Jura, you wild beauty.
On the surface, the Isle of Jura can be defined by its famous whisky, the imposing Paps and its abundance of deer. When I 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.
This trip to Jura was on a paid campaign called ‘The Heart & Soul of Scotland’ with Wild About Argyll and People Make Glasgow.
Check out my other blogs in this series ‘Islay Bucket List: The Best Whisky, Food & Experiences’, ‘My Top Ten Ways to Spend a City Break in Glasgow’ and ‘Where to Find the Best Street Food in Glasgow‘
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 latter.
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.
- If you would like to stay in Barnhill, check out the Escape to Jura website
Paps of Jura
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.
Corbett = mountain between 2500ft – 3000ft
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.
- To check availability and book visit the Jura Hotel website.
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 standard tour takes 45 minutes and costs £6 per person
- For more information, visit the Jura Whisky website.
Jura Island Tours
You don’t need a car to visit Jura. As mentioned previously, there is only one road, most of the island can only be explored on foot, and there’s a wee bus in operation. If that’s not enough to convince you to ditch your vehicle, there is also a local tour company to take you around the island. Jura Island Tours is run by a lovely chap called Alex, who is originally from Glasgow, but moved to the island over 30 years ago, and is a local in every sense.
Alex built his dream house on the island, and is an immensely proud and active member of the community; including the Jura Development Trust. He has an endless knowledge of the island and its history. He told me stories about the wee starling who nested every year in a post box, and his mother-in-law who used to travel 8 miles to school on a horse and cart along a rough track. Alex gave me an even greater insight into island life at the photography exhibition in the Jura Parish Church, which is filled with amazing old photographs of the island and its residents in years gone by.
We travelled up the east of the island, taking in the wild scenery and stunning coastline, and stopping regularly for photos along the way. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of red deer along the way, and we even spotted two young sea eagles. The tour is a brilliant way to learn about island life, and discover the local gems.
• Alex can pick you up in Craighouse or at the ferry port if you are only visiting for the day.
• To check prices and availability, visit the Jura Island Tours website.
The Jura Development Trust
The Jura Development Trust was set up by locals in 1997 to improve and develop the island. The trust has secured over £2 million worth of funding, which has allowed them to execute numerous projects, including the purchase and restoration of the village store, installing new cladding for the village hall, and creating 16 moorings for yachts. These initiatives have created jobs, boosted the local economy, and generally made the island a better place for locals and visitors alike.
The sense of community is one my favourite things about the Scottish Islands, and the Jura Development Trust is an amazing example of what can be achieved. It’s no surprise that they have won various awards for their efforts.
On my island tour with Alex, we popped into Lussa Gin HQ, which is essentially a wee stable in a mini settlement called Ardlussa. I was greeted by Alicia, who comes from about as far away from the island as you get; the land down under, Australia. Alicia now calls Jura home, and is one of three local ladies who dreamt up a plan in 2015, and sealed their first bottle in 2016.
Alicia, Claire and Georgina are all passionate about their island, and using what nature provides to create a high-quality product. They purchased their first still on Amazon, and then became tirelessly devoted to learning about their new craft, and perfecting the recipe for Lussa Gin. All ingredients are grown and foraged on the island, including the roses which come from Georgina and Alicia’s very own gardens. The brambles for the special edition bramble liqueur (FYI – it’s delicious) were handpicked with the help of the local community, who also sampled and voted on their favourite gin recipe before it was launched.
Lussa Gin is already being exported to Sweden and Germany, and have been shortlisted for awards. I don’t even like gin, but I tried it neat and loved it. The flavour is zesty, and it was so refreshing. I’ve been converted.
- If you’d like to visit the distillery, you must book in advance on the Lussa Gin website
How to Get to the Isle of Jura
There are a few ways you can travel to Jura, either directly from the mainland or via Islay. You can fly to Islay with Loganair (approx. 30 minutes) and take the local bus from the airport to Port Askaig (approx. 40 minutes) for the 10-minute ferry over to Jura.
If you’d prefer not to fly, you can take the CalMac ferry from Kennacraig to Port Askaig or from Oban to Port Askaig, then onwards to Feolin. Lastly, you can arrive straight into the village of Craighouse on the Jura Passenger Ferry from Tayvallich (only available March – Sept).
Now ! I have to visit Jura .
Aye Tam – you definitely do!
Thanks for reading my blog,
Hey awesome blog 🙂 Nice writing and photos. Can I camp on Jura? Like just pitch a tent in the wilderness freely??
Thanks so much Olivia! There is a Freedom to Roam act in Scotland which means you can camp anywhere, as long as you leave the area as you found it. Also make sure you’re not on a private property 🙂
Its a totally wonderful and wild Island, l love it and will be back this year 🙂
I’m dying to go back as well Ian! Really fell in love with it