The Three Distilleries Path on Islay

Port Ellen in the South of Islay and the opening pages of this month’s iScot article

It’s a winning combination. A glorious walk on a Scottish island combined with visits to some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. But what makes The Three Distilleries Path even more inviting is the fact that the route is chock-a-block with historical and archaeological sites.

You can wend your way through this ancient landscape, moulded into shape hundreds-of-millions of years ago, and discover the effect the island’s unusual geological make-up has in the creation of its unique and very distinctive whiskies. Whiskies that all come from one not-very-large island, and yet have an unexpected range and variety of tastes.

The starting point of the path at Port Ellen

You can look, and pause to wonder, at the standing stones our neolithic ancestors took such pains to raise. Mysterious stone circles. The wells that were so important to our Celtic forefathers. The tumbled remains of stone walls that reveal the sites of early Christian chapels. Mighty Dunyvaig Castle, powerful even in its ruinous state, as it guards the entrance to Lagavulin Bay. The sad tale of an act of kindness that led to the death of the settlement of Solam and all its inhabitants.

The wide skies. The ever present sea. The abundant plant-life.  The winged and four-legged wildlife. The hills to climb. The lochs to fish. The peace and tranquility. Both the calm and the stormy weather. A place to enjoy and explore whatever the elements may throw at you!

And of course an island that, more than any other, really does offer whisky galore!

iScot Magazine

Crime wave!

Crime writing in Scotland has never been more popular. From Bute Noir to Bloody Scotland there are events taking place all around the country, giving readers a golden opportunity to meet and talk to their favourite authors.

However, rather than discuss their fiction, I wanted to pose a different sort of question to these dealers in death. Tracking down three of the Tartan Noir brigade – Douglas Skelton, Lin Anderson and Louise Hutcheson – I asked them where in Scotland they would choose to be when they’re not penning the dark deeds and murderous machinations of their characters, and their answers took me to three very different parts of the country.

Lin Anderson

Douglas Skelton

For Douglas it was the Kinloch Rannoch area stretching from Pitlochry to the wilds of Rannoch Moor.  Lin chose the Highland village of Carrbridge, with its historic coffin bridge. While Louise plumped for the Queen of the Hebrides, the Island of Islay. And their reasons for these choices? Well, that’s for you to discover when you read this month’s iScot magazine: and you won’t be disappointed!

Louise Hutcheson

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Coillabus on Islay: a rich blend of the old and the new

A'Mhoine Bheag (Glenastle View) lodge at Coillabus

A’Mhoine Bheag (Glenastle View) lodge at Coillabus

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!

Local stone used in a traditional style

Local stone used in a traditional style

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.

Leaving Port Askaig for Kennacraig

The Calmac ferry leaving Port Askaig for Kennacraig

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!

Coillabus Ecoluxury Lodges

Caledonian MacBrayne Hebridean & Clyde Ferries

Isle of Islay

Plague, Priests and Pirates – Islay’s intriguing past

The standing stone by Cill Tobar Lasrach

From Port Ellen on the south of Islay to Kildalton, five miles to the east, lies a wealth of archaeological and historic sites, all of which add to the rich story of this beautiful island.  Ancient place names, standing stones, early Christian ruins, a battle-scarred castle, deserted villages, shipwrecks, the tragedy of the plague village of Solam, beautiful and weathered medieval crosses – all speak silently and potently of the lives of those who lived here in days gone by.  It’s an area of the island that I know well and have written about in Scottish Islands ExplorerI would recommend a visit to everyone.