The island group of Islay and Jura in the Southern Hebrides is one of the most wildlife-rich areas in the UK. These are two fascinating islands with a complex geology and a wide range of plant and animal species. The intertidal areas and stunning shorelines, with a backdrop of dramatic mountain ranges provides magnificent scenery while supporting internationally significant populations of bird species and animals such as otter, seals and red deer. The islands enjoy the gentle pace of life typical of the Hebrides.
Two of our cruise itineraries have the option of calling in at Islay and Jura. Islay and the Southern Hebrides 10-day Cruise onboard our new vessel is designed to get to know the more far flung areas of these two Islands.For our 6-night cruise The Heritage and Wildlife of the Southern Hebrides this is more likely to be wind, weather and tide dependent:
The Isle of Jura lies just a few miles north-east from Islay, separated by the Sound of Islay. The two islands are roughly the same size but with very different geology and populations.
The Island of Islay (pronounced (Eye-la) is also known as the Queen of the Hebrides. It has a thriving community of over 3,000 inhabitants, known as Ileachs. The island is home to eight of the worlds most famous single malt whisky distilleries: Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich. Islay has a very long history.
There is evidence of hunters and fishermen settling on Islay as early as 7500BC. Islay was once the main seat of power of the Lords of the Isles at Finlaggan, now a fascinating archeological site. The Lords of the Isles ruled the Southern Hebrides from 875AD – 1495AD. To the east of Islay lies the tiny and beautiful Isle of Gigha and the Mull of Kintyre on mainland Scotland.
There are some lovely towns and villages on Islay; many are found along the shores of Loch Indaal, a spectacular sea loch on the west of the island which almost splits Islay in half. Bowmore is the largest town with its famous Distillery with Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Port Wemyss are scattered around the loch. The whole 35 mile coastline of the loch is famous for its wildlife, especially birds. Port Ellen, on the southern shore of Islau is a charming small town built around Leodamus Bay and provides a sheltered anchorage.
The Isle of Jura is one of Scotland’s last wildernesses. A little over 200 inhabitants are outnumbered by 5000 native red deer; in fact the name Jura is thought to come from the Norse “Island of the Deer”. It is almost impossible not to see a deer on Jura. Craighouse is a lovely little village in the sheltered Sound of Jura. It is the main settlement on the island and the location of Jura’s only distillery.
Dominating the view of Jura from almost any direction are the three, distinctive and easily recognized Paps of Jura found in the southern half of the island. The highest of the three is Beinn an Oir, the Mountain of Gold, at 785m. Beinn Shiantaidh, the Sacred Mountain, is 757m and stands to the east of Beinn an Oir, while Beinn a’ Chaolais, the Mountain of the Sound, stands to the south-west and is the smallest of the three at 734m.
To the north of Jura is the island of Scarba separated by the Strait of Corryvreckan with its famous whirlpool. To the west is the island of Colonsay, separated by the Atlantic ocean.