Islay: day trip to Jura

Although we’d visited Islay before, we’d never been to its neighbour, Jura. It’s a short hop on the ferry from Port Askaig to Feolin – there’s a timetable, but no booking. However, if there are too many cars for one trip, as there were the day we travelled, the boat will make the five minute crossing several times to clear the queue.

While we were watching our own ferry depart, we also saw the big ferry coming in to Port Askaig from the mainland, and were sad to think that in a couple of days we’d have to get on it at the end of our holiday. There was a good view too of Caol Ila distillery, one we hadn’t had time to visit.

Jura is 28 miles long and about 8 miles wide, but most of it is mountainous, bare and infertile, and thus very sparsely populated (196 inhabitants in the 2011 census). Much of it is inaccessible except on foot, including Barnhill at its northern point where George Orwell famously wrote 1984 and which is a four mile walk from where the road ends. On a day trip, we could only scratch the surface so made straight for the only settlement of any size, Craighouse, which has a shop, hotel, tea-room (The Antlers) and – guess what! – a distillery. We didn’t have time to visit this one either, but we enjoyed The Antlers (twice). Could this be the distillery cat sitting disdainfully in the carpark opposite?

We walked around the village for a while, and out onto the pier. The mountains you can see are the Paps of Jura, so called because of their smooth, breast-like shape – even though there are three of them! They are all around 2500 feet. The view of the mainland at the end of the gallery is Knapdale – I remember admiring the view in reverse from there last year.

Here are the Paps from further up the road. Beautiful!

Although the island is several miles wide, Loch Tarbert slashes it almost in half, as this satellite image from Wikimedia Commons shows. Jura is less than a mile across here, and for thousands of years, people used this strip as a short cut between the island of Colonsay and the mainland.

It was therefore really easy to do a coast to coast walk from Tarbert Bay to the shores of the Loch. We explored the latter first.

When we returned to explore the bay, we found we had observers. Jura has about 6000 red deer, outnumbering the human population by 30 to 1. In fact the name of the island is probably derived from the Norse dyr-oe, or deer island.

Also on Tarbert Bay is a small burial ground with a prehistoric standing stone and the remains of a chapel dedicated to St Columba. The standing stone has later been marked with Christian crosses.

On our way back to Craighouse, we stopped at another graveyard, Kilearnadil, which is named after St Earnan, Columba’s uncle and one of the 12 men who accompanied him to Scotland. The graveyard contains the Campbell Mausoleum, burial place of 11 Campbell lairds, and a memorial to those of Clan Shaw killed by the Campbells in 1614.

We explored Jura’s parish church in Craighouse – very simple and plain, but with a couple of nice windows.

Then it was time to return to Feolin for the ferry.

There’s really not a lot to see in Feolin – that’s pretty much it above – so we went for a short walk along Whitefarland Bay until we could see the ferry coming. We met more deer!

This was a lovely day out, but I think to do proper justice to Jura we would need to stay on the island. With limited accommodation, that’s easier said than done and is maybe better left until John retires and we can be more flexible about dates. Dream on!


  1. I am glad when a ferry makes it work. We deal with ferries all the time here. Some are more challenging and strict with the times throughout the day. Jura sounds very interesting because it is sparsely populated. I always wonder how people live in places like this. Extra fascinating how George Orwell wrote “1984” here. I cannot imagine the 6000 red deer. Very interesting post, Anabel! I always enjoy the photos! I learned a great deal:)


  2. It’s always magical to see deer, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have expected them on the island but I guess they’re kind of captive, unless they fancy a swim, and not too many people to disturb them. 🙂 🙂


  3. I think it would be fun to visit such a small island with so little development. And were those lobster traps in one of the earlier photos? I wonder if population was once bigger?


  4. Hi Anabel – hope your dream comes true … or perhaps John’s work becomes more flexible! Love the bare paps – that they are … and the weather looks cold, but sunny – the way Jura would need to be seen I guess. Love the photos – and the information … cheers Hilary


  5. Glad you got good weather for it. I’ve been to Jura a few times hill-walking but not to some of the places you visited. Barnhill is really remote, tried to cycle to it once on my mountain bike and ‘road’ is not a term I’d use for that potholed monstrosity of a track into it. Wild beyond belief unless it’s been upgraded since then.