I'm Kay, a Scottish travel blogger.I'm Inspiring you to put Scotland at the top of your travel-wish list. Find blogs on Scottish food, Hillwalking , Scottish Islands, Unique accommodation, Whisky and much more.
Scapa Fest is a yoga and adventure festival, which takes place over three days on a beautiful estate overlooking Loch Fyne, on Scotland’s west coast. What happens when you send a stressed-out city girl to an event which focuses on wellbeing, sustainability, and nature? Read on to find out.
I travelled to Scapa Fest on a paid campaign with Scottish Citylink, who operate bus services to Cairndow, where the festival is held.
A soothing voice, with an enviable accent, penetrated the silent space; competing only with the slowing rhythm of the rain, which danced on the sides of the tent. The light outside was forgotten for a wee while, as I sat comfortably with my eyes closed. My thoughts began to dissipate, and despite being surrounded by people, I felt blissfully alone. When I opened my eyes, and re-entered reality, I felt like something had switched. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but it would appear that I had just experienced my first successful stint of meditation.
The voice was that of the Scapa Fest Founder who had just guided us through what she referred to as ‘time travel’. To me, it didn’t matter what it was called: I had managed to quieten my mind, and zone-out completely for a few minutes. This was a personal victory – and a very positive start to the festival.
‘Slanj’, the main tent
My usual thoughts are just as ‘chaotic’ as my lifestyle. I’m a chronic over-thinker, and my internal dialogue often sounds like a radio that hasn’t been tuned. I spend an inordinate amount of time on my phone and/or laptop, and sometimes I don’t have a proper day off for weeks. I burn out, and become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety – but I “don’t have time” to do anything about it. Oh, the irony!
Prior to Scapa Fest, I had only attended music festivals – which are typically on the rowdier and less wholesome end of the scale. My life and career revolves around adventure in Scotland, so I wasn’t sure whether I would fit in at Scapa Fest. Maybe it would be a bit too niche, and ‘out there’ for me.
As usual, my worry was misplaced. That moment of meditative magic on the first night signalled the start of some unexpected changes in the life of Kay. Who would’ve thought?
Introducing Scapa Fest
Scapa Fest is the dream child of Clemence Cocquet, who is originally from France, but currently lives in Scotland; splitting her time between Glasgow and the Isle of Mull. Clemence previously worked as a Spinal Injuries Physiotherapist for the NHS, and was no stranger to ‘burn out’. In 2014, she embarked on a solo adventure to Iceland, where she cycled nearly 1000km+ around the volcanic landscape. This journey was life-changing, and evoked powerful emotions and realisations that Clemence wanted to share with other people. She imagined bringing people together in a beautiful location to share in her dream, and after four years of hard work, Scapa Fest was born. You can read more about Clemence’s Iceland trip here.
An event like Scapa Fest needs a special setting, and Ardkinglas Estateis exactly that. The magnificently maintained 12,000-acre estate boasts majestic mountain views, enchanting woodland, and a charming historic house (which looks like a castle and is still a family home). The sunset scenes are just magical, and the bursts of vibrant flowers perfectly compliment the festival tents and fairy lights. I honestly couldn’t imagine a more idyllic location for the festival; Scapa Fest at the Ardkinglas Estate was truly meant to be.
The Festival Experience
The festival ethos centres around protecting the environment – and looking after yourself. It aims to “create a community gathered around yoga, movement, adventure and mindful living”. Scapa Fest operates a strict ‘leave no trace’ policy, so you won’t find any litter, damage or single-use plastic at this shindig!
At Scapa Fest, you’ll find a mixed bunch of friendly faces; solo revellers, couples, groups of pals, and small children. There’s a distinctly relaxed and inclusive vibe at the festival, where you feel free from any judgement or negativity. Most of the people I met had a chilled-out demeanour, and obvious affinity with nature and wellbeing. There was a sea of funky yoga leggings, outdoor gear and rainbow-printed clothing (guilty as charged); there were also lots of people who didn’t fit any of these stereotypes. What everyone shared was a gratitude and enthusiasm for the experience, and this could be felt throughout the weekend.
Scapa Fest offers a varied programme of workshops and events which are “inspired by the natural world”, and delivered by experts in their respective fields. The activities include yoga, meditation, foraging, kayaking, star-gazing, storytelling and learning about herbal remedies. There’s even live music and a ceilidh! The workshops are held in wee tents which are scattered around the estate – or on the loch itself, if you decide on a water-based activity. Your ticket price includes entry to as many workshops as you like; on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
Scapa Fest Market is where you’ll find the catering options, water tap, and sinks for washing dishes. The food was all high-quality and local; from the venison and Isle of Mull cheddar served by Food from Argyll, to the ‘Pure Highland’ ice-cream – with rhubarb sauce – from Highland Fold Ice Cream. The star of the show for me was the Nomad Wood-fired pizza stand; possibly the best pizza I’ve ever had, and so good I ate here twice. Most of the food on offer cost between £5 – £100, and a gin & tonic was £5 (the tonic could be used for two gins).
