Whisky galore

By James Carron

Venture west from the Scottish mainland and a two hour ferry crossing delivers you on to the magical island of Islay. Arrive at Port Askaig and the pier is the starting point for this low level route.

Head north along quiet country roads and the hamlet that is home to the famous, if unpronounceable, Bunnahabhain malt whisky is the next port of call. The distillery sits on the seafront, its bonded warehouses overlooking the Sound of Islay and the Paps of Jura across the water.

There are some fine stretches of beach here and a short detour on to the headland leads to the rusting hulk of a fishing trawler washed ashore in a storm and now stranded on the rocks.

The final leg of the walk, through mature woodland, includes two beautifully serene lochans hidden in the trees.

From Port Askaig, the walk starts with a fairly strenuous pull up the A846 as it rises steeply from the harbour, gaining height by way of two tight hairpin bends. Continue to climb as the road straightens out and follow it past a lane on the right leading to Caol Ila. Walk towards Keills but, just before the village, the road to Bunnahabhain leaves the A846 on the right.

The single-track road rises to a steading at Persabus where it turns sharp right and climbs over open country. Stay with the road past Loch nam Ban and continue on to larger Ardnahoe Loch. The road climbs again before dropping to Bunnahabhain, a tiny village on the coast dominated by its distillery.

Follow the road down to the distillery where a shingle beach skirts along the front of the complex. The Bunnahabhain name is painted in bold black letters across the building. The ship wrecked fishing vessel is out on Rubha a'Mhill and is well worth a visit. To reach it, follow the beach under the pier and continue to the far end. Pick up a path by a row of distillery cottages and this leads round the coast to the boat. Then retrace your steps to the distillery.

Climb up the road from the distillery and, just beyond the hairpin bend, a track bears right, heading west over open land. It curves left and then right crossing the Abhainn Araig by a bridge. The track climbs in a straight line for a short distance before swinging right. It rises over open moor, at times in quite a deep trench, to reach the edge of the forest.

The high gate at the edge of the plantation is frequently locked so may have to be climbed. Once over, the track rises through the trees to a boarded-up cottage and the junction of tracks at Staoisha Eararach. Here there are fine views east to Jura. Head south along the track passing a ruined cottage at Staoisha and, a quarter of a mile further on, you reach the edge of the forest.

Cross the ladder stile here and the track spans two small burns before rising to an unlocked gate east of the croft at Balulive. The route bears right, avoiding the steading, and continues south, passing through a gate where the farm access track and public road meet to join up with the A846 one and a half miles on.

Turn right and follow the main road to Ballygrant. The route is fairly quiet and a grassy verge keeps you off the tarmac. At Ballygrant there is an inn and a small shop (closed at lunchtime) for refreshments.

Leave the A846 on the minor road opposite the Post Office and head out past several houses and the quarry to a driveway on the left to Lossit Lodge. Follow this until you reach a track on the left and let this lead you into the trees. There is another junction at the west end of Loch Ballygrant. Turn left here and the track skirts along the north side of the lochan, continuing through a band of trees to Loch Allan.

The track curves round the north end of the loch and climbs to a gate. Continue through this and, when high point is reached, the way descends to join the Dunlossit House driveway. Turn left and, beyond a gatehouse, rejoin the A846 just above Port Askaig.


Distance 14 miles/22km. ;
Maps OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheets 60 or 61. ;
Start Pier at Port Askaig (grid ref NR 432693). ;
Parking Public car park behind Post Office. ;
Grading Quiet island roads and tracks. Suitable for fit and able walkers. Dogs on lead due to sheep grazing.