Once more writing from our summer holiday home on Islay, this time as our week away is drawing to a close, with our ferry back home booked for 9am tomorrow and just one last day of exploring the island ahead of us today.
This week has been one of the most peaceful holidays we’ve had, and there have been so many highlights in a restful few days adventuring at easy pace around the landscape. On Tuesday, we spent a lovely afternoon at the RSPB Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve, a beautiful expanse of land with amazing walks and dug-out hides in concealed wooden sheds where we could settle and watch hen harriers circling overhead and everything from wrens to buzzards swooping across the stillness of the hills.
We have spent days browsing tiny shops in tiny villages, local craft fairs here and there, cosying up with hot chocolates in hotel bars when the rain comes on and in the brightness of early evenings walking along huge untouched beaches where only the sheep contentedly lie.
In the middle of our week here, we decided to take a day trip across to neighbouring Jura, which was one of the most breath-taking places I have ever seen. With only 200 people there and 5000 deer, it is one of the wildest and least populated of all the Scottish islands, and we were so looking forward to seeing it, but it exceeded all expectations. I absolutely love rural Scotland, and there are so many corners where such incredible beauty can be found; but, within minutes of alighting on the island from the tiny drive-on ferry, I was absolutely speechless at just quite how incredible it was. Having pulled over to watch a buzzard circle overhead, we found ourselves at the vantage point of a whole group of red deer, antlers glinting in the sunlight, grazing, communicating and eventually taking flight across the hillside en masse, disappearing into a thicket of trees and leaving us amazed to have been able to watch such a breath-taking display.
After a meander in the main village of Craighouse, a lovely lunch at the one and only hotel, a tour of the whisky distillery and a wander along the street, seeing the busyness of a Wednesday afternoon, with the mobile bank and fish van both parked up; we got back in the car and followed the road as far as we could, with the sea glinting to our right, Paps of Jura dominating the landscape to our left, and each twist and turn bringing new sights as we journeyed on.
My favourite place we’ve ever been to outside Scotland is without a doubt Iceland, where we had our honeymoon three years ago and returned to last year, knowing we’ll be back again and again. The winding drive through such abandoned and completely still landscape did remind me of some of our drives up the hills there in the winter of 2014, gasping as we turned a corner to another incredible waterfall or reached a new height where the snow flakes were gently falling for the first time all year – yet what is so incredible here is the wildlife as well as the landscape. Reaching the end of the road, from where the most northerly points of the island can only be reached on foot, the last rural farm houses lying behind us, we again were face to face with a herd of deer, peacefully grazing in their untouched world.
Back on Islay, strangely ‘busy’ by comparison in spite of being such a quiet island itself, we’ve trekked out to Finlaggan, the historic seat of the Lord of the Isles; stood on the shore at Bunnahabhain looking out to the most northerly point of the island; stopped still in the peace of ruined chapels, Celtic crosses weathering time, and warm working churches alike; and befriended the loveliest highland cattle around our little Portnahaven.
By evening, we have more often than not been back at our cottage, and dropping temperatures have given the perfect excuse to light up the fire and settle in. We’ve done nothing but read at nights (many of my books animal or pet related which I look forward to writing about here too!) and for the pets, the evenings have been absolutely wonderful.
The decision to bring them on this holiday was absolutely the best one. Just as we always enjoy having quality time to spend with each other when we’re away, we’ve enjoyed having quality time to spend with them too. Without all the demands of home life, we’ve sat peacefully for hours and the boys have adored curling up beside us with just the crackle of the flames. Perry, at home always on the go, has been uncharacteristically keen for cuddle, spreading out in the warmth and lifting his head whenever one of us has the audacity to stop stroking him.
Marley has enjoyed mornings sat on the front doorstep, the sea air helping clear his wee lungs; and Reuben has again surpassed all our expectations by still being with us and what’s more still being content and happy. He’s eating, drinking, and enjoying time with his brothers and with us, which is all we can ask for. Have thoroughly enjoyed having them with us on our adventure.
Looking forward too of course to getting back home again, and to bring reunited with the pony (who I’ve happily been provided with photos and tales of throughout the the week!); but this has been the loveliest week away and have truly loved Islay and Jura and all they have to offer.
Hope you all have a lovely weekend. X