By Vanguard Ambassador Dylan Morrison
The Coronavirus pandemic has robbed us of the ability to travel globally and without worry, however, the tourism industry has now put significant measures in place to ensure that you can travel as safely as possible. With restrictions having eased, I am going to take a look at something that has become a buzzword over the past year - a "staycation".
Loganair have developed a vast and extensive network, including a variety of domestic routes to truly fantastic destinations. My destination of choice was the beautiful Isle of Islay – an island renowned for its peaty, smoky whisky – serviced twice daily on weekdays and daily on weekends by Loganair’s SAAB 340 turboprop aircraft.
My Journey began at Glasgow Airport, early on Saturday morning. The standard Coronavirus prevention measures apply upon entering the Terminal. Clear signage and floor markings were very helpful and enabled me to make my way easily to the check-in desk. Although the check-in hall was a lot quieter than my last pre-pandemic visit, there were still a number of passengers in the Terminal.
I knew that my trip would involve walking long distances and carrying a lot of camera equipment. I chose a suitable backpack that would not only carry my camera equipment and distribute the weight, but would also have enough room for personal items. With me, was my Vanguard VEO Range 45M tactical style backpack. The VEO Range 45M boasts supportive straps and an ergonomic airflow system; something I love when hiking. There are also handy zipped pockets on the waist strap that are the perfect size for a bottle of hand sanitiser: an essential item when travelling!
It was just a short wait until boarding was announced, and I made my way out to the aircraft with the other passengers. I was greeted at the top of the stairs by the friendly Cabin Supervisor who directed me to my seat. I was sat at the very rear of the aircraft which gave unobstructed views from the window; something I was particularly looking forward to on this scenic flight.
With all passengers boarded and bags in the hold, we pushed back from the stand and taxied out to Runway 05 for a departure to the North. Climbing out of Glasgow we crossed the River Clyde making a left turn for Islay, and before too long, we had reached our cruise altitude of 8,000ft at a speed of just under 300mph. We left the mainland with stunning views of Wemyss Bay, Bute, Arran, and Jura before reaching the Inner Hebrides' southernmost island: Islay.
There is a common misconception about the size of the island but you really get a sense of its vast, wild terrain from the air. Islay is in fact the fifth-largest Scottish island and eighth largest of the British Isles.
On landing, it is just a short walk to the terminal and into the baggage reclaim. There is a bus which ties up with some flights but I would advise checking their timetable for your travel dates. A car hire option is available, but the best way from the airport to your accommodation is by taxi.
I knew my stay in Islay was going to be a fleeting visit, but I wanted to pack in as much as I could to get a real flavour of the Island. I contacted Jim MacCalman at Jim’s Islay Taxi Bowmore, prior to my arrival. I was very impressed by his wealth of knowledge and passion for Islay. He was extremely helpful in the planning stages of my trip, and after joint discussions, we were able to draw up an itinerary to include the key sights. Jim offers airport transfers, as well as tours, and was on hand to meet me at the airport.
Just North of the airport is the town of Bowmore, the administrative capital of the island, where I had chosen to base myself. The early residents relocated there in the late 1700s from a settlement just along the road. Bowmore gives its name to the famous Bowmore Distillery and Single Malt Whisky The drive to Bowmore gives great views of the vast peatland which influences the distinct taste of the Island’s famous Whiskies.
I was booked into the Lochside Hotel located on the seafront, and perfectly situated within walking distance of all the sights in Bowmore itself. I was staying in a fantastic room on the top floor, with stunning views over the pier and Loch Indaal. The room was very spacious with an en-suite bathroom, tv, sofa and all other amenities, including a a bar and restaurant.
Of course, a hotel is not for everyone. If you are travelling with family or a group then you may prefer a Self-Catering or B&B house. My driver, Jim, runs a fantastic B&B, Dha Urlar, just a short distance from Bowmore. I was very impressed with Dha Urlar having enjoyed a look around. The house which has a stunning view, is situated on a spacious plot of land: which would be perfect for kids.