There are also several market stalls selling herbal products, hippy-style clothing and crafts. Kids (and big kids) can get their faces painted, which I sadly had to miss out on – I didn’t think the paint would last long when I went paddle boarding on Loch Fyne!
Scapa Fest campsite sits behind the main tent, with a stunning mountain backdrop. The site is spacious and scenic, with chemical toilets and some market stalls within close walking distance. Camping with your own tent is included in the price ticket, and there are also glamping bell tents for couples, groups and families which can be hired at additional cost – be sure to book in advance, as they get snapped up quickly. There is also some dedicated space for campervans.
Due to my lack of camping gear, and limited time to acquire some, I stayed in the Cairndow Inn – which is a 10/15-minute walk from the festival grounds so, also a possibility. The historic inn looks out to Loch Fyne, and has a seriously old-school charm. I enjoyed the comfort of a proper bed, cooked breakfast, and giant bath – and I noticed other festival goers were staying there too. If you can though, I would recommend staying on the campsite, for the full festival experience.
Top Tips for Scapa Fest
Take everything you need, so that you don’t have to leave the campsite. If you forget something, there is a COOP in Inveraray which is 25 minutes away on the bus
This is a zero waste festival so don’t forget to pack Tupperware, cutlery, a reusable water bottle and mug for your food and drink purchases
Withdraw cash before you get there, as the catering options and market stalls may not accept card. If you get really stuck, the bar at the Cairndow Stagecoach Inn will give you cashback
Don’t drive if you don’t need to – this is an eco-friendly festival, after all. The festival is served by public transport from Glasgow on Scottish Citylink Service 976 to Oban or the 926 to Campbeltown. Find out more at the bottom of the post.
Salisbury Green Hotel & Bistro is a boutique hotel in a unique location, within walking distance of the Old Town. The highlights of my overnight staycation include tasty Scottish produce, a rainfall shower, and a scenic stroll to Scotland’s oldest pub. Keep reading.
I couldn’t take my eyes off Arthur’s Seat. The glorious chunk of volcanic rock was glowing in the sunlight, and it was right there. Seeing it from this angle, so close and so clearly, was an unexpected treat.
Hotel stays in my home city are always an interesting experience. Spending time in locations around Edinburgh gives me a sense of normality and familiarity, but it feels very different. I look at my surroundings and experiences through the eyes of visitor – plus I get to abandon my own bed for the night. So often, I have been left scratching my head when one of my readers or Itinerary Planning clients asks for recommendations on where to stay in the city; after all, it’s not often you stay in a hotel when your own flat is just a short taxi journey away.
As well as being a pleasant little luxury, staycations are highly beneficial for my work. Extinct volcano views from my room are just an added bonus.
Introducing Salisbury Green Hotel & Bistro
The University of Edinburgh offers a host of unique venues and accommodation options in the city, trading under their Edinburgh Firstbrand. Salisbury Green Hotel & Bistro sits within the Pollock Halls University campus; a peaceful haven next to one of the city’s prettiest green spaces – with no rowdy students or crowds of tourists in sight. Instead, there are trees, flowers in bloom, and birds having a wee sing song. The hotel feels far removed from the bustle of the city – particularly during the Edinburgh Festival – but is still within walking distance of all the action.
Masson House Makeover
Salisbury Green Hotel is split between two properties; Masson House and Mansion House. The 18th century Mansion House is a beautiful historic building, and has traditional rooms with some original features. I stayed in its modern counterpart, Masson House, which reopened in October 2018, having undergone a £4.5 million refurbishment. The property has 72 rooms, which have been transformed into a boutique hotel, with a lounge area and bistro.
The exterior doesn’t look as impressive as the Mansion House, nor does it look particularly like a hotel, but it’s important not to judge a book by its cover. Inside, you’ll find bright and modern spaces, and super-friendly staff. You can buy alcohol to drink in the lounge until 22.00, and much of the drinks menu features local Scottish brands.
I stayed in a deluxe double room, which was spacious and stylishly decorated. I loved the unique wallpaper, dark teal fabrics, and the massive double bed with big fluffy pillows. There was fast free WiFi, and a TV with Freeview channels, as well as an iron, safety deposit box, and hairdryer. The bathroom is big enough to host a party in, and has an amazing walk-in rainfall shower with Arran Aromatics toiletries. I slept like a baby after my long, hot shower. Happy days.
Food at the Bistro
Edinburgh First is accredited by Visit Scotland under the ‘Taste our Best’ scheme, which recognises businesses who source over 40% of their food from local, Scottish producers. This is apparent as soon as you read the menu at Salisbury Green Bistro. Big thumbs up from me! I had the fish plate for one to start: smoked mackerel pâté, Scottish smoked salmon, smoked haddock croquette, crispy prawns, pickled cucumber, Perthshire oatcakes. I loved it all, and my only concern was that I wouldn’t have room for my main!
