===What Is It?===
The Isle of Islay (Pronounced Eye-la) lyes on the West Coast of Scotland. This beautiful little Island hosts everything from distilleries to wildlife to golf. It is a common destination to get away to and can only be accessed by Ferry. It is an amazing get away to.
===My Personnel Experience===
My first trip to Islay was when I was only eight years old. I don't really remember it that well but I remember absolutely loving it! Then over the years I have been 4 times more and now that i'm sixteen, I hope to go again. Islay is very special to me, as all my other friends went to Spain or the USA, I was living it up on a 3 degrees beach! So my personnel connections to the little island have made it my favorite holiday destination, beating France and Spain in my eyes, by miles.
===How Do You Pronounce That?===
When I first when to Islay I didn't know quite how to say it. When you go to Scotland, everything is pronounced usually different to how it is spelt. I'm afraid that is what us Scot's do and the way we say Islay is not different to the tradition. You could say it the Scots Gaelic way 'Eye-la' or the English way which is 'Eye-lay' So really as long as you say it one or the other you should be fine and not confuse folk.
===Where Is It?===
Islay is in the Argyll and Bute region of Scotland. So basically it is on the west coast of Scotland. It is close to the Isle of Bute, Rothesay and Jura. If your still a wee bit stuck, its West of Glasgow! You cannot miss its iconic shape if you are looking at it from Google Earth and it really is one of the more famous shaped Island. If you wanted to get there just head to Glasgow, then head to Greenock then Dunoon. And get the ferry at Dunoon. It is really easy and excellent for people going by car.
===Why Would You Visit===
It is such a beautiful island to visit. If you wanted a break or loved wildlife or even just Whisky! It is a great scottish island to visit and you'll be telling everyone back home about it. It is a really memorable place to go to. You can do so many things even if you just love walking or sealife or whisky! This is such a peaceful and quiet island to visit. The pubs and bars are fantastic and the night life (with some help from some whisky from many of the adults) make you feel so welcome. History lovers, wildlife lovers, families, farmers and whisky tasters are just some of the people we met on the ferry visiting the island. Peace and quiet is bliss for a couple of days.
It is believed that the first inhabitants of Islay was an amazing 7000 (1300AD) years ago and where drawn to the fishing and land. So settling along the coasts. So as thousand of years went past and the bronze age and iron age had past, came the Vikings. This played a huge part in Islays history and changed it forever. Converting all the islanders to Christian and to the church. A total of 7 viking burial grounds have been found on Islay, and more are being looked for. Then later on as the Clan wars started and Islay was claimed by the Campbells. That of course has all changed now and is looked after by the Duke of Argyll. Islay also played a big part in WW1 and WW2 making an excellent posting station for troops. That was a very basic round up of Islays history but I just wanted to prove that it had a big hand in Scotland's history. However even after all this time Islay still remains very preserved and still seems to be a couple of decades behind the rest of Scotland. However this is the thing which attracts a lot of people to the area.
Tourists from Scotland and behond come to Islay because of the Wildlife. You notice when you are there, there are a lot of photographers who come to the area to take photos of the animals. As the area is pretty much undisturbed it is a haven for wildlife lovers and people who just love nature. It even has it's own bird santuary. I've been to that and found it very interesting. Islay is a rest stop for a lot of migrating birds and with fishing grounds here a lot of seabirds see this as paradise. The Bird Sanctuary has huge windows a land so bird watchers can look out and children can learn but all the different and wonderful birds.
There is also dolphins at a certain time of year. I sadly, have never seen on Islay yet but hope to next time I go. Seals are very common and have seen plenty of them! When you go to the coasts you can see them playing in the water which is unbelivable. There is a lot of wildlife to see and that attracts a lot of vistors on that factor alone. If you love the outdoors and nature, this is the destination for you.
===The Distilleries (Whisky)===
Distilleries is something Islay has a lot of. There are a total of seven altoghether! And the Island has a population of just 3,500, so you can see that the pub life must be very good.
The most famous one is Bowmore. They sell Whisky world wide and is found all over Scotland. Then you have the three slightly smaller ones being Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig which are still very sucessful. Then the smaller more independent ones Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Port Ellen. They are so popular because the water they use has peat, which gives the whisky a very unique taste, to other whiskies.
Since I am only 15 I of course was not allowed (much to my dismay) to try these famous Whiskys. The distilleries all do tours and since I have been to Islay about 5 times, I have had time to go on all of them.
The tours where very interesting for each distillery. Most started you off on how Whisky was made. They take you around all the barrels etc where it was stored. I won't go into much detail about the tours as you really have to try it yourself to get the best feel of it but it was eally interesting. All over, the distilleries pride themselves in having the oldest, most mature Whisky. One had a bottle which was 120 years old, and still going. As you reach the end of the tour the adults are allowed to try a dram. However you have to be prepared as I have seen someone get a fright at how strong it can be!