The convenient flight times allow you to make the most of your visit; I arrived in Bowmore just before 9 a.m., giving me ample time for a leisurely stroll around the town before heading out to explore. It’s always great to get your bearings and pick out key spots to return to. Just a short walk from the hotel is the Square, where there are shops and a bank. From the Square, you have some of Bowmore’s greatest sights at just a stone’s throw; Bowmore Distillery, the Round Church and the Pier.
The first stop on my Islay adventure was the Mull of Oa in the South of the island, home to the RSPB Oa Nature Reserve and, most notably, the American Monument, a memorial to the hundreds of American servicemen who were killed when two troop ships were lost off Islay in 1918.
We took the scenic ‘High Road’ towards Port Ellen, stopping off at the beautiful Kilnaughton Bay to see the lighthouse, before heading West across the Oa.
Parking at the RSPB Nature Reserve, you have the option to take a circular walk around the nature reserve or a shorter, direct, walk to the American monument. I opted for the shorter route, which is partly a boardwalk path, and it took around 30 minutes to reach the monument. From the monument, you have spectacular views of the cliffs and nesting seabirds.
Visiting the southern end of the island, I recommend stopping in the harbour town of Port Ellen; which takes its name from Ellen, the wife of the famous Scottish politician, and town founder, Lord Frederick Campbell. From here, you can follow the ‘3 distilleries’ route taking in Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. This can easily be done on foot, or by car on a rainy day, and passes the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle on the shores of Lagavulin Bay.
Whilst many people terminate their journey at Ardbeg, Jim, my driver highlighted the road beyond Ardbeg which takes you along the coast to the foot of Beinn Bheiger – the tallest hill on the island. This coastal route is stunning and boasts many secluded beaches and bays – one even home to seals! This also takes in the Kildalton Cross, which is one of the best-preserved Celtic crosses in Europe, found in the grounds of a medieval church.
Returning from my day trip, I enjoyed a scrumptious, locally caught haddock at the hotel’s restaurant before heading down to the pier for sunset. The pier gives fantastic views of the Paps of Jura as well as the Bowmore Distillery.
Your breakfast is included in the room tariff at the Lochside hotel. The breakfast menu has several fantastic items, including some gluten-free options, and the portion sizes are great for setting you up for the day. The restaurant has beautiful views overlooking Loch Indaal and is a great place to sit and absorb the scenery. There are also several great eatery options within Bowmore itself, including the popular Peatzeria restaurant adjacent to the hotel, along with a selection of takeaway restaurants within walking distance of the Square.
My plan for day 2 was to explore the coast to the northern side of Loch Indaal. Travelling along the coastal road, my first stop was Islay House, in the village of Bridgend. There is a quaint courtyard with several boutique shops. Islay House is beautifully situated on a large plot of land surrounded by trees, wildlife and a blanket of bluebells.
Continuing along the coastal road you reach the beautiful Port Charlotte, and key sights such as the Lochindaal Distillery, and the Museum of Islay Life. I was particularly in awe over the teal waters complimenting the rows of white houses. I visited the Loch Indaal hotel and pub where they were gearing up to welcome tourists and locals back, and could picture what a buzzing hive of activity this place would normally be.
Portnahaven is situated at the very end of the road with a stunning inlet and beach, which would make a great picnic spot for your day out! Port Weymss is just a short distance away from Portnahaven and is definitely worth a visit too. On the return journey, we took a different route weaving our way over the wild terrain and peatland, coming into the back of Port Charlotte.
I packed as much as I could into my short visit to Islay, however, there is more than enough to see and do on the island to fill a week – and more! If you are a whisky lover, then you can book in to do a few distillery tours. If you’re a keen walker, then there are plenty of trails to explore around the island. You will certainly not be short of things to do and see.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Islay and would highly recommend it as a destination for those planning a staycation this year.
Dylan is our youngest Vanguard Ambassador, showing the enthusiasm and ability in photography that convinced us to add him to the team at just 16. This is part of our goal to build a team of Ambassador's at all stages of their careers, from beginner to professional, to reflect the reality of our customer base and get insights from everyone. Based in Glasgow, Dylan is already a seasoned photographer covering concerts, sporting events and landscapes, among others. You can find out more about Dylan from visiting his website here.