I ordered the special of lamb rump with dauphinoise potatoes and veg, and didn’t have any trouble finishing it off. The lamb was tasty and tender, and the veg was cooked perfectly. I could’ve easily gone through a jug of jus, though – it’s always served as just a splash! The waiting staff were chatty and down-to-earth, and the service was quick. Being able to finish the meal, then be comfortably sprawled on my bed shortly after, was an added luxury.
The hotel breakfast also features plenty of Scottish produce, including Stornoway black pudding (my absolutely favourite), Borders sausages, and Stobbs Farm smoked back bacon. During the week, the breakfast is cooked to order, and at weekends it’s served buffet-style; you can still order toast, hot drinks, and poached eggs from the waiting staff. I thoroughly enjoyed my yoghurt, croissant with jam, and cooked items from the buffet. A good start to the day!
Things to Do Nearby
Hike Arthur’s Seat – the view from the top of Arthur’s Seat is one of the best in the city, and it doesn’t take very long to get there. The quickest way from the hotel, is to ascend the steep steps which are on the right-hand side – when Salisbury Crags (see image below) is on your left. Edinburgh’s hills were formed by a volcano which last erupted over 365 million years ago, and nowadays they give Edinburgh its striking appearance, and provide a perfect viewing platform to admire the cityscape. Check out my guide to the best views in Edinburgh, and if you would like to scale all of Edinburgh’s seven hills, read my review of 7 Hills Tours.
Visit The Sheep Heid Inn – finish your hike up Arthurs Seat here, or walk 20-minutes through Holyrood Park from the hotel. The Sheep Heid Inn sits in the historic village of Duddingston, and claims to be one of the oldest pubs in Scotland; it is said there has been an inn on the site since 1360. Since its chic restoration, the pub has lost quite a bit of its original charm (it used to resemble an antique shop serving alcohol) but it’s still a lovely place to have a drink – particularly in the courtyard on a nice day. There’s serve quality food, and there’s a skittles alley though the back, which can be pre-booked for groups.
The Moray Coast is one of Scotland’s most spectacular jewels, yet is surprisingly overlooked by visitors. I fell in love with the seaside scenery on the Moray Coastal Trail, and the picturesque fishing villages along the way. If you haven’t considered visiting this wee slice of paradise, it’s time to get inspired.
I travelled to the Moray Coast on a paid campaign with Stagecoach North East to promote the ease of travelling by public transport in this area. Check out my blog on the best of beautiful Cullen
I the Moray Coast
Cliffs, beaches, harbours and fishing villages. Each time I stumbled across more scenic treasure on the Moray Coast, I was both shocked and delighted at the absence of other people; fabulous for my serenity and photography, yet a missed opportunity for tourism in the area. The Moray Coast is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in Scotland, and is also known for its sunny weather and low rainfall. The Moray Coast has got me conflicted.
Would I like to see more visitors venturing in this direction, as opposed to following everyone else around Scotland’s usual suspects? Aye, absolutely. Would I like the Moray Coast to become as popular and congested as, say, the North Coast 500 or the Isle of Skye? That would be a resounding NO.
For me, it’s all about balance. Enough visitors to boost the economy, but no more than what the infrastructure can handle. While this might be a wee bit idealistic, we can all strive to travel responsibly – to maximise the benefits of tourism in areas like the Moray Coast, while minimising the impact. Here are some simple ways we can do our bit:
Treat the places we visit with respect.
Spend our holiday pennies in small, independent businesses where possible.
Travel on public transport; this is better for the environment, reduces traffic congestion, and I believe you really see what’s around you.
Moray Coast on Public Transport
Despite being relatively remote, this super-scenic stretch of coastline is easy – and enjoyable – to reach on public transport. I explored a section of Moray Coast without a car, and loved it. My own two legs relished having a good stretch in the sunshine (minus the sprained ankle – more on than in my post about Cullen), and I had the pleasure of travelling on the new Stagecoach double-decker buses from Aberdeen.
The Stagecoach Service 35 travels north through Aberdeenshire, and joins the coast in Banff, before continuing right through to Elgin. I focused on the pretty fishing villages in-between, which are all served by the Service 35, and linked by scenic walking routes.
The extra elevation on the top deck offers a whole new perspective of the countryside and coast; I had a clear view of a hairy coo social gathering in an Aberdeenshire field, and could see the Moray Firth over the rooftops of the adorable fishing cottages. Bonnie vistas all round.
As well as the bonnie vistas, the new Service 35 buses have free WiFi, USB charging points and a low step for boarding – great for passengers with mobility issues. There are no toilets on-board, so please refrain from guzzling a gallon of juice if you’re travelling far. Check out the full timetable here.
The Service 35 Route Map
So, in a nutshell, if you don’t visit the Moray Coast – you’re really missing out. The locals will welcome you into their secret haven with open arms, and you’ll only wish you made the journey sooner. Here are my highlights from the Moray Coastal Trail – featuring five beautiful fishing villages you’ll love to photograph.
