In the Ardbeg distillery
Islay, once home of the MacDonald 'Lords of the Isles', is famous for the malt whiskies from its 8 distilleries as well as for its farming, bird life, fishing and shooting. Hills, moors and machair (fertile ground near the coast) are surrounded by an infinitely varied coast, with rocks, beaches and dunes, salt marshes and cliffs. Good walking country.
Jura, nearly as large as Islay, is wild and infinitely more rugged. Its distinctive landmark hills - the Paps - are visible from vantage points all over Argyll, and from places as far apart as Ben Nevis and the Irish coast. Red deer outnumber people here many times over. Jura has one whisky distillery.
On Islay, we'll explore the coastal cliffs and abandoned townships of the Oa peninsula, the dunes of Ardnave as well as ancient chapels and Celtic crosses. We'll also visit the former stronghold of the Lords of the Isles at Finlaggan and in the evenings you'll be able, if you'd like, to explore the attractive eighteenth- and nineteenth- century planned villages such as Bowmore and Port Charlotte.
Jura gives the opportunity for a big hill climb, but there is a much gentler alternative on the east coast of the island for those who think a big climb may be too much for them, however wide and marvellous the views. We'll take our minibus across the short ferry from Port Askaig to give ourselves the freedom of Jura.
Islay's natural resources - fertile soil, extensive peat bogs and wonderful soft peaty water - mixed with sea breezes and traditional distilling processes, produce the most easily distinguishable of all malt whiskies, with many devotees worldwide.
Islay has nine malt whisky distilleries. The distilleries in the south of the island, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig, produce the most strongly flavoured, phenolic whiskies in Scotland. The distilleries to the north - Ardnahoe, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman tend to be of a lighter character, indeed some specify unpeated malt and draw their water direct from springs before it has had time to pick up much peat. In spite of this, they still taste peaty! There is another distillery on the Isle of Jura. During this tour we will visit a distillery each day and there will be whisky tasting in the evening.
You will be based on Islay. This will be in carefully selected accommodation, either a B&B, guest house or 4-star hotel, as you prefer. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the welcoming nature of those who run it. If you have particular wishes, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
The programme will be tailored to your wishes and interests, but this is an example of how the holiday may look like.
Meeting in Glasgow. Travel to Islay in our minibus and by Calmac ferry from Kennacraig. Along the way we will have a walk through native woodland with excellent views.
2.5 miles/4km and 575ft/175m of ascent
Kildalton Cross, Islay
We start our discovery of Islay with a visit to the ruins of Kildalton Chapel, built in the 13th century. Next to the chapel stands a 12 foot (4m) high Celtic cross dating from the first millennium AD. Afterwards we will visit the Laphroaig distillery on the south coast of Islay. This is the only distillery on Islay that still malts the barley on site.
In the afternoon, we take an airy cliff top walk around the Mull of Oa ('oa' pronounced simply 'o'). The stretch between spectacular Dun Athad, on its narrow headland, and the American Monument on the Mull itself is as grand a stretch of coast as any on the islands and should certainly blow the cobwebs away and allow us to walk off lunch. If there's particularly good visibility we can see both the Irish and mainland Scottish coasts to remind us of the ancient close links between Scotland, Islay and Ireland, perpetuated in Gaelic place names and the Gaelic speech of many Ilich.
4 miles/6.5km and 330ft/100m of ascent
Evening: whisky tasting.
We will start our visit to Jura with a tour of the Isle of Jura Distillery. After our dram we will explore Jura's coast, always with the Paps of Jura in the background. If the weather allows us and the group is fit, we will walk up Corra Bheinn, the '4th Pap'.
That would be a maximum of 7 miles/11km and about 2000 ft/600m of ascent
Paps of Jura
We start the day with a visit to Finlaggan, once the home of the Lords of the Isles, who ruled over West Scotland from the 13th to the 16th centuries, it was built on some prehistoric ‘crannogs’ (artificial islands in a loch).
Afterwards we continue our journey for a tour of the Caol Ila Distillery.
In the afternoon we drive to Ardnave, overlooking Loch Gruinart, passing the Gruinart Flats, a haven for wading birds and migrating geese, on our way. We will walk around the coast via Ardnave Point. Pleasant going, over sandy beaches, dunes and rocky shores, with wide views towards Colonsay as well as the chance of coming across seals.
About 5 miles/8km with little ascent
We take the morning ferry back to Kennacraig and travel back to Glasgow. We will stop for our lunch in Inveraray, the capital of the Campbell clan. Inveraray has one of the best assorted whisky shops of Scotland.
After lunch and a visit to the whisky shop we will continue our journey to Glasgow where we will arrive in the late afternoon.