Island life

Island life

From Orkney to Arran,Scotland's islands are home to some of Scotland's best distilleries.

Travel | 28 Nov 2008 | Issue 76 | By Rob Allanson

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Although you tend to associate island whisky with big flavours and heavy peat, in actual fact there is a rich diversity in the malts that are produced off-shore.And it’s the same with the islands themselves – they offer the visitor a complete Scottish experience, from stunning coastlines to challenging mountain terrain to pretty lochs.All the islands are easy to reach, well served by air and sea, and all offer a range of accommodation from cheap and cheerful bed and breakfasts to high quality and occasionally very luxurious hotels.Here is a guide to each of them, with the exception of Islay.ORKNEY THE DISTILLERIES Highland Park and Scapa Highland Park and Scapa are Scotland’s most northerly distilleries and only Highland Park is open to the public, although when the former owners of Scapa refurbished it and put it back into fulltime production a visitor centre and tour were mooted and new owners Beam haven’t entirely ditched the plan.Highland Park is well worth the effort of getting to the Orkney Isles. It’s a traditional distillery with kilns and floor maltings, it obviously produces a world class whisky, and owner Edrington has invested heavily in visitor facilities, most recently in the last year or so.Enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff help to ensure that a visit here is a memorable one.The islands The Orkney isles are a large collection of islands of differing sizes, some of which are joined together by the Churchill barriers – huge concrete blocks dropped in to the sea during the war ostensibly to carry roadways but in reality to stop German UBoats entering Scapa Flow after one managed to sink a British warship there with the loss of hundreds of lives.The islands have been inhabited with different races and tribes during thousands of years so there is an astonishing amount of history, from the Neolithic village of Skara Brae to the Second World War chapel built by Italian prisoners of war.Archaeological sites and stone circles are prevalent.OTHER THINGS TO DO General The Orkneys are rich in culture, history and archaeological sites, there are some fine eating establishments and some stunning scenery and coastline for walkers of all abilities.Hunting,shooting, fishing Brown trout fishing in easy-toaccess lochs in Orkney is among the best in Britain. It’s free to fish the lochs but you are encouraged to take a subscription to the Trout Fishing Association to help fund maintenance and facilities.Orkney offers sea fishing including common skates and porbeagle If you’re into shooting Orkney offers goose shooting.Spectacular flocks of geese fly over the islands both at dawn and dusk, offering varied and challenging Accommodation information HOW TO GET THERE Ferries run from just north of Wick, and there are flights from Wick, Inverness and Aberdeen.ISLE OF SKYE DISTILLERY Talisker Talisker is, of course, one of the great iconic malts. Its distinctive, firey pepper and peat taste is loved and sought after across the world.It is part of the Classic Malts range and owners Diageo as always offer a stylish and organised visitor experience.As with other distilleries in the group there is a small charge for the tour but it’s redeemable on the purchase of a 70cl bottle.The island Skye is an amazing,mountainous and other-worldly island offering some of the most challenging trekking and climbing experiences not just in Scotland but in the whole of Europe.It is rich in history and culture, preserves Gaelic as a spoken language, and has a diverse choice of tourist attractions.OTHER THINGS TO DO General Skye is an ideal destination for lovers of the great outdoors.Cyclists and walkers love it,and there are plenty of challenging and steep routes to keep even the most expert walker happy.The Cuillins offer world-class climbing.Golf Isle of Skye Golf Club is an 18 hole course offering challenging golf.Visitors are welcome to come and play except at the time of members’ tournaments, and green fees are the same at weekends as they are in the week.Between April and October you can enjoy lunch and hot and cold beverages.You are advised to ring ahead though booking isn’t essential.Tel: +44 (0)1478 865 414 Hunting,shooting, fishing Skye is an ideal place to learn to fish and there are various schools.The fishing is also varied,and includes fly fishing for both for trout and salmon, game fishing, angling and sea fishing.The island offers a range of hunting options, from grouse to Accommodation information HOWTO GET THERE There are ferries from the mainland but there’s also a bridge now so you can drive there.ISLE OF MULL DISTILLERY Tobermory Tobermory Distillery is a small and intimate one at one end of a picturesque sweeping bay in the town of the same name. It produces two versions of malt; the clean and fruity eponymous one, and the peaty Ledaig, pronounced Led-chig and the Gaelic word for ‘safe haven.’ Tours are offered, starting with a short film and ending with a tasting.You can also buy a blended malt whisky unique to Tobermory and Iona.The island Mull is the most Highland-like of the islands, its centre made up of rugged bens and rough heather.Tobermory is on the other side of the island from the ferry port but it’s a worthwhile drive.OTHER THINGS TO DO General Tobermory is the town on which the children’s television series Balamory is based, complete with coloured houses, so if you have young children it’s fun trying to find PC Plum or Archie’s house.Golf There are nine hole golf course at Tobermory and close to the ferry port, and both welcome visitors.For more information go to Hunting,shooting, fishing Mull has several good trout lochs and good spots for fishing for salmon and sea trout.Sea fishing offers the chance to catch a range of fish as well as rays and skate.There is a charge of about £5 a day for permits.The island offers large open spaces for hunting and shooting.Quarry includes mallard, woodcock, geese, hare, roe deer and Accommodation information ISLE OF JURA DISTILLERY Isle of Jura Jura is another small and intimate distillery with lots of character.The charmhere is the distillery’s rustic nature and the tour, often by the distiller or Jura brand ambassador Willie Tait (if he’s around) is informal and personal.The island Jura lives in the shadow of the whisky island of Islay but it has plenty to recommend it.Its terrain is dominated by the Paps of Jura. It is one of the most undeveloped of the islands, its sheep, cattle and deer pretty much in charge and humans are restricted to one roadway up to the distillery.OTHER THINGS TO DO General Jura is a great place to relax, but the Paps offer great fellwalking opportunities.The island is also a twitching hotspot so ornothologists are in their element.Golf No Hunting,shooting, fishing Jura is populated by deer and so the hunting here is very good.Apparently they make more from hunting deer than they do selling the carcass for meat.Accommodation information HOWTO GET THERE You need to take a ferry or flight to Islay and then make the short crossing to Jura by ferry.ARRAN DISTILLERY Isle of Arran The distillery on Arran was only built 12 years ago and had visitors very much in mind, so the lay out is designed to show the whisky making process in an easy and logical way.The guides are knowledgeable and impressive too, and there’s a modern visitor centre and cafe.The malt itself is getting better and better.The island Called Scotland in miniature, Arran has its own Highlands and Lowlands. It is also very verdant and temperate,being slap bang in the middle of the Gulf Stream.OTHER THINGS TO DO General Arran has a soap factory and a brewery among its attractions,and it’s a delightful and pretty island to relax on.Golf Arran has more golf course per head of population than anywhere in the world – a total of seven.They have teamed up to offer an Arran Golf pass allowing a round at each course, and you can buy it at the clubs, at hotels and at tourist offices.Between them the seven offer a complete golfing experience.The courses are: Lochranza +44 (0)1770 830 273 Lamlash +44 (0)1770 600 296 Machris Bay +44 (0)1770 840 213 Shiskine +44 (0)1770 860 226 Whiting Bay +44 (0)1770 700 775 Brodick +44 (0)1770 302 349 Comrie +44 (0)1770 810 223 HOWTO GET THERE There are ferries from Ardrossan, which can be reached easily from Glasgow and is served by trains from Glasgow and Prestwick Airport.Accommodation information
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