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Issue 3 - Notes from a small island

Scotland Magazine Issue 3
July 2002


This article is 16 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Notes from a small island

Editor Marcin Miller travels to the Hebrides

Call me selfish, but there are some things in life that I want to keep to myself. Nothing unwholesome, you understand. It’s simply a matter of secrecy. Something so good that I just don’t want to share. However, and against my better judgement, it is my professional duty to tell all.

The Hebridean isles of Islay and Jura initiate precisely such uncharitable thoughts. From the moment you leave the mainland coast, accompanied by the rattling of wings and propellers, the breathtaking views and sense of expectation are inspirational. It is a 40-minute westbound flight from Glasgow that fills the soul with joyous anticipation.

Nothing is spiritually further from the humdrum, urban, loud, rude, unhealthy, dangerous and frankly exhausting lifestyle so many of us endure these days than the peace, solitude and unspoilt natural beauty to be found on a small Scottish island. Scotland has many islands but only one of them, Isaly, has seven working distilleries to its name. Names such as Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Laphroaig warm the heart. The distinctive bold flavours of Islay malts, derived from the maritime influence and the peaty soil, are leading the worldwide thirst for single malt Scotch whisky.

Whisky is not just a drink. It is a cultural product. Apersonal anecdote: when my wife first visited Islay with me she spent the flight worrying about offending our hosts, Bowmore, as she despised whisky. Within minutes of our arrival, she was sitting on the banks of Loch Indaal, cradling a dram of Bowmore 12- year-old as if to the manner born. She hasn’t looked back since.

But, of course, there is more to Scotland and the Hebrides than whisky. Islay ( offers a testing golf links at the Machrie as well as splendid dining at, amongst others, the Harbour Inn, top-quality tweeds from the Islay Woollen Mill, fantastic bird-watching and exceptional reminders of Gaelic heritage such as the Kildalton Cross. Islay’s next door neighbour, the Isle of Jura (, is home to a distillery, the cottage where George Orwell wrote 1984 and over 5,000 red deer (Britain’s largest wild mammal), Golden Eagles, otters, stoats, seals and fewer than 200 people. It doesn’t take much to imagine the solitude and tranquility that such a setting can offer. Last Friday was pretty much perfect: a hearty Scottish breakfast followed by a brief stroll around the walled garden at Jura House; clay pigeon shooting under the watchful eye of Willie MacDonald; a couple of frames of snooker then a glorious five-hour boat trip (including a picnic lunch of Jura lamb sandwiches and copious whisky, naturally) in glorious sunshine – including very close encounters with some seals – culminating in a frenzy of vigourous fishing and a catch of some 20 coal fish; a bar meal in the Brigend Hotel then off to the Distillery Manager’s Ball at Bunnahbhain to watch a crowd of whisky enthusiasts from all over the world delight in the storytelling and good-natured joshing of some of the most respected
whisky makers in the world. This is but a snapshot: a forthcoming issue will focus on the islands to give you the whole picture.

This issue has something of a Royal theme to it, in recognition of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. Charles Douglas explores the Royal Family’s love of Scotland from Queen Victoria to the present day. He also goes behind the scenes at Holyroodhouse. In addition (and in contrast), James Irvine Robertson examines the legacy of the Highland Clearances, Kate Patrick finds out precisely what keeps Jenners at the retailing pinnacle, Gavin Smith explores Speyside and Sue Lawrence prepares us, weather permitting, for the great Scottish picnic. And if that’s not enough, Jon Walsh goes off-roading, John Hannavy contemplates the Scottish churchyard, Elizabeth Walton gets tweedy, James Carney interviews the Lord Lyon, Viv Devlin on exporting Scotland and our tasters get their fill of delicious shortbread. Finally, did you know beta-blockers were invented by a Scot? You do now.