbert, which cuts Jura almost in half, and is a delight to walk on. Here the tranquillity and peace of Jura are ever so present, as well as the wildlife. The A846 continues north and officially stops at Lussagiven. Here the road becomes no more than a farmer’s track and finally stops at “Road End” just beyond Lealt. If you wish to proceed any further it has to be by foot to reach places like Barnhill and Kinuchdrach, almost at the northern tip. It was here where George Orwell found the peace and quiet to write his famous book “1984” which he finished in 1948. Two miles further is the strait of Corryvreckan and its famous whirlpool in which Orwell nearly lost his life when his boat overturned passing through the strait. It is also here where the story of the Scandinavian Prince Breackan, who fell in love with a princess of the isles, took place.
Scattered all over the island are remains of Jura’s past, there are eight sites of standing stones and several burial grounds on Jura. On the graveyard of Inverlussa, Mary McCraine is buried, who died at the age of 128. There are also a number of Iron Age Forts and the most spectacular is the one at An Dunan on Lowlandsman’s Bay. At this fort there is also what is believed to be the remains of a Viking dry-dock.
Jura is also a walkers paradise offering unlimited freedom to walk just about everywhere, but beware between August and October in the stalking season. The west coast of Jura is wild, remote, uninhabited and very hard to reach, and therefore a paradise for the wildlife such as otters, seals and Golden Eagles. It is here that ruined villages and isolated steadings can be found, remains of Jura’s past when people were granted permission by the lairds to cultivate parts of their land. Remains of this cultivation are the “lazy beds” that can still be found all over Jura.
Jura is a little piece of heaven and well worth a visit during a stay on Islay, specially on a clear and sunny day. One good advice though, take your time and leave early from Port Askaig, you will be rewarded with a magnificent trip on a superb island.
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