Every single time I started laughing as Islay boast to have some of the strongest Whiskys in Scotland and telling by peoples faces, they where living up to that fact!
So you reach the end of the tour and each distillery lets you buy gifts like keyrings, pencils etc and of course a bottle of Whisky. So me and my mum got some 20 year old Whisky which cost quite a bit from the Bowmore one. Then from each other distillery we got a little bottle which are all sitting right now in the cabinet next to me. How ironic ay?
===How Many Live There?===
Around 3,500 people live on Islay. Sounds a lot but I think they all must hide because I found it pretty deserted a lot of the time, unless you go into the villages at 'peak time'. But the community are very welcoming and will be happy to help. Islay is about 600 square kilometres, and a lot of this is just beach and mountain. Not much of it is actually habited by humans. The population, when you are there seems to be small which allows you to have a culture change, especially if you are on holiday from the city.
===Where to Stay===
Islay makes a lot of its money from tourism. So there are lots of different Inns and hotels to choose from. I can't list them all as there are hundreds ranging from a bit hotels to tiny little farm hotels. I've found there is at least one in every village.
The biggest town is called Port Ellen and there you would find a lot of the hotels. Everytime i've been to Islay I have stayed in a Chalet. We rent it out for a week and it is right next to a golf course and the small airport. It can be a bit pricey depending where go. There are so many pubs and inns so have a search around and find the right one of you.
To get onto the island, you have two options. Ferry and Plane.
FERRY - Don't worry the ferry is very big and will take cars, lorries and i've even seen a tractor go on! This is the way we have been going for years and have never had a single problem with them. You can also walk on with buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles. The ferry across is fantastic (and freezing I may add) but the views are breath taking! So you've got a nice 2 hour ferry trip.
I would recommending taking a car. But if you don't have one don't worry. Islay have a taxi company that are supposed to be really good (sorry haven't used them!) but I heard from one of the islanders there cheap and can take you anywhere on the island. The ferry has lots of details about that.
PLANE - Islay has one of the smallest airports in the UK, but it is definately one of the most reliable! The last time I went to Islay we travelled by plane there, just for a change. I went from Edinburgh in a very small plane with about 30 seats. It was very comfortable but felt odd to be in such a small plane and we were never flying very high so I could see Glasgow quite clearly! I really enjoyed that way. I'm not sure which was I liked the best but there both great methods. It really does matter to your personnel taste.
Islay has some good shops. However if your wanting designer shoes an fashion then that is something Islay doesn't have. The shops are extremely friendly and most are independent. There are a couple of COOP's about but they are essential as they are where a lot of people get their food.
You forget that Islay doesn't grow much of its own food so needs to rely on imports from the coast and fish from the local fisherman. You really do appreciate food a lot more when your there. As there needs to be enough to go around for the whole island.
There is a really good bookshop in Bowmore which I loved and would recommend visiting. Its quite old fashioned but great and traditional. Also there are a lot of craft shops scattered all over the place specialising from pottery to weaving. Of course there are bottles of whisky you can buy from distilleries as well. But as shopping goes its not the best but is great for souveniers, toys, books and food. If you want good shopping go to the city anyway!
I could have stared at the view from Islay for days. It is so beautiful what ever time you see it. Everywhere you go in Islay, even just walking out of Bowmore COOP, you see the sea and the harbour busily working away. Then you just look the other direction and you see the hills. It deserves it's own section as it is spectacular. It is so photogenic, it looks like something that would just be on a calendar. What ever time of day it is it is unbeliavable. I would go back just for the view!!!
It is very family friendly. To get to Islay is good but I think if you have kids maybe taking them on the ferry is a better idea as they can walk about the boat safely while on the plane I think they might get board. It is also a great experience to go on the ferry as you are able to see the seals swimming beside the ship and the incredible views.
One of my favourite parts of Islay was the beach. I ran up and down that beach most of the time I was there! There is some amazing sealife there and fish thrive on the coast. It is an incredible natural adventure play ground. I still have never forgotten playing on the beach, climbing rocks and finding lots of starfish.
In Bowmore there is an education centre. It is part museum as well. It is really nice and designed for children. I went there and you can buy a pack in which you take your children around the island to find certain birds and wildlife. You get a whiteboard pen and get to tick them off as you find them. This is just one of the many stuff you can do. It is definately a good holiday to take your kids on. It will relax you and it is so private. We felt it was basically like having our own stretch of beach.
===What's Wrong With It===
The peace and quiet holiday may not appeal to everyone. I know I have to want to have a break to go there, as when we went to Spain we did more 'edgy' stuff like shopping and night life. Islay is more stuck twenty years behind the rest of the UK, however I think this really gives it character and makes it fantastic to visit.
I really loved going to Islay and I have tried to express that in this review. It is so fantastic and has my childhood connections tied in which may make me slightly biased. I'm hoping to visit again in October 2009 and am saving up for it (dooyoomiles) and have throughly enjoyed visiting the island. If you are thinking of visiting, do so you will not regret it.
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