Self Guided Walking Holidays & Cycling Holidays


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Islay Whisky Trails Self-Guided Walking Holiday
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Highlights

  • Whisky! Visit distilleries such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Bruichladdich
  • Sample the finest single malt in Scotland and learn about Islay’s whisky-producing past
  • Look out for the local wildlife; curious seals and soaring eagles
  • Stroll along Islay’s white sand beaches and flower-strewn machair
  • Combine relaxed walks with distillery visits of your choice for a unique Islay experience

Explore the diverse landscapes of Islay; visit distillery water sources, and walk the coastlines and white sand beaches that lend their flavour to the island’s iconic single malts; Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, and Kilchoman. With time in the itinerary for visiting 6 out of 8 distilleries this trip is perfect for both whisky-tasting amateurs and connoisseurs.

The Isle of Islay is renowned for being the home of Scotland’s finest single malt whisky—production has been established since 1779. Distillery tours with the knowledgeable locals are a highlight, but for the authentic island experience make sure to combine distillery visits with our suggested walks. Readjust to the relaxed pace of island life—the hospitality of the locals will have you feeling instantly at ease.

Day 1 - Arrive Port Ellen and optional walk.

Arrive on Islay by sea or air; take the Calmac ferry (2hrs 10 mins) from Kennacraig on the mainland to Port Askaig/Port Ellen on Islay, or fly (40 mins) from Glasgow to the island’s small airport near Port Ellen.


If you arrive on Islay with an afternoon to spare and would like to stretch your legs take a gentle walk from your accommodation in Port Ellen to the Carraig Fhada Lighthouse. This short optional walk around Kilnaughton bay takes you to the unique 1930s lighthouse (you can extend your walk to the Singing Sands beach if you’re feeling energetic).


Carraig Fhada Lighthouse walk: 9 km


Overnight: Port Ellen


Port Ellen is a small town on the island’s south-east coast nestled in a sheltered bay.  Served daily by the Calmac ferry and with a couple of hotels, shops, a bistro and cafés the town is a popular spot for visitors.


Day 2 - Three Distilleries walk (optional Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distillery visits).

The walk from Port Ellen along the coast connecting three of Islay’s most famous distilleries; Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries is a relaxed and scenic way to explore  Islay’s east coast. The walk can be halved by taking the bus from Ardbeg back to Port Ellen, or vice versa if you’d like time to visit all three of the distilleries. Alternatively, we recommend booking the optional premium half day tour of Laphroaig distillery—it promises to be a highlight of the trip! 


Three distilleries walk: 11.5 km


Overnight: Port Ellen


Day 3 - Bus to Bowmore and Laggan Point loop walk (optional Bowmore visit).

Catch a morning bus (25 mins) from Port Ellen to Bowmore—the island’s “capital”—before then walk south to Laggan Point on coastal paths, tracks and country roads.  On a good day you’ll be able to see Bruichladdich distillery on the opposite shore of Loch Indaal, and get wonderful views of the 8 km long white sand beach at Machrie Bay.  Round off the day with a visit to harbourside Bowmore distillery. 


Laggan Point loop walk: 14 km


Overnight: Bowmore


Day 4 - Transfer to a choice of walks (optional Kilchoman distillery visit).

Today you have a choice of walks with return taxi transfers from Port Charlotte to either the RSPB Bird & Nature reserve at Loch Gruinart or to the island’s remote west coast to visit Kilchoman distillery—simply let the driver know where you’d like to go on the day. 


Loch Gruinart to Ardnave Point:  17 km


After spending some time at RSPB Loch Gruinart’s information centre walk along the sea loch on scenic country roads to Ardnave Point where the route takes a small loop around the headland on sandy paths with coastal views throughout. Keep an eye out for the distinctive hen harrier, corncrake, and lapwing.


Kilchoman to Saligo Bay: 13 km


Alternatively, take the transfer to Kilchoman distillery on Islay’s wilder west. Walk quiet country roads and tracks to take in two of Islay’s finest beaches—Machir and Saligo. Combine your walk with a tour of the distillery—we recommend the premium tour—before returning to the comfort of your accommodation in Port Charlotte. 


Overnight: Port Charlotte


Day 5 - Bus to Portnahaven and loop walk (optional Bruichladdich distillery visit).

After a hearty breakfast it’s a 15-minute bus journey to the charming fishing village of Portnahaven for a short loop walk of the area.  Enjoy walking on quiet country roads and coastal paths with views of the Isle of Orsay, and it’s Stevenson family-built lighthouse. The village  harbour is a popular spot for resting seals and elusive otters are occasionally spotted here too. Later visit Bruichladdich distillery nestled in a coastal village just north of Port Charlotte where you can choose from a variety of whisky tours or a specialist gin tour. 