Where is the Moray Coast?
When you’re exploring the Moray Coast, the Moray Firth is never far from sight. A Firth is a “narrow inlet of the sea” – which in this instance, is where the North Sea meets over 500 miles of coast, extending North and East of Inverness in a triangular shape. The Moray Firth is famed for its resident bottlenose dolphins, and the area is considered one of the best places in Europe to spot these super-cute sea creatures. My adventure was on the eastern side, on a picture-perfect section of the coast, which is shared by Morayshire and Aberdeenshire.
Moray Coastal Trail
This long-distance walking route stretches 50 miles along Moray’s magical coastline, from Forres to Cullen. The route is well signposted with good paths, easy terrain and gasp-worthy views of the breath-taking coastline. I walked the section between Portknockie and Buckie, to discover little bays with rugged rocks, smooth white pebbles, and translucent water in varying shades of blue.
The path had vibrant bursts of yellow on either side, courtesy of the daffodils, gorse and rapeseed in bloom. It was such a bonnie sight to behold, I had butterflies in my stomach, and couldn’t control my frequent eruptions of WOW. I’m desperate to return as soon as possible to walk the full route.
Pretty Fishing Villages on the Moray Coast
This charming wee village is all kinds of beautiful. As I approached from the east on the Moray Coastal Trail, my first glimpse was the bright white sand on the cutely curved Findochty Beach. In the centre of the village, local children wearing wetsuits jumped off the harbour walls into the water. The historic harbour was a bustling fishing port for hundreds of years, but is more likely to welcome leisure travellers nowadays.
A pit-stop at Admirals Inn is a must. It’s a friendly and traditional establishment, which has no doubt seen its fair share of drunken sailors over the years. The perfect place to ask a local how to correctly pronounce the name of the name of the village; something like ‘fin-ook-ty (I think).
Photo Opportunity: Findotchy Harbour from the hill to the Findochty War Memorial.
Portknockie is a clifftop fishing village, which was founded in 1677. Adorable fishing cottages line the streets – which slope down towards the vast blue of the Moray Firth. Portknockie Harbour was once a hotspot for herring fishing in the 19th century, and is still home to a fleet of fishing boats which serve other ports in Scotland – as well as a few small boats which operate locally to land mackerel and creels.
The village is famed for its clifftop views, and the iconic Bow Fiddle Rock; a stunning sea arch in the shape of a fiddle bow. I sat staring at this natural wonder for over an hour, listening to the squawk of seabirds and the waves thrust against the rocks. Afterwards, I popped into The Fly Cup for a cold drink, and would love to return to purchase one of the paintings on display – and a cake!
Photo Opportunity: Bow Fiddle Rock from the clifftop path or pebble beach.
There’s something extra special about Cullen. As well as the cute cottages, bonnie beach, and pretty harbour, you’ll find an old viaduct, a popular ice-cream shop, and a celebrity soup – plus so much more. Cullen really stole my heart, and warranted a full blog post to itself. You can read it here.
Photo Opportunity: Cullen Viaduct and fishing cottages from Cullen Harbour
Who wants to go glamping in Fife? I know just the place. Catchpenny Safari Lodges have brought safari-style canvas tents to Scotland’s seaside – and given them a wee sprinkling of luxury. Here’s a wee review of the experience, from me.
What’s cool about Catchpenny?
Eco-friendly safari glamping tents in Fife. Who would’ve thought? Since opening its zip-up canvas doors in 2018, Catchpenny has been welcoming visitors from all over – and the tents are now being booked up months in advance.
Catchpenny is named after a tavern which once stood nearby. This important ‘cultural’ place of gathering helped solve a very serious local issue: alcohol consumption was not permitted in the villages on Sundays, so they built a watering hole on the land in-between. Genius.
There are eight luxury safari tents lined along the seafront, which are each named after some of the local wildlife you might spot! They all sleeps six people; there’s a double bedroom and a twin bedroom at the back of the tent, and a cabin bed with cute wee shutters which open out into the living area. They all all come with cosy, quality linen and towels.
The kitchen has a double hob for cooking and boiling the kettle, and the wood-burning stove comes with a built-in oven compartment. All cutlery, kitchenware and utensils are provided, so you have everything you need to self-cater. You’ll also find complimentary tea, coffee and sugar, as well as salt, pepper and olive oil; this is a really nice touch, as these are the things I always forget!
The porch area has tables, cushioned garden sofas and armchairs, and a fire pit (marshmallows, anyone?). At the back of each tent, there is an enclosed bathroom area with a proper sink and toilet, hot shower and heated towel rail – there are even lovely bath products provided. If you’re used to camping or basic glamping, this is a real treat.
The site is completely off-grid, and the energy is powered by the sun and wind. There is a gas boiler to keep the water roasty toasty, and there are USB charging points to charge your devices; there is no WiFi and mobile reception/4G comes and goes – so relish the opportunity for a digital detox!
