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2 weeks in Scotland...how to include Islay?

All right, I know I'm a little late with this (lots of reasons, not important) but my husband and I are going to Scotland from Sept. 1-15, and I really want to be able to include Islay on this trip. Right now we're landing in Edinburgh and taking the train to Glasgow right away. From there, it seems like Islay would be the next move, and then Oban, then Inverness, then Stirling, then ending for 3 nights in Edinburgh where we'll fly out. My husband loves whiskey, so I'd really like to get to Islay, but getting there and getting lodging seems like such a pain. We're renting a car, or at least we would like to, but I'm thinking it might be more prudent to wait until we get to Oban (after Islay) and only have it for half the time. I don't know, all -- can we make this work? Are we too late to book ferry tickets? What is my best move here?

Posted by
272 posts

For a scotch lover, there is nothing more magical than standing on the deck of a CalMac ferry as it curves around the point into Port Ellen Harbor and Ardbeg, Lagavulin and (my favorite) Laphroaig comes into sight. Considering your tight timeline though, I’d consider a flight from Glasgow to Islay on LoganAir. It’s a quick 45 minute flight for around $100 each way. Pick up a rental car at the airport. You’ll need it to get around the island. You can always drop it at one of the ferry ports on your way to Oban via ferry/bus.

Check out www.islayinfo.com for good resources for Islay.

Posted by
62 posts

If we stay close enough to the distilleries we can probably just walk, and I heard of some cab services on the island as well. I don't know, it just seems like a hard thing to add, but I will check it out.

Posted by
6710 posts

Half the problem is that over half the ferries are docking at Port Askaig on the other side of the island, not Port Ellen.

The island does have a surprisingly good bus service.

Given that all the mood music is that the current ferry problems will not be resolved this summer, and that half the ferries by September MAY not even be using Kennacraig as the mainland port, I would strongly suggest flying in from Glasgow- small turbo prop aircraft are used, and it is a very scenic flight as you are flying low.
Not all island hotels are on booking.com. For instance I have just looked at the Port Askaig hotel, and they have good availability in early September, but not on booking.com.
Hire a car on the island, or bus as you see fit.
To get to Oban you either take the ferry to Kennacraig, then bus to Lochgilphead, change to another bus for Oban OR on Wednesday and Saturday take a ferry from Port Askaig direct to Oban at 1215 arriving at 1620, BUT that service is currently suspended due to lack of vessels.

On a Thursday only there are 2 flights from Islay to Oban direct at 0930 and 1550.
I think your better course of action is to go straight to Oban, after Glasgow, and then take the Thursday only Islay day return flight from Oban- leaving Oban at 0825, and Islay at 1550, giving you 6 1/2 hours on the island. Take a taxi or bus from the airport to the distilleries.

Posted by
1388 posts

Hi, Danielle,

I hope that you have the opportunity to spend at least one night on Islay, as it is one of the best of the Southern Hebrides. Having a car on Islay would greatly add to your enjoyment of the island; however, if your husband is planning to do a bit of sampling of the various whiskies, then it may be better to leave the car at your lodging (if you're staying overnight), and walk or take a taxi to the three main distilleries near Port Ellen.

If you are only making a day trip, then you could have a taxi drop you off at the Ardbeg Distillery, walk back toward Port Ellen via Lagavulin, and arrange for a taxi to pick you up at Laphroaig. There are several taxi companies on Islay, so you should have no problem finding one.

It may be possible to do a day trip by ferry. It would involve an early start from Kennacraig, arriving at Port Ellen. Then you could return to Kennacraig in the early evening from Port Askaig. However, a lot depends on CalMac's ongoing scheduling problems. If they get the Heb up and running by the time you arrive in Scotland, you could be in luck.

Stuart (isn31c) had a good idea about taking the Hebridean Air Thursday flight out of Oban, and making a day trip out of it. However, there are two minor problems - September 1st is a Friday, meaning that the following Thursday falls in the middle of your holiday, not at the beginning. Also, the aircraft that they use for that flight is a BN-2 Islander, which holds only nine passengers. As the airline has only that one plane, I would worry about the flight being cancelled due to maintenance problems, a la CalMac. Also, with the ongoing ferry problems, that flight may already be filled months in advance.

