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Islay Travel Guide

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Islay © docentjoyce

Known as the 'Queen of the Hebrides', Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Islands and is world famous for its single malt whiskies, breathtaking scenery, fascinating wildlife and friendly locals. The island also has a rich and fascinating history, originally inhabited by early settlers who came here after the last Ice Age in around 7,500BC as fishermen and hunters.

Many tourists come to Islay to sample its exceptional whiskies. Islay boasts a whopping eight distilleries on the island, and is home to single malt labels such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Ardbeg, which all have the strong peaty character considered to be characteristic of the Islay malts, while Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich are lighter and Bowman and Kilchoman more medium-bodied.

Whiskies aside, Islay features some notable sightseeing attractions. The archaeological sites are captivating: the Cultoon stone circle, which dates back to the early Bronze Age is a must-see; and the Kildalton High Cross, Scotland's last unbroken ringed Celtic cross, dating back to around the year 800, is worth a visit. More active visitors can enjoy a round of golf at the Machrie Hotel's links, a leisurely cycle along the quaint island roads, world-class fly fishing in Loch Gorm for brown trout, horse-riding on the deserted beaches, and even hill walking to discover the island's interior. Walk along the eastern shore and take in a beautiful sunrise as seabirds and gulls swoop above in the crisp morning air and admire the views across to Jura, which, not surprisingly, boasts its own brand of world-class single malt whisky.

Islay also offers a variety of wildlife such as grey seals, otters, shags, red deer, peregrine, golden eagle, wildcats and adders. Bird watching is another main tourist attraction because of the large flocks of wild geese which visit Islay each winter (October to May), as well as the variety of rare birds that can be spotted there, like the corncrake and the chough.

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