The novelty and practicality in this style of glamping – especially as compared to ‘regular’ camping – is hugely appealing. Kids love the experience, and furry friends are welcome too; maximum of two dogs per tent. I’ve been glamping all over Scotland, and safari tents were a first for me. I loved the concept, and think the tents are a great base for exploring the East Neuk or walking the Fife Coastal Path when the weather is mild.
This unique addition to Fife’s tourism offering is something to get excited about. owner Alex Nairn of Elie Estates is hatching plans for more quirky developments in the area – so watch this space!
The tent looks like a lodge – and has all the comforts of a lodge – but it does very much feel like a tent; which is to be expected, given that it is a tent. If the weather is chilly and windy, you will feel it inside the tent so I would highly recommend taking a dressing gown, some cosy layers and slippers. We visited on an unusually cold weekend for the time of year, with high winds, and therefore couldn’t spend a lot of time sitting around in the tent – or making use of the fire pit on the porch.
Each tent comes with one bag of firewood, which will last roughly full evening in the tent. Depending on the weather forecast, I would suggest pre-ordering an additional bag of firewood for each day that you’re there, or taking some of your own. If you forget, you can buy more from Ardross Farm Shop for £9 per bag, plus £4 for kindling.
There are wee radiators in the back two bedrooms which are on a timer in the morning and evening. There are also hot water bottles on each bed, and extra blankets to make sure you’re cosy in bed. A nice cup of tea after a hot shower should also do the trick! If the weather is nice, you might not even need any of the above
Location, Location, Location.
Catchpenny is located just outside the pretty seaside town of Elie, which is known for its bonnie beaches and historic harbour. Beyond Elie, you’ll find a string of super-cute fishing villages: St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail. Taking pretty photos couldn’t be any easier in this wee ‘Neuk’ (Scots for corner) of Scotland; the colourful facades, picturesque harbours, and narrow streets never fail to look good on camera.
Allow yourself at least a whole afternoon to village-hop, or set aside even more time and walk sections of the Fife Coastal Path – rewarding yourself with a treat in each village!
The glamping tents sit right on the super-scenic seafront: any closer to the water, and they’d need to double-up as boats! Bass Rock and the Isle of May sit beautifully on the horizon of the Forth, the water glistening under beams of sunshine. Even when the tide is out, the serene sound of the sea can still be heard.
Guests have been known to spot dolphins as they swim past the glamping site. I wasn’t so lucky, but I’m told it’s a regular occurrence. How amazing would that be?!
Islay’s thriving whisky industry creates an unstoppable buzz around the island, with visitors coming from all corners of the world to grace its shores. Islay is the Disneyland of drams, and even if whisky isn’t your tipple, you’ll still be captivated by the magic of this isle.
You know you’re in a happy place when the air smells of salt water and single malt. Islay is an island of indulgence, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about getting stuck in. With eight distilleries, whisky is the beating heart of Islay, but the island’s culinary scene is now shifting into the spotlight; and rightly so. Expect to find locally reared meat,free range eggs, gourmet tablet (a super-sugary and delightful Scottish treat), and the freshest of fresh seafood. To fully indulge, a decent daily budget will be required to cover the cost of accommodation, eating out, and whisky consumption. Money well spent, if you ask me.
Food and drink aside, Islay is a big, beautiful island with lots to see and do. Whether you’re a fully-fledged whisky enthusiast or you just fancy dipping your toe into the ‘water of life’, there’s a wee slice of Islay paradise to be enjoyed by all. Here are some bucket list suggestions from my visits to island to get you inspired.
How many will you tick off? Tour a whisky distillery
Please excuse the predictability of this suggestion, but it has to be done! Islay is known around the world for its single malt whiskies, and a trip to the island would not be complete without a visit to at least one distillery. You can base your tour choice on which whisky is your favourite, or on the location of the distillery. They all produce fantastic whisky and put their own stamp on the visitor experience, so you really can’t go wrong.
Which whisky distillery should you visit?
Ardbeg Distillery has an airbrushed exterior and a modern visitor experience, and our guide Jackie – who is also the Visitor Centre Manager – is as knowledgeable and passionate as they come. The Old Kiln Café is also a fantastic spot for lunch; haggis & cheese baked potato, just saying.
Bunnahabhain Distillery on the other hand has charming retro aesthetic, and while I didn’t do the full tour there, I received a very warm welcome – along with a dram and some fudge – from David in the shop, and I loved the scenic location, with stunning views over to Jura.
Laphroaig is the iconic Islay brand, and the distillery experience lives up to its name. This distillery is unique in that they still cut their own peat, and malt their barley before smoking it in the peat kilns. Finish the tour with a Laphroaig cocktail; I loved the ‘Penicillin’ (nothing to do with the medicine) with lemon juice, honey and ginger #OMG. Don’t forget to sign up to be a Friend of Laphroaig, and pitch your country’s flag in your own wee plot of land.