Portnahaven and Port Wemyss loop walk: 7.5 km


Overnight: Port Charlotte


Day 6 - Onward travel

Catch the bus to Port Ellen (45 mins) from where you can leave the island by air or boat. The airport is just a 10-minute drive from Port Ellen with Loganair flights to Glasgow.  Alternatively, return to Kennacraig on the mainland via the Calmac ferry from Port Ellen or Port Askaig.

Accommodation

We specifically choose our accommodations to ensure that you enjoy every minute of your stay. All offer a warm welcome to walkers, great hospitality and delicious local food.


During the high season, you might be booked into alternative accommodations which are not listed in the description. Any alternative accommodation will be of the same or better standard as those described.


Solo Walkers & Single Rooms

This independent walking holiday is available to solo walkers. If you require single rooms in your party we will of course try to accommodate your request, subject to availability. Please note that singles may not be of the same standard or size as twins/doubles.


Meals


A hearty breakfast is included each morning. Lunch and dinner are not included so you are free to choose from the available options. Most of your accommodations will more than happy to provide a packed lunch on request and this can be booked on arrival. Alternatively, your route notes include details of local shops and convenient lunch stops on the way. Dinner is available either at your accommodation or nearby pubs and restaurants.


Accommodation Partners

Although not exhaustive these are the accommodation providers we use most often.



 

 

 




Askernish B&B

A charming B&B situated in the centre of Port Ellen overlooking Leadomus Bay, and less than a 5 minute walk from the Calmac ferry terminal. Joy is a wonderful hostess who will make your stay a memorable one!


 

 

 


 

 

 




Harbour Inn

A warm welcome awaits at the Harbour Inn in Islay’s “capital” of Bowmore. Situated within a couple of minutes from Bowmore distillery the inn is perfectly placed for exploring Islay’s heart.


 

 

 


 

 

 




Port Charlotte Hotel

The little village of Port Charlotte is strewn along the west coast of Loch Indaal, and many of the 10 elegant bedrooms have wonderful views over Loch Indaal.


 

 

 

Availability

This walking holiday is best enjoyed between early April and mid
October. Islay is very popular during the summer months, and the last
week in May during the annual Whisky Festival, so we advise you book as
far in advance as you can.
Due to public transport restrictions on the islands at the weekend it’s
best to begin your trip from Monday—Thursday. However, if this isn’t
possible just call the office and speak to our Destination &
Adventure Specialists who can help by arranging taxi transfers.


Baggage Transfer


Bag transfer on this trip is available as per your itinerary but on a
few occasions you will take your luggage with you when you travel with
public transport between your accommodations.  You won’t need to carry
more than a day bag on your walks.  We ask you to limit your luggage to
one bag of up to 15 kg per person.


Excursions & Distillery Tours

The trip is designed to help you make the most of your time on Islay
and your proximity to it’s world-renowned distilleries. As such all the
walks are optional and most should take around half a day, ensuring you
have plenty of time to visit the distilleries.
Please note that the distilleries all have varying opening hours, and
some only run tours on specific days and at pre-arranged times. Most of
these tours should be pre-booked either online or by phone directly
with the distilleries. We provide information on the tours offered and
when they run in the pre-departure information pack. Additionally, you
can find live tour availability on many of the distillery websites.


There are so many whisky tour and tasting options to choose from that
we have excluded these so you are free to choose your preferred tour
and tasting options at each distillery. The cost for a basic distillery
tour and sample dram or two tends to be around £10 per person.
If you would like to try something special we recommend the Laphroiag
Water to Whisky premium tour. This includes a tour of the distillery,
picnic at the water source, along with a chance to try peat cutting for
yourself on Laphroaig’s nearby peat source, followed by a cask tasting
and bottling all accompanied by your knowledgeable Laphroaig guide. The
tour operates 7 days a week from noon lasting 4.5 hours with 7 people
maximum per tour. Alternatively, try the premium tour and tasting at
Islay’s only farm distillery at Kilchoman. Distinct from the other
distilleries on the island Kilchoman is a smaller operation that grows
and malts all of their barley onsite. The tour operates 7 days a week
from 11am for 2 hours with 12 people maximum per tour.


Please note distillery tour dates may vary outside of the summer
months. A basic distillery tour normally takes 1 hour so make sure to
plan your distillery visits around any walks you plan on doing to allow
yourself plenty of time. Check distillery websites and book well in
advance for tours to avoid disappointment on the day.


Single Rooms & Solo Walkers

This independent walking holiday is available to solo walkers. If you
require single rooms in your party we will of course try to accommodate
your request, subject to availability. Please note that singles may not
be of the same standard or size as twins/doubles.


Navigation & Terrain

This
route is largely not waymarked and much of it is on quiet country roads
along with tracks and paths. The trip is graded moderate so some
previous walking and mapping reading experience is desirable.  However,
with our route notes and GPX tracks provided on the Macs Adventure
smartphone app you should have no problem following the route each day.



As all the walks are self-guided you will be responsible for navigation, decision–making and safety during your trip.  The
walks are graded easy to moderate as they are not strenuous and
although there may be some uphill and steeper sections, these are not
particularly challenging.  


