Holy Isle is a small island in the Firth of Clyde, off the Isle of Arran – not to be confused with Holy Island in Northumberland. I have looked at it so many times from Lamlash and was determined to get there, even though it’s an epic journey by public transport of two trains, two ferries and a bus each way from Glasgow. In the end, it took almost a year for weather and tide times to align and I just caught the last sailing of the year.
The ferry is a small boat operated by Lamlash Cruises. Check their site for sailing times, these vary according to tides and other factors. The journey from Lamlash takes around 15 minutes and the view of Arran from the boat is worth the trip alone. Grant, the skipper, is very knowledgeable and gives visitors a good introduction to the island on arrival.
The whole island is owned by the same Buddhist community as Samye Ling. The main building is a monastery which is open for retreats but closed to day visitors, apart from the garden. There are only really two paths to take – a walk to the other end of the island either easily along the shore, or more strenuously over the top. It’s about 2 miles end-to-end and there’s a lot to take in along the way.
Getting around is simple as there are no roads and barely any people. There are some Christian sites like the cave of St Molaise, sitting alongside brightly painted rocks featuring Buddhist deities, and populations of wild Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats and Soay sheep. It took me around 3 hours to amble to the lighthouse and back. It’s not far but there’s a lot to look at.
There are also two lighthouses on the island. The Inner lighthouse is on a private part of the island, and the Outer or Pillar Rock Lighthouse is at the end of the public path where you can sit and enjoy a good view of the Firth of Clyde.
How to get to Holy Isle on public transport
Train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan (Scotrail)
Barnhill, where George Orwell wrote 1984 is beyond the end of the public road, as is Corryvreckan, the third largest whirlpool in the world. Jura is covered in private estates, so we couldn’t see where the KLF burnt a million quid (YouTube) either. Ah well!
At the end of the road we did find Lussa Gin, a gin distillery run by three local women. Claire, who kindly gave us a tour first came to Jura with the KLF. There’s not much work for women on Jura, so three friends started Lussa Gin.
The botanicals are all grown locally (right outside the door!) and it tastes gorgeous.
This the main road on Jura that runs from the west coast to Ardlussa on the east. There isn’t a lot to see, but the wilderness is part of its charm. George Orwell wrote 1984 here, calling it an ‘un-gettable’ place.
What you can’t miss is ‘the Paps’ of Jura. These three mountains are visible for miles around, and make the island’s skyline easy to identify from any direction. Even though they are omnipresent, they are also strangely out of reach.
Portnahaven Church was designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1828. The two doors are reputed to allow the populations of Portnahaven and the neighbouring village of Port Wemyss to enter separately and remain segregated when inside. Very Christian!
It is one of the best remaining examples of a ‘parliamentary church’, part of a wave of church-building (funded by Parliament) designed to better serve churchgoers in remote areas. Thanks Maraid for the tip-off.
Kilarrow Parish Church, more commonly known as The Round Church sits at the top of Bowmore’s main street. It was built in 1767 and is one of few round churches in the UK. The story goes that it was designed to be round so the devil couldn’t hide in any corners, but this seems to be more fiction than fact.
The church is not usually open apart from Sunday mornings, but you can arrange a visit by contacting the parish clerk on the number at the entrance.
Carraig Fhada Lighthouse on the Mull of Oa is a beautiful thing from any angle. We visited at 7.30am on the hottest day of the year.
It is Scotland’s only square lighthouse, and was commissioned by Walter Frederick Campbell, the Laird of Islay, in memory of his wife Lady Ellinor Campbell who died young in 1832. There is a beautiful dedication to her on one side of the lighthouse.
You can walk across the little path to get right up close (except at high tide). The lighthouse itself is not usually open to the public.