"On a clear day you can see Northern Ireland from Islay."
Travelling to Scotland’s fifth largest island at the end of the year I thought the chances of a clear day were about as remote as the location of the cottage I was staying in.
Surprisingly, the sun shone bright for the majority of a trip I had expected to spend underwater.
I most likely got lucky but the Scottish west coast is not somewhere you are going to travel to for the weather anyway. This is a place to relax, recharge and escape.
When you arrive at Lossit Cottage – following a two-hour ferry ride, a 45-minute drive and however long it takes you to get to the ferry port – you know you are in the middle of nowhere.
The nearest McDonald’s is a million miles away and yet you have more chance of getting a Big Mac than a phone signal (don’t worry, you do have wifi).
The cottage, one of five on the small country estate where a large Georgian house also sits, is beautifully quaint. Two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a cosy open plan living room/dining area/kitchen downstairs.
Patio doors lead out onto the terrace and out here you’ll find wood, paper and coal for the open fire. You will have to provide your own perseverance, in my case stubbornness, but once you do get it roaring; sit back, relax and bask in the warmest of glows.
Lossit provides the ideal base from which to explore the island. And there’s plenty to explore.
Islay is stunning. Breathtakingly stunning. I lost count the amount of times I said, ‘How beautiful is that?’ as we racked up mile after mile. Keeping your eyes on the road is no easy task given the endless sweeping vistas but it’s highly advisable.
Potholes are aplenty and the single-track roads demand your full attention, especially as daring sheep have a habit of appearing from nowhere.
Machir Bay is a 20-minute stroll from the cottage with Saligo Bay a five-minute drive.
These beaches would not look out of place in California. Exposed to the full force of the North Atlantic, bracing winds mean it’s more warm coats than swim shorts at this time of year but the views remain stunning.
Venturing further afield, Bowmore, Islay’s capital, is 17 miles from Lossit and this is where you will find the highest concentration of the island’s 3,000 population.
It is also where you will find Peatzeria – a stylish pizza restaurant that opened a few months ago. I would have gone for the name alone; you’ll want to go for the delicious chicken fajita pizza with hand cut cajun fries.
“Not sure they’re going to be too keen on the English up there, on one of those islands,” a friend had kindly warned me beforehand.
And so when I tentatively greeted one of the staff on the way into Peatzeria, a small part of me was expecting a frosty glare followed by a, ‘We don’t serve your type here’. Instead, shockingly, the member of staff smiled, asked how my day had been and continued to chat with us throughout the evening.
The people on Islay are lovely. Warm and hospitable; every person I spoke with helped make an already pleasant trip even more memorable.
We ate in Port Ellen on a couple of occasions. There isn’t a huge number of restaurants to choose from on the island – and the cottage is kitted out for all your self-catering needs – but I would highly recommend Sea Salt (outstanding fish and chips) and the Islay Hotel’s restaurant, with its sizeable whisky bar.
While we’re on the subject. the only thing that outnumbers sheep on Islay is whisky.
Eight distilleries are dotted around the island. Eight. Laguvulin, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain; Islay is home to some real single malt big hitters. If you don’t know much about whisky before you go, you will by the time you catch the ferry back.
Basic tours cost around £10 and take you in and around the historic sites , usually with a complimentary dram at the end.Even if whisky isn’t your thing, the tours are informative, fun and a great way to spend an hour or two.
If you have time, a five-minute ferry trip across to Jura – where George Orwell penned his masterpiece ‘1984’ – is definitely worth a visit... for another distillery tour, naturally.
Islay may not make it to the top of many people’s holiday wish-lists. But spend one day on this gorgeous Scottish isle and you will wonder why you have never been before.
For more information, visit www.islaycottages.com.