Island hopping

Island hopping

Scotland's islands are only loosely connected and include vastly differing geographies, histories and whisky styles.

Travel | 03 Oct 2009 | Issue 83 | By Rob Allanson

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Including all Scotland's islands in the same whisky category is like throwing tabby cats and tigers together.

Islay, of course, has its own category, but within 'islands' Orkney is bracketed with Arran - which is the equivalent of pairing Wigtown and Wick. And while generally we tend to think of island whiskies as peated in style, this isn't the case at all. Of the 14 island distilleries (we'll ignore Lewis for the moment as it's yet to bottle whisky) the house styles of six of them could be described as mainly unpeated. Take the actual output of the 'hybrid' distilleries - those that produce both peated and peated whisky - and it's possible that more island malt is unpeated than it is peated - because Caol Ila produces large volumes of unpeated whisky.

You'll need a great deal of time and patience to do the islands properly, and in all likelihood a good bit of weather and a fair wind at your back wouldn't go amiss.

Here then is our quickfire guide to the islands of Scotland.


Isle of Arran, Lochranza Tel: +44 (0) 1770 830264
A relatively new distillery, this is purpose-built so the tour is great for the novice. The whisky is sweet, vanillery and fresh tasting.
Described as Scotland in miniature, Arran is 19 miles long, 10 miles wide, and has diverse scenery.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: Arran is the perfect place for walking and cycling, and has great golf courses. Arran Aromatics makes cosmetics and soaps, Arran brewery is producing world class beers.
HOW TO GET THERE: There are car ferries from Ardrossan, and in the summer you can also travel from Wemyss Bay.


THE DISTILLERY: Tobermory, +44 (0)1688 302647
Tobermory produces a fruity and only lighted peaty whisky for half the year, and a peaty whisky by the name of Ledaig for half the year.
THE ISLAND: Tobermory is a slice of The Highlands thrown into the sea, with high bens and dramatic scenery. Tobermory the town defines 'pretty Scottish harbour.'
WHAT ELSE TO DO: This is a bird watching paradise, and you're more likely to see sea eagles than anywhere else in Scotland. Golden eagles and osprey join the bird fest, and the sea life is pretty special, too.
HOW TO GET THERE: There are ferries from Oban on the mainland to Craignure then it's a drive over the island to the distillery.


THE DISTILLERIES: There are now eight operating distilleries, nearly all of which allow visitors. The island style is of course big peated whiskies, but that's not the whole story by a long chalk.
THE ISLAND: Whisky is of course at the heart of Islay and the distilleries dominate here. But there are 130 miles of rugged and wonderful coastline, making it a rugged island paradise.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: Another island where walking, cycling and sailing are all outstanding. The Machrie Hotel has an excellent golf course, and Islay also brews its own beers.
HOW TO GET THERE: There are flights twice a day from Glasgow, or you can drive round to Tarbert on the west coast and sail to Port Ellen or Port Askaig, at opposite ends of the island.


THE DISTILLERIES: Highland Park Tel +44 (0) 1856 874619, Scapa Tel +44 (0) 1856 876585 These are very different whiskies. Highland Park is rugged and honeyed, with peat and oak in the mix, Scapa is more gentle, with citrus notes and a sweet and sour mix.
THE ISLAND: A collection of scores of small islands, the biggest of which are linked by bridges built on concrete blocks and around Scapa Flow. Virtually treeless and often windy, these are remote geographically and almost Scandinavian in outlook.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: If you're in to archaeology and history you could, spend a week here. Stone circles, ancient burial sites, Pictish villages, historical churches, and the legacy of the Second World War, there is no place quite like it anywhere else on earth.
HOW TO GET THERE: You can fly from Aberdeen and Wick and there are ferries from various points along the very north East coast around Thurso to a number of destinations.


THE DISTILLERY: Talisker +44 (0) 1478 614308
Talisker needs little introduction, a big, peaty, peppery whisky ideal for the rugged and unforgiving landscape and a world class champion.
THE ISLAND: Skye may now be joined to the mainland by a bridge but it remains enigmatic, and other worldly, its landscapes dramatic and its weather patterns scarily unpredictable.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: Skye has some of the best climbing and trekking in Europe, to great wildlife and places to visit which include the Museum of Island Life, the Museum of the Isles, the castles of Eilean Donan, Dunvegan and Armadale and for the children, a toy museum and a dinosaur museum.
HOW TO GET THERE: There are ferries from Mallaig and Glenelg and a bridge from the mainland.


THE DISTILLERY: Isle of Jura +44 (0) 1496 820240
Small and homely, making clean, fruity whisky. The standard range has been expanded to include peated, aged and specially finished versions.
THE ISLAND: Famous for the Paps of Jura, the island feels like the end of the world. Cattle block the one road from the ferry to the distillery, the island's largest group of inhabitants are its deer and then its snakes, and few people live here. This all makes it utterly irresistible.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: Deer stalking, off road driving, shooting and some of the best walking and hiking in Britain make it surprisingly lively here.
HOW TO GET THERE: Follow the instructions to Islay, head for Port Askaig and catch the ferry across the fast-flowing sound of Islay.
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