If you decide to not take the ferry, and as you are starting out in Glasgow, you may want to consider thenosbigs suggestion of taking the Loganair flight from Glasgow. There appear to be two flights daily on weekdays. Plus Loganair has just switched their fleet from Saab turboprops to ATR 42-500s, which have a larger seating capacity. However, please note Loganair's 15 kg (33 lb) baggage limit. I'm not sure how much they charge for overage. If you go with Loganair, you could stay overnight and have the opportunity to visit more of the distilleries. As Stuart pointed out, the bus service on Islay is excellent. The 451 runs from the Ardbeg Distillery all the way out to Port Askaig. Loganair's schedule is a bit convoluted, with only one flight currently available on weekend days during your holiday. If you decide to stay overnight on Islay, and fly both ways, your best bet would be to take the 8:00 a.m. flight from Glasgow on Saturday, September 2nd., and return to Glasgow on the 16:30 flight on Sunday, September 3rd. That would give you more than enough time to visit at least half a dozen distilleries.

The Islay airfield is close to Port Ellen, so that would make a better base if you decide to stay overnight. I can heartily recommend either the Trout Fly Guest House or Eilidh's Guest House in Port Ellen. They are both run by the same gentleman, and his breakfasts are amazing. You won't need to eat for the rest of the day! Eilidh's overlooks the bay.

Best of luck! I hope that you and your husband have a wonderful time in Scotland, and that you find the time to spend at least one night on Islay.

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: I just remembered that there is a ferry from Oban to Port Askaig on Saturday. It sails via Colonsay. It leaves Oban at 16:20, arriving Port Askaig at 20:45. That does mean that you'd definitely need to stay overnight on Islay, and I don't know whether the distilleries would be open on Sundays in September. That schedule will also be affected by ferry availability on September 2nd.
However, that gives you another option, especially if you have a car.

Posted by
62 posts

Thank you, @auchterless! Okay, so you think this is doable then? We leave Gladgow for Islay, go there for 2 nights (no car, we will get one when we come back), then back to Glasgow, grab a car, drive to Oban, then Inverness, then Speyside, then Edinburgh. To get to Islay, we should probably do a flight, right? It's a small enough island that we can probably call a cab or take the bus. My only question is how do I know for sure that all this will work?

Posted by
1388 posts

Hi again, Danielle,

As you're spending two nights on Islay, that opens up another option. I don't know what time you are arriving in Edinburgh, but airport to airport (Glasgow) would take you about two hours by public transportation. There is a 17:10 flight from Glasgow to Islay on September 1st., so if you were to be able to catch that flight, you could spend Friday night, all day Saturday, and most of Sunday on Islay. The return flight to Glasgow leaves Islay at 16:30.

Granted, that would make for a very long day on September 1st., but it is certainly doable. If you decide to do that, you should definitely have accommodation pre-booked, and it wouldn't hurt to arrange for a taxi ahead of time.

Travelling to Islay on Friday evening would mean that you wouldn't have to get up early on Saturday to take the 8:00 a.m. flight. You'd be able to get a good first night's sleep, then have a full day on Saturday to visit the distilleries. Plus most of Sunday to visit even more distilleries, or some of the historical sites.

As previously noted, there are several taxi companies on Islay. In addition, Islay Car Hire is located at the airfield, and meets all incoming flights. Their website notes that visitors from the U.S. and Canada will be assigned cars with automatic transmission only! So if you do decide to hire a car, you don't have to worry about driving a stick shift after having been awake for over 24 hours!

Unfortunately, that 17:10 flight from Glasgow arrives on Islay after the last bus has already left the airfield, so if you're flying, you definitely need a taxi. As Stuart (isn31c) noted, the bus service on Islay is very good. There are several buses daily (on Saturday - none on Sunday), that will take you from Port Ellen to some of the other distilleries (Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich). You can check Stuart's post to link to the bus schedule.

All of the advice you've been given is definitely doable. Again, I'd recommend Port Ellen as your base. There is not a lot in Port Askaig, but Bowmore would be a good second choice. If you do decide to take the ferry, you may want to consider hiring your car at Edinburgh Airport, then returning it there before heading in to the city. You don't have to make ferry reservations as foot passengers, but you do have to make a reservation if you are bringing a car. Consider making ferry reservations while you solidify your plans. There is a very small fee for cancelling. Check with CalMac the day before you leave the U.S. to confirm that your ferry is still operating. 011 44 1475 650397 from the U.S.

Whichever you decide to do, fly or sail, have a wonderful time on Islay, and the rest of Scotland as well!

Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: Eilidh's Guest House in Port Ellen has twin bedded rooms only.

Posted by
62 posts

Thank you Mike! So we land in Edinburgh on the 2nd, and then are hopping on a train (one of many per day it sounds like) to Glasgow, and are booked there until the 4th. We want to go to Islay from the 4th to the 6th, and then we have to get back to the mainland and get to Oban. Port Ellen is closest to the distilleries my husband likes, so we would stay on that side and either walk or use a cab or bus.