My favourite tour however – and not just because it’s my favourite Islay whisky – was at the Bowmore Distillery. My tour was timed perfectly to see the whisky production in full swing; the barley was being malted, the peat fire was on, and then there was mashing, fermenting and distilling. Like Laphroaig, it’s brilliant to see the distillery still carrying out these processes in-house, as many do now out-source. We also ventured into Scotland’s oldest whisky warehouse, which sits below sea level, and dates back to 1779. The tour finishes with samples of the Bowmore 12, 15 and 18 in the Tasting Bar which overlooks Lochindaal. An absolutely ideal situation.
Walk the Three Distilleries Path
Combine your distillery visits with a good old stretch of the legs on the Three Distilleries Path. This super safe and accessible walkway starts in Port Ellen and links three distilleries in three miles. This trio of distilleries are where you’ll find the island’s most heavily peated whiskies; Lagavuillin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. Walk this way for fresh island air, coastal views, and no concerns about who’s driving after a few drams – although walking in a straight line along the path may become quite a challenge!
Take a bus to Port Ellen to start the way, and catch the bus back from the Ardbeg Distillery.
Make sure you check the time of the last bus back from Ardbeg or, you can pre-book a local taxi.
Stay at Glenegedale House
Glenegedale House is the epitome of island hospitality, and you don’t need to just take my word for it; they have received multiple awards and accolades, including the ‘most Hospitable Bed and Breakfast in the West of Scotland’ by Visit Scotland at the Thistle Awards. The hosts, Emma & Graeme, are passionate perfectionists with a flair for fine food and warm welcomes.
The couple carefully source all their produce and ingredients from small, artisan suppliers. Expect freshly baked treats on arrival, Laphroaig in your breakfast porridge, and tasting platters served on a stave from a whisky barrel. My favourites on the cheese and charcuterie platter were the Millers Larder Perfyit Piccalilli, the truffle and porcini pork salami from East Coast Cured and Mr C’s Hand-Crafted Pies Ltd Perfect Posh Game Picnic Pie. Amazing.
Despite the luxury offering, the experience at Glenegedale is anything but pretentious; in fact, I had an absolute hoot! The best bit of advice I can give you around accommodation on Islay is plain and simple – stay here. Oh, and book in advance.
Glenegedale House is located across the street from the airport, and sits on the bus route which serves the main towns and ferry ports on the island; Port Ellen (10 minutes), Bowmore (10/15 minutes), Port Askaig (40 minutes).
The Museum of Islay Life is located inside the former Kilchoman Free Church building in Port Charlotte, and could easily be mistaken for an antique shop when you first enter. This is no contemporary museum with fancy visuals and perfectly arranged exhibits in glass cases. It’s a quirky and chaotic (I’m one to talk) arrangement of exhibits which showcase life on Islay over 12,000 years; from the Mesolithic era to modern day.
The extensive array of items includes everything from clothing, furniture, children’s toys, household items, and industrial tools to ancient artefacts, war memorabilia, books, photographs, and letters. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to appreciate it all. The museum is a charming and interesting way to learn about Islay’s history and culture, and there’s also a wee shop if you wish to purchase any gifts or books to continue your learning. Exactly my kind of visitor attraction.
The Museum of Islay Life is a charitable organisation which is run by a board of trustees.
Entry costs a very reasonable £4, or you can contribute even more to the conservation of the items and the running of the museum by signing up for an annual membership for £10.
Peatrezia is one of the newest additions to Islay’s dining scene, and a very welcome one at that. A modern, Italian restaurant is not something you see every day on the Scottish Islands, so it’s easy to see why locals and visitors are so excited about this cleverly named establishment. The family-run business has been a huge success since opening in 2017, with queues out the door during peak season. Probably something to do with the quirky and quality food, and the cool setting within a historic church in Bowmore.
Pizza is what this place is all about, and you can sit-in or order a takeaway to enjoy alfresco or in your accommodation. The menu also features pasta dishes, sides, salads and desserts. I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to order one of the signature seafood pizzas, so I opted for the pizza on the special’s board instead, with Parma ham, pine nuts and pesto. It was delicious! Next time, I’m preparing room in my stomach to try the meatballs followed by Italian ice-cream.
On the surface, the Isle of Jura can be defined by its famous whisky, the imposing Paps and its abundance of deer. When embarked on a solo adventure to the island – entirely on public transport from Glasgow via Islay – I quickly discovered that there is so much more to this wildly gorgeous island.
Palm trees, sparkly sea, and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I knew I’d find it hard to leave, and this was definitely not helping. It was as if the seasons had shifted, and I was being teased by this glorious outburst. Just an hour earlier, the heavens opened and a luminous rainbow had appeared. Was this even the same island I had spent the last two days on?
