A few weeks ago I received a very pleasant surprise when the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne contacted me to say that I had won a break on the beautiful island of Islay. Not only did this mean I’d be going back to one of my favourite Scottish islands, but the stay would be in a luxury eco-lodge at Coillabus on the Oa Peninsula. My surprise turned to delight when we arrived at the lodge and saw the breathtaking 180° views over the north-west of the Oa. In fact, we could even see all the way along Glen Astle to the Rinns of Islay lighthouse on the small island of Orsay!
Set into the hillside, the lodge is almost invisible from the road, with warm stone walls and a turf roof that blend into the surrounding landscape: “Traditional black house meets neolithic with a healthy dose of contemporary chic”, as one description imaginatively puts it! And that’s not far wrong. Even the instructions on how to get there were magical: “The road becomes narrow with twisty corners in places. Continue past…the house with hens and other livestock. Go up round past Connachan’s Grave, a chambered cairn on your left…then up a really steep bend past a house with…more hens who might be responsible for your breakfast eggs”! How often do you get directions like this!
The Oa is home to a large RSPB reserve as well as a wealth of archaeological and historical sites. The American Monument, visible from miles around, marks the tragic loss of life when two US troop ships sank off the peninsula in 1918. And as on so many Scottish islands, there are signs of old abandoned settlements, many from the time of the Clearances, when landlords forced tenants to leave their homes. This area once supported many more families than it does today.
However, there is continuity with the island’s past as the Coillabus lodges lie within a family-owned working hill farm and were built with local stone by local craftsmen. The modern and environmentally-friendly geothermal underfloor heating makes for a warm and comfortable stay. We were fortunate to have good weather during our visit, but the lodge was so perfect the weather almost didn’t matter! In fact, you could say it’s a ‘weatherproof’ house where the drama of a storm raging outside would be thrilling to watch through the magnificent panoramic windows.
Gone are the days when being environmentally-friendly meant giving up on modern comforts. With a sauna and a hot tub, Coillabus gives the lie to the notion that eco-friendly living means a primitive existence! In Scotland we’re well on the way to meeting our electricity needs through renewables. Using air and ground source heat pumps, it’s great to see places like Coillabus where the old meets the new to create something both sustainable and comfortable – and in keeping with this glorious island setting. While there’s still much to do on the road to sustainability, Coillabus is undoubtedly an example of the way to go!