Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The island has a current population of around 3,500 and stretches about 21 miles north to south and a somewhat similar distance east to west. It lies 15 miles off the west coast of Argyll and is only 23 miles north of Northern Ireland. The two main population centres are Port Ellen and Bowmore, the latter on a similar latitude to Glasgow but considerably further west.
Travelling is by way of a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Kennacraig in West Loch Tarbert to either Port Ellen or Port Askaig, taking approximately two hours, or by a 35 minute flight from Glasgow Airport.
The island has something of a brutal and bloody past. Periods of peaceful settlement were frequently followed by raids from brutal and bloodthirsty conquerors. Islay's main importance was as the administrative capital of the 'Lord of Isles', the ancestors of Clan Donald. From Somerled's victories in the 12th century until the forfeiture of the Lordship in 1493, the two small islands on Islay's Loch Finlaggan were the centres of power for an administration that at the start of the 15th century controlled all the islands off the west coast of Scotland. Technically Islay was under Norwegian rule until the Treaty of Perth in 1266 and, in fact, it was not until after Culloden in 1746 that all the administrative necessities were completed rendering the island officially Scottish.
Today, dotted across the landscape are landmarks, ruins and monuments that are testament to these more turbulent times. Majestic amongst these monuments is the High Cross at Kildalton which dates from the 8th century.Also of significant importance is the site at Finlaggan which is the historic meeting place of the Lord of the Isles.
The natural beauty and ruggedness of Islay needs to be seen to be believed. The island has a starkness common to those areas exposed to a constant buffeting from Atlantic weather.
From the air Islay presents a rich tapestry of contrasting colours with various shades of blues, greens, reds and browns constantly merging in with one another.
The landscape houses a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation. Wild deer are present all over the island and a trip to many of the peninsula that surround the island will be rewarded with sightings of otters and seals. A profusion of many varieties of rare birds means that Islay is a bird spotters paradise, giving home to thousands of wild geese who spend the winter months on the island.