When I arrived on Jura, the mist was low and lingering. There were droplets of dew on the grass, and the pebbles on the beach were grey with polka dots from the sporadic sprinkling of rain. Then, beams of sunlight forced their way through the thick clouds, to illuminate the landscape and highlight the true blue of the water. It was as if these temperamental conditions were deliberate, allowing me to literally see the island in so many different lights. No matter what weather it wears, Jura is an absolute beauty.
I love every Scottish Island that I’ve visited, but some have been slow-burners, while others were more like a scenic slap in the face. Jura falls to the extreme end of the later.
Introducing the Isle of Jura
Jura belongs to the Inner Hebrides, and sits off the west coast at Scotland; between the mainland of Argyll and Islay, with Colonsay even further west, and the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool to the north. The island can be reached in just 10 minutes, on the ferry crossing over the Sound of Islay from Port Askaig to Feolin.
Jura is a long and relatively large island; 30 miles long and 7 miles wide. For centuries, most of the island was owned by the Campbells, however the last member of the family left in 1938 and parts of the island are now owned by various landlords. At its peak in the 18th century, the island was home to around 2,000 people, however these numbers dropped dramatically due to emigration.
Nowadays, the 200+ residents are vastly outnumbered by the population of deer, which can be anything between 5000 – 6000! Despite its size, Jura is blissfully untouched, and much of the landscape is inaccessible to the average visitor. There is only one road, which runs from the ferry port at Feolin to the main town of Craighouse, then along the east of the island. Everything else is wilderness.
For those who wish to go into the wild, there are bothies which can only be reached on foot. There is also a remote farmhouse which can be yours for £1000 for a week. Quite pricey given the basic provisions, and limited electricity, you think? This however, is no ordinary abode. Barnhill is the house where George Orwell took up residence in the 1940s, to escape the chaos of London and write his classic novel 1984 in the years before he passed away.
The Paps of Jura are a trio of iconic mountains, which have become something of an island emblem; they are featured in most photography, artwork and crafts of Jura. None of the mountains are Munros, however the tallest of the three – Beinn an Oir – is a Corbett, sitting at 2576ft; the others are 2477ft and 2407ft.
The Paps of Jura have a truly stunning presence, and beckon you to the isle from a great distance. I could see them from Bowmore on Islay, hours before my journey to the island had even begun. When I reached Port Askaig to catch the ferry to Jura, my excitement quickly amplified, as I stood gawking at the uninterrupted and otherworldly vista of those soaring peaks. Even though they are always there, and always visible, they kept taking me by surprise when I saw them from a new angle, or against a differently coloured sky. Amazing.
If you’d like to hike the Paps of Jura, and ‘bag’ all three mountains in one day, check out the full details on the Walk Highlands website
If you’re feeling even more energetic, get involved in the annual Isle of Jura Fell Race, which includes the three Paps, plus another four mountains!
Craighouse, Jura’s main settlement, is nestled around a picturesque bay on the island’s east side. The village is where you’ll find the only shop, hotel and pub on the island. I spent my first afternoon wandering around and taking pictures. The best view of the village is from the end of the pier, where I sat and pondered life, and my next meal, for some time.
I discovered a cute craft shop on my way back, filled with beautiful trinkets handmade by a local lady called Elaine Campbell. I couldn’t resist a decorated Jura Whisky bottle with fairy lights, and by some miracle – given my clumsy tendencies – got it home in one piece!
I continued my walk along the shoreline, admiring the swans at sea, and inhaling the strong smell of seaweed, which has a menthol-like effect on me. I was desperate to spot one of the resident sea otters, but wasn’t so lucky on this visit.
There’s a wee bus which operates between Craighouse and the ferry port at Feolin. You can view the timetable here.
The Jura Hotel
The Jura Hotel is a friendly, family-run accommodation, which has been welcoming guests since the 1960s. The hotel is traditional and homely, yet modern in all the right places. Everything you need is there, from food and drink to maps and local information. The hotel is also home to the island’s only pub, and it’s a well-stocked and welcoming establishment.
The website boasts the tagline ‘get away from it all’, and I feel like I did exactly that. There was no TV in the room so I admired the sea views instead, and found myself retiring to the room after dinner to finish my whisky samples from the Bowmore Distillery, and to soak in the massive bath; not at the same time, I might add! Dabbling in social media was a necessity on this trip, and the WiFi served me well, from the comfort of an armchair in the sitting room.
I stayed just before the season started, so the hotel was the only place to eat on the island, and thankfully the food was fantastic. During the summer months, the menu features fresh seafood and local venison, however it was only pub fayre which was available on my visit; excellent quality and delicious though. I particularly enjoyed the steak with Jura Whisky sauce and the homemade Oreo ice-cream; I had it two nights in a row!
Breakfast is cooked to order, and served with a sea view. I recommend the Jura Hotel Breakfast Bap with bacon, sausage, a fried egg and Stornoway black pudding. For a reason that I still can’t comprehend, I decided not to be a complete glutton and had mine without the sausage. Next time I won’t be so silly.
