Area focus: Islay

The Islay Sessions return to the Southern Hebridean island off Scotland’s West Coast this weekend, bringing some of the finest folk musicians to Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte.

A view of the rocky shore of a small town Port Ellen at sunrise

Port Charlotte Hotel, on the settlement’s Main Street, will host David Foley and Jack Smedley tomorrow evening, and clarsach players Rachel Hair and Jon Rappy on Sunday.

Bruichladdich Hall, at 1 Caladh-na-Sith, will host a traditional jamming session with Aileen Reid and Jenn Butterworth, singer Maeve Mackinnon with Luc McNally and Ali Levack, and RURA on Saturday.

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Both venues are situated in the idyllic Rhinns of Islay area, on a peninsula to the west of the island.

Portnahaven

The Queen of the Hebrides – the most southerly fixture of the archipelago – is Scotland’s fifth-largest island and has a very long and interesting history.

The island was part of the Gaelic kingdom Dál Riata between the 6th and 9th centuries. In 1156, Gaelic-Norse warrior Somerled invaded the southern Hebridean isles and named himself ruler, before the island was reclaimed by Scotland in the late 1400s.

By the mid-1800s, Islay’s population had peaked at a little under 16,000, though by the end of that century, the number had reduced significantly due to forced clearances, and today, there are just over 3,470 inhabitants.

Thanks to its fertile land for growing barley, and vast quantities of peat, Islay is famed globally for its whisky production.

Bruichladdich, north of Port Charlotte and overlooking Loch Indaal, is a small distillery village named after the whisky producer established there by the Harvey brothers in 1881.

It comprises a handful traditional whitewashed cottages and villas, surrounded by farmland and dramatic waterside views.

A property at Bruichladdich will cost around £250,435, according to portal Zoopla, a value increase of almost 3.5 per cent in the last year.

Two miles south from here lies Port Charlotte – named after its founder and 19th-Century politician Walter Frederick Campbell’s mother – a scenic conservation village with a wonderful sandy beach.

It is mainly built up of quaint white-painted stone terraced houses. On Shore Street – as you would imagine – is right on the beach, and Main Street is home to similarly styled dwellings that have fantastic sea views.

A property at Port Charlotte is more affordable with an average price of £184,132.

Seven miles south is Portnahaven, a popular tourist destination overlooking Orsay Island and the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse.

Structured around a bay, homes found on the High Street and Crown Street have, arguably, the best views, although Shore Street and King Street also benefit from the wonderful vistas over the harbour, which is home to grey seals.

Properties there cost on average £167,776, which is a bargain for any homebuyer seeking an abode within a picture-postcard setting.

Bowmore and Port Ellen are the island’s biggest settlements and have Co-op outlets for essentials, although most villages have their own smaller grocery shops.

There are primary schools in Portnahaven, Port Charlotte and Port Ellen, and secondary education is provided at Islay High School in Bowmore.

Lomond School in Helensburgh is the nearest independent school and offers boarding.

There are regular ferries to Kennacraig on the mainland and journeys take a little over two hours.

There is no place better suited than Islay for home-hunters looking to embrace the Scottish wilderness, close-knit communities and jaw-dropping island views – and, of course, a taste of some of the country’s greatest tipples.

Average market value of a property in the area (Source: Zoopla)

Detached £310,345

Semi-detached £158,315

Terrace £161,707

Flat £74,752

What to see and do

Bowmore Distillery, pictured, is the oldest on the island, having been established in 1779, and still has one of Scotland’s oldest maturation warehouses. Distillery tours are temporarily unavailable due to Covid-19 restrictions, however, the shop is open from Tuesday to Saturday between 10am and 4pm, with a knowledgeable team on hand to offer advice on the whiskies and gifts. There are whisky and chocolate tasting experiences available and bookings can be made at www.bowmore.com.

The American Monument on the Oa peninsula was built in 1920 to commemorate more than 630 people who lost their lives in 1918. First when the luxury SS Tuscania was sunk by a German U-boat in February, and eight months later when the HMS Otrano collided with a steamship in a heavy storm. The two-mile round trip to the 429-feet tall monument, designed by architect Robert Walker, offers spectacular cliff top views.

Bruichladdich Distillery was a state-of-the-art facility when it was built in the 19th Century and was unlike any other on Islay. There are virtual tour packs available from the shop, while physical tours are on pause, and tastings there run from Tuesday to Friday between 3.45pm and 4.45pm.

Dunyvaig Castle near Port Ellen is one of Islay’s most important historic sites. The ruin was once a defence for the Clan MacDonald and dates from the 13th and 16th centuries. A pleasant walking route connects it with Port Ellen and Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries.