Wee Tam's Review
The dry stone walls and turf roofs of Coillabus Lodges are perfectly at home sitting high up on the rugged hillside of Islay's Oa Peninsula and their unusual, curved shape is easy on the eye. The beauty of being up so high is that we are rewarded with long, glorious views and the lodges have been built with views in mind, with their full length panoramic windows looking out across the hills to the sea.
This quiet, romantic spot is a truly wonderful place to unwind and perfect for a honeymoon or special anniversary. Once inside our lodge, many treats await us and we really do feel spoiled. Sitting on the large, comfy sofa we put our feet up and enjoy the view in three directions; we even spot a golden eagle casually landing on a hummock and then effortlessly lifting its huge wings to take off again, as if in slow motion. The only sounds up here are the skylarks singing and the breeze in the long grass, occasionally punctuated by a lamb calling its mother or a sheepdog barking in the distance.
The lodge is the ultimate in cosiness, with a glowing wood stove for cold days and heated floors throughout the house. If we don't feel like going out, we simply put on one of the soft, fluffy robes that are provided and take our pick from the lovely home spa treatments, followed by a sauna and a dip in the outdoor bath tub – all in the comfort of our own home. It really is as easy as that.
When it comes to mealtimes, it's a pleasure to use the kitchen; everything we need is here and of good quality. We are being especially lazy though and arranged for delicious gourmet meals to be cooked for us by the lovely chef at Bridgend Hotel, adding to the feeling of being utterly indulged. Oh and I must recommend Ma MacKinnons tasty marmalade with whisky spread on oatcakes when feeling like a snack – both provided in our welcome hamper.
It’s wonderful that all this luxury is here for us to enjoy and is dog friendly too – we can hardly believe our luck! Wee Tam is very good at chilling and will happily sleep all day; the enclosed garden is perfect for letting off steam by chasing a ball or tail, but he also loves to get out and about, so eventually we stir ourselves to explore the riches that Islay has to offer: its rugged landscapes, beautiful beaches, attractive fishing villages and scattered arts and crafts outlets.
We don’t have to go far to find some great walks. Just up the road is the RSPB trail round the Oa, where we spot red-legged choughs and majestic highland coos (dogs on a lead here). In the other direction we walk from the local cemetery along the fine, sandy beach at Kilnaughton with its ruined bathing hut, past the lighthouse at Carrag Fhada to the Singing Sands, where huge, jaggy rocks stick up from the beach like massive teeth.
Although we’re not really on the whisky trail, we can’t come to Islay without visiting some of her distilleries and experiencing that glorious glow from the robust, peaty nectar on its native soil. From Port Ellen we take a very pleasant six-mile walk along a designated foothpath, taking in Laphroig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, where some of our favourite Islay malts are made.
A short ferry crossing over the sound of Islay from Port Askaig to Feolin takes us to Jura, a beautiful, wee island (human population 180, deer population 5,000) which is only accessible by boat. The Jura Distillery has an interesting history (as well as its lovely whisky) and the famous Paps rise up dramatically, crying out to be climbed. Sadly, that full day’s walk will have to wait until next time…but then that gives us an excuse to come back!
We love Islay; it really does feel like another world with its gentle luminosity, its weather which changes from one minute to the next and a generally relaxed and upbeat atmosphere. Wee Tam was made so welcome and made so many new friends, both canine and human. Coillabus is a place I’m sure we’ll come to again and again. Now that we’re getting the hang of pampering ourselves here, we can’t wait to repeat the experience!