Posted by
1388 posts

Hi once again, Danielle,

So glad that has finally been resolved! Now all you have to do is sort out your departure and return flights on Loganair. I'd recommend the 8:00 a.m. flight on the 4th., in order to maximize your time on Islay. You have the choice of a 9:15 a.m. or 18:25 flight back to Glasgow on the 6th. I'd go with the 9:15, as that would give you plenty of daylight time for your drive to Oban.

Your husband has good taste in whisky! The big three near Port Ellen are all within walking distance, or you could take the bus out to the farthest away, and walk (or stagger!) back to town. One of the distilleries (I think it's Ardbeg) has a good cafe on site.

There are not a lot of places to eat in Port Ellen (Sea Salt Bistro and the Islay Hotel being among the best), but if you get stuck, there's an excellent Chinese takeaway (Ellen's Wok) near the harbour.

Best wishes once again!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
6710 posts

If you are leaving Islay on the Wednesday 6th there is the direct sailing to Oban noted above, from Port Askaig, which has to be the easiest way to go.
It was announced 3 hours ago that the service to Oban had been re-instated (q.v.) following early completion of overhaul of the MV Finlaggan.

If you are leaving on the Thursday 7th there is the Hebridean Air Services flight option noted above.

https://bookhebridean.co.uk/

I have checked and 2 seats are available as I write on both of the flights that day.

Note that while they may only have one aircraft based at Oban they are part of a larger group called the Air Task group who run several different operations including the Shetland inter island air services and charter operations. All their services are council supported PSO services and a number of them (especially on a Monday and Friday) convey school children from out isles to the boarding houses at Oban High School for the week. So they are NOT a one trick airline, have obligations to meet and I do not see them as being unreliable, nor have I heard such allegations. Furthermore the PSO agreement with Argyll and Bute Council has been renewed several times so the council are happy with the service offered,

Both of these are thus easy ways to reach Oban.

Posted by
1664 posts

If you can see if you can pop over to Jura. The whisky is in my opinion better, it feels more remote and rugged than Islay, and is the island 1984 was written on by George Orwell. You may even consider staying at the hotel as a base.

Posted by
1388 posts

Hiya, MC,

Barnhill is quite a slog from the Port Feolin ferry terminal. There are a couple of minibuses daily (Garelochhead Coaches) from Port Feolin to Ardlussa, a distance of about 30 miles, then a six mile hike out to Barnhill.

One wonders why Orwell would choose such a remote location, even farther removed from civilization than it is now.

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
1664 posts

Not really suggesting getting to the house, just as far as the distillery! The hotel there is also a good place to stay.

Posted by
6710 posts

Because of the bus times I am not convinced you could even get to the house unless staying at the Jura Hotel, as the morning buses start at Craighouse (not the ferry), only the first of the two afternoon buses returns to the ferry.
I suspect you would need a car to get to the house in a sensible manner.

If you did stay the last night on Jura you could catch the passenger ferry from Craighouse (the pier is opposite the hotel) to Tayvallich on the mainland, then (if it was a Monday, Wednesday or Friday- Wednesday in your case) connect on bus 425 to Lochgilphead , changing there for Oban on the bus 23. It looks a tight connection, but is all scheduled to work, if need be the drivers will change you over north of Lochgilphead.

It's a route I really like.

Posted by
6710 posts

I know this is more suited to those driving round Islay, but this virtual tour of the island cropped up in my facebook feed this morning and I thought it may be of interest-
https://geotourist.com/tours/5796/Explore_Islay/point/10/Finlaggan_Centre_Seat_of_Lords_of_Isles?fbclid=IwAR3vlWRZ_dnF_s56xOu_P49IaIgBX_dQDZETY8NtjAwdRWiOemqoazIpKP0

It cropped up in this group- https://www.facebook.com/IslayandJura

But that arose from a discussion about MV Finlaggan- the main ferry to the island. At the time she was launched they said what the name meant but I had forgotten in the intervening years that "in the 14th and 15th centuries it [Finlaggan Castle] was the most important place around, being the administrative centre of the Lordship of the Isles, ruling the islands and part of the west coast of Scotland, from Kintyre to Lewis, virtually independent of royal control.

That leads me to this blog post which talks about all transport on the island- including a full list of taxis, bikes (including e-bikes) and tuk-tuks [who knew Islay had tuk tuks] , also about Islay Sea Adventures boat tours.

There is a lot of resource here to explore for any visitor to Islay and Jura.