I stayed in a super-spacious and comfortable premium room which looked out to the bay; it was idyllic. Prices start at £110 for standard double and £130 for the premium double.
It’s said that Jura Whisky is more famous than the island itself, and that may very well be the case. Whisky production officially began on Jura in 1810, when the Campbells built the distillery. By the end of the 19th century though, the distillery had fallen into disrepair and operations were ceased. It wasn’t until 1963 that the distillery was re-opened and given a new lease of life. The distillery has created jobs for the locals, attracted tourism to the island, and now produces 2.3 million litres of whisky per year.
Take a tour of the distillery, to see the signature tall stills, the wall mural which reflects the tasting notes of the previous range, and to sample a dram straight from the source. Oh, and Adam who works there is like Kyle Falconer from The View with a Glaswegian accent.
The Dunstane Houses: Boutique Hotels in Edinburgh with an Orcadian Twist
The Dunstane Houses are a pair of beautiful boutique hotels in Edinburgh with a special connection to the Orkney Islands. Luxury, home comfort and technology are woven together to deliver a fabulous and faultless guest experience.
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Dunstane House is one half of the dreamy duo which are collectively known as The Dunstane Houses; the equally beautiful 4* Hampton House sits just across the street. I’ve passed these Victorian mansions many times when travelling to and from Edinburgh Airport, and couldn’t have anticipated the memorable staycation I would have there; in the best room in the house, I might add.
When I say special, it really is – and don’t just take my word for it. Dunstane House was awarded ‘Scotland’s Boutique Hotel of the Year’ at the Scottish Hotel Awards in 2018. As soon as you step inside, you understand why.
‘The Spirit of Orkney, in the Heart of Edinburgh’
Shirley and Derek, owners of The Dunstane Houses, moved to Edinburgh from Orkney thirty-one years ago, and they brought a wee bit of the islands with them. Shirley’s accent still holds a subtle Orcadian lilt, and there are lots of lovely references to Orkney throughout both properties; from Orkney gin, single malt whisky and island produce, to the artwork and names of the luxurious rooms. I was in my home city, immersed in luxury, island-themed surroundings. Happy days.
COOL FACT: As well as being a hotelier, Derek is also a classic car dealer and a keen pilot, who has recently taken up aerobatics. Not your average hobby!
The Dunstane Houses app.
To enhance the guest experience before and during the stay, The Dunstane Houses have their own smartphone app., developed by the innovation wizards at Criton. Guests are encouraged to download the app. once their booking is confirmed, so that they can have access to a wealth of information about the hotel and Edinburgh itself.
I browsed the various sections on the app. as part of my ‘let’s get excited’ ritual the day before my stay, and I used the contact buttons to phone ahead and enquire about car parking. FYI – there are two small (and free) car parks behind the hotel.
The app. was particularly handy when I needed to remind myself what time breakfast finished and when I needed to check out. This was discovered from the comfort of my bed; I didn’t even bother sitting up. I had thoroughly studied the breakfast and dinner menu ahead of the trip, and decided exactly what I was going to order. Standard behaviour.
Guests can take advantage of the practical information about the city on the app., including the transport network, places of interest, shopping, where to withdraw and exchange money, and the weather forecast.
The app. doesn’t allow you to actually book any of the hotel’s services e.g. dinner or a late check-out, however this isn’t detrimental to the experience. Dunstane House is such a small and intimate property, it’s easy to locate or contact a member of staff.
I think the app. is a nice touch, and it’s really positive to see tourism businesses embracing technology like this, for the purpose of improving the visitor experience.
Dunstane House has been home-sweet-home to an interesting range of residents, with creative and academic backgrounds, since it was built in the 1860s. Shirley and Derek purchased Dunstane House in 1998, and have since renovated the property to an impressively high standard, with meticulous attention to detail. The statement furniture, bold patterns, and gorgeous fabrics create a perfect blend of classic and contemporary.
In the Ba’ Bar, there’s a collage of sketches by students from Edinburgh Art College, featuring Orkney’s scenery, standing stones and main town of Kirkwall. In the hallways, you’ll find photographs of Derek’s classic cars, as well as old black and white photographs of Orcadian families in years long ago. Shirley and Derek have forged a personal, human feel throughout their properties; something which is often lost in super-stylish hotels. Dunstane House has nailed the style, and the substance.
What’s The Ba’? The Ba’ is an annual tradition on Orkney, where the men and boys stampede through the streets of Kirkwall on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The game is Uppies vs. Doonies and ‘The Ba’ is a ball-type object. I still can’t decipher the rules or aim of the game.
Inside The Dunstane Suite.
The Dunstane Suite is pure perfection. I’m sure my whole flat could comfortable fit into the floor space in the room – and that’s not including the room’s massive bathroom. The elaborate interior is pleasantly overwhelming; my eyes were immediately drawn to the stunning peacock feather wallpaper on the feature wall, before wandering to the patterned rug, the vintage-style radio, and the wee traces of Harris Tweed in the accessories.