Travel Insurance

It is a requirement of booking this tour with Macs Adventure that you
have suitable travel insurance which covers you for the activity and
emergency evacuation and hospital care.


General Information

The distances and ascent/descents are approximations of the
recommended routes. Please be prepared by packing all necessary items,
for example, proper rain gear (jacket and pants), sun hat, and
sunscreen. Your information pack has a detailed equipment list which
includes standard walking gear such as good walking boots or shoes, warm
and waterproof clothes for the cooler months and lightweight clothing
for summer, and a day pack.



Getting to/from Islay (Port Askaig / Port Ellen)

To arrive by ferry make your way to Kennacraig on Scotland’s mainland, there are daily Citylink buses from Buchanan Bus Station, Glasgow (3hr 20 mins) that will take
you from Glasgow to Kennacraig—on the 926 bus headed onto Campbeltown.  From Kennacraig take the Calmac ferry to either Port Askaig or Port Ellen on Islay.  The Kennacraig
ferry terminal has public toilets, a ticket office and waiting room. 


If you’re coming from further afield you might prefer to fly to Islay directly from Glasgow airport with Loganair. The airport is just a 10 minute bus ride from Port Ellen or 35 minutes by bus to Port Askaig. 


It’s s also possible to make this trip a drive & hike by using
your own car if you are coming from the UK. Most of the distilleries are
able to give the designated driver their drams in miniature bottles to
go. Please speak to a Destination & Adventure Specialist to find out
more.

Included

  • 5 Nights in hand-picked accommodation (B&B's, hotels and guest houses)
  • Breakfasts
  • Detailed trip documents, GPS tracks, maps and route notes on the Macs Adventure smartphone app
  • Taxi and baggage transfer (as per itinerary)
  • 24/7 Emergency telephone support from our office

Excluded

  • Travel insurance
  • Transport to the start or from the finish of the walk
  • Taxi transfers or public ferry and bus transport
  • Distillery tours
  • Lunches, dinners, snacks or drinks
  • Equipment

Extras

  • Additional nights before or after the tour
  • Single room supplement
  • Return Calmac ferry from Kennacraig to Islay

Planning a trip can be daunting, especially if this is your first long distance walking holiday. We are often asked the following questions and I hope that you will find the answers useful.

How fit do I need to be?

As all the walks are self-guided you will be responsible for navigation, decision–making and safety during your trip. The walks are graded easy to moderate—they are not strenuous and although there may be some uphill and steeper sections, these are not particularly challenging. If you currently don’t enjoy a good level of walking fitness, regular walking supplemented by cardiovascular exercise for six months before your walk is recommended. A good gym or personal trainer will be able to draw up a personalised training programme.

How far in advance do I need to book?

We suggest you book as soon as your plans are finalised as the region is extremely popular especially between May and September. You will find up to date availability on our website and we will always try and accommodate your plans.

What personal equipment do I need?

Your information pack has a detailed equipment list which includes standard walking gear such as good walking boots or shoes, warm and waterproof clothes and a day pack.

When is the best time of year?

Although May and September are generally considered the best months for walking in Scotland, Islay tends to receive warmer weather than the rest of the west coast throughout the walking season (April - October) so the choice is yours.

What are the midges like?

Midges are small biting insects (much like North American gnats) which are prevalent in the summer months. They are particularly bad on still, overcast days but do not bother you if you are moving, the wind is blowing, sun is shining, it’s raining, or you are inside.  So as long as you carry repellent for the odd occasion you may need it they shouldn’t have any impact on your experience.

Am I able to take my dog?

Unfortunately we are unable to accommodate walkers with dogs as many of the accommodation providers we use do not accept pets.

What happens if I can’t walk a stage?

You can use public transport or a local taxis to travel to the next overnight stop. Full details are included in your info pack.

Do you move the bags from place to place or do we?

You will be required to do both on this itinerary. On some days you will be required to take your bags with you on public transport between your overnights. You won't need to walk any of the routes with more than your day-pack though. Please check the ‘Included’ section for clarification on this.

What a fantastic adventure!

5

Islay Whisky Trail seemed a brilliant way to explore a beautiful island. We took on board Macs' suggestion and flew to the island from Glasgow, which was a very exciting way to arrive. Macs had organised three superb accommodations around the island for us. The walks were easy, the scenery breathtaking and we stumbled upon stunning hidden coves only accessible on foot. The local islanders were so friendly and always keen to stop and chat for a wee while. We did 2 distillery tours and popped into a further 4 to browse around their shops. More tours were possible with the walking schedule, but we spent a lot of time admiring the views and watching wildlife on this wonderful island. At the end of our whisky trail, we took the ferry back to the mainland where Macs had organised additional accommodation for us and topped off a fabulous week on Islay with a pleasant couple of days by Loch Fyne. It was truly outstanding and I've left a little piece of my heart on that island.

Karen

Lancing, West Sussex

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Islay Whisky Trails

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