Halloween and what to do? Best idea yet, get out of town. We live in the suburbs, and on the night of Halloween, there's no point in closing the front door, there's constant door knocking/door bell ringing from the minute the local school finishes.
So when the opportunity presented itself to leave the suburbs and head out to the island of Jura, I was out of here on the next flight!
One of the defining characteristics of the island and its community is the rich tapestry of myths, legends and superstitions, which range from the rumours of witches and prophecies to the numerous stories and sightings of ghosts on the island. Perfect for Halloween night!
We travelled from Glasgow International to Islay; it's a forty minute flight. Upon arrival at the smallest airport I have ever been to, we were met by Alex our bus driver for the next couple of days. We drove through Islay for approximately thirty minutes to reach the port from where we were to get the ferry across to Jura. It's a short crossing, and we were there in no time.
As the ferry pulls in to the bay you have a clear view of the Jura distillery which is housed in a white wash building, and there are several houses, the Jura pub and a local Spar all dotted along the landscape. Jura is home to approx 192 people, they are outnumbered by the 5000 deer that populate the island.
First stop the Jura Lodge to drop off our luggage and to freshen up. The Lodge is part of the distillery, and is housed over to the side of it. The first floor has four double bedrooms, and the second floor has an open plan kitchen with lounge area, and a private lounge off to the side.
Rumour has it that one of the bedrooms is haunted; poor Chris drew the short straw and ended up in the haunted room! But the views from his window more than compensated, they were stunning. I drew the short straw and ended up in one of the rooms that overlooked the distillery carpark!
Freshened up and ready to go, we headed out to the Distillery. The Jura Distillery is steeped in years of history. The Campbell's of Jura built the distillery around 1810. It's the island's main source of income. In the early 1900s the distillery was dismantled and fell into ruin. Around 1950 the people of Jura decide to resurrect it. The distillery re-opened in 1963 and provides employment for over a quarter of the island's inhabitants.
We had a fascinating tour of the Distillery; we were shown around by the manager Willie, who told us many little personal anecdotes to illustrate the story of the Distillery. We had a brief tasting session of the produce. Willie very patiently explained the different varieties of whisky they produce at Jura and taught us how to drink whisky using the right method. Apparently, you should always use a whisky glass, if it's a twelve year old whisky you should hold it in your mouth for approximately twelve seconds, and then swallow, it means that you won't feel the burn down your throat that you would normally feel if you just gulp it down straight.
Then it was time to go and meet our captain for the day Nicol, for our trip to Corryvreckan whirlpool. Also called the Strait of Corryvreckan, it is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba. It is the third largest whirlpool in the world, and is on the northern side of the gulf, surrounding a pyramid shaped basalt pinnacle that rises from depths of 70m to 29m at its rounded top.
To be honest we didn't really know what to expect. The boat journey round the island resulted in us seeing some amazing views. But what we weren't ready for was the spectacular sight of the whirlpool. It is truly astounding, and difficult to describe, it has to be seen to be believed.
After our speedboat trip out to the whirlpool, we returned to the Lodge. The stand alone bath in my bedroom was so inviting, I decided to have a long soak before dinner. Jura pub supplied and served the food, and Ian told the ghost stories. Ian is a professional story teller and had been drafted in especially for us. Before things got too spooky I chickened out and hit the hay.
The only drawback of staying at a big old house like this is that you can hear everything. If someone opens or closes door, or goes up or down the stairs. With more sound proofing this would be the perfect hideaway.
Today Alex came to collect us to take us on a bus tour of the island. There's a tiny little museum upstairs from the main church. It's very interesting and showcases images of the island from the turn of the century. Jura's many historical sites include the Iron Age Forts, several ancient burial grounds and standing stones.
It is a walker's paradise and the Paps of Jura are the main destination for many walkers. The Paps are three distinctive mountains that can be found on the southern half of the island. The highest of the three is Beinn an Oir, the Mountain of Gold (2576 ft). Beinn Shiantaidh, the Sacred Mountain is 2477ft, and the third Beinn a' Chaolais, the Mountain of the Sound is the smallest at 2407ft. There are no fixed routes to climb the Paps. The simplest route of ascent starts from Craighouse. The hills were the subject of William McTaggart's 1902 masterpiece The Paps of Jura, which is now displayed in Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
It's a fabulous quiet retreat, with impressive views. Jura is quite inspirational, and attracts a great deal of creative and artistic people. George Orwell wrote the novel 1984 on the island, whilst he lived in a cottage in Barnhill. Jura is also featured in the plot of Ian Rankin's novel A Question of Blood. The setting of Jura is very inspirational.
The trip to Jura was a trip of firsts. First time to Jura, first visit to the Corryrveckan whirlpool, first time I have ever seen cows on the beach! And the first time we had to stop our vehicle to allow a stag to cross the road.
We will definitely re-visit Jura, next time it will be in the summer, to enjoy the superb secluded beaches and to take a walk out on the Paps.
Alex Dunnachie for bus tours. www.juraislandtours.com
Jura Distillery Manager Willie Cochrane
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