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Island Holidays
Established 1987

Islay, Colonsay and Jura

Birding, exploration and history

View of Port Askaig with boats and the Paps of Jura in the background

There is something magical about Islay – an atmosphere unique to the Inner Hebrides and enhanced by glorious and varied scenery and a rich history and culture, to say nothing of lots of whisky distilleries! The most southerly of the Inner Hebrides, Islay is an island of varied and attractive landscapes with a beautiful coastline of sea lochs, spectacular cliffs and long, wide, deserted sandy beaches. Inland are upland heather moors and hills, actively worked peat bogs and freshwater lochs, whilst gentler views are produced by mature woodlands and extensive areas of farmland.

Nearby, to the north-west, Jura is a much more rugged island with far more red deer than people! The open upland wet heath is dominated by The Paps – stark peaks of rock and moorland rising majestically to over 2,000 feet. In sharp contrast are the formal gardens of Jura House which should be in full bloom at the time of our visit.

Colonsay is a much smaller island with pretty, neat cottages and crofts, imposing cliffs and fantastic white sandy bays – with not a deck chair in sight! To its south, connected by a causeway at low tide, is Oronsay – an RSPB reserve with a remarkable ancient priory with some superb examples of carved Celtic crosses.

We'll be based at Port Askaig on Islay for the duration of the holiday, making day trips to Colonsay and Jura by ferry. On the natural history front we'll be listening for calling Corncrake – and hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive bird. Islay is a stronghold for the attractive but endangered Chough and it also boasts healthy raptor populations – it's not unusual to see seven species in a day – including White-tailed Eagle if we're lucky.

Add to the excellent birdwatching the opportunity to see otters, deer, seals and dolphins, all mixed in with the rich history and heritage, and you have a wonderfully relaxed holiday full of diverse interest.

Kildalton Cross

Key facts

  • Islay's Wintering Geese: Winter birding, exploration & history
  • Fully guided group tour
  • Departure: 02 July 2018
  • Nights: 5
  • Fully inclusive cost: £1,345
  • Single room supplement: one single room no supplement, thereafter £500 (classic twin/double). Superior room supplement: £225.
  • Deposit: £250 pp.
  • Meal Basis: Full Board
  • Activity level: Easy
  • Tour leader: Peter Roberts
  • Maximum Group Size: 8
  • Travel: FlyBe
  • Departs: Glasgow International Airport
  • Included in cost: Air fares, full board accommodation, transport, all excursions and entrances, Island Holidays guide.
  • Not included in cost: Travel insurance, tips, drinks and items of a personal nature.
  • Islay, Colonsay & Jura 2018 detailed itinerary

Your tour leader

Peter RobertsPeter Roberts lives on the Scottish island of Islay and has been a keen naturalist since childhood in London. While birds are his main interest, close contenders include whale-watching, the big game animals of Africa, snorkelling and the study of insects. A varied, lifelong career has included conservation and wildlife-related work from nature reserve management and teaching wildlife field courses, to ornithological survey and research, environmental consultancy and work for the UK government's Department of the Environment. Wardening the bird-ringing station on the Welsh island of Bardsey for seven years and a year managing the Aldabra Research Station in the Indian Ocean stimulated a passion for seabirds and islands. His tour-leading work over the past 35 years has taken him to nearly 100 countries worldwide from Antarctica to the Arctic and to all seven continents. Peter has an MSc in woodland invertebrate ecology and published research on various subjects from feeding ecology of fruit bats to bird migration, identification and behaviour through to ecology of seabirds and Red-billed Choughs.

Your itinerary

Day 1
The short flight from Glasgow leaves at 0830 hours (to be confirmed), arriving on Islay just 40 minutes later where your tour leader will be waiting to meet you and drive you to your hotel which will be your base for the holiday.

Day 2
A day on Islay birdwatching at the Rhinns and the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve. This is one of the prime areas for the largest concentrations of breeding Lapwings, Redshank, and Snipe in the region. We will also be looking out for raptors: Common Buzzard a certainty and Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin, Sparrowhawk and Golden Eagle all possible. We could also call in to the windswept dunes and sandy beaches of Machair Bay where Choughs tend to congregate. A visit to Finlaggan should be worthwhile. There is an excellent Visitor Centre and a short walk amongst the relics of ancient Clan buildings. You may wish to walk the riverside paths through the woods at Bridgend to search for birds such as Goldcrest, Treecreeper, Dipper, finches, tits and thrushes. We will also be close-by the Islay Woollen Mill where you can see displays of weaving, old weaving machinery and perhaps buy some of the gorgeous tartan clothing available. (This mill supplies tartan to Prince Charles and for famous film sets such as Braveheart and Rob Roy.)

Day 3
We will take the scheduled ferry sailing for a day trip to Colonsay, allowing us about five hours on the island. We'll visit Colonsay House to tour its beautiful flower gardens and fit in as many of the other sites as possible depending on the specific interests of the group. We can search for Choughs and Corncrakes amongst the crofts, or, if tides permit dash across to the RSPB Reserve of Oronsay to view its ancient Priory ruins.

Day 4
A second day on Islay, perhaps driving to the very attractive south-east coastline with its wooded coves and offshore skerries full of seals. We can include a visit to one of Islay's famous whisky distilleries and visit the Kildalton Cross – one of the finest early Christian Celtic crosses in Britain, standing in an ancient churchyard with ornate 14th-15th century grave slabs. If time allows, we could continue to the Oa – a peninsula on the extreme south-west of the island with good chance of Choughs and Golden Eagles and the site of a memorial erected by the USA Government to 266 American servicemen who perished just off the shore in the torpedoed ship “Tuscania” in 1918.

Day 5
Today we will take the short ferry crossing to the island of Jura from Port Askaig. The one road hugs the rugged and attractive coastline and offers many memorable views and excellent chances to find otters. We'll surely see plenty of Red Deer today and perhaps a White-tailed or Golden Eagle or two. We'll head towards the north of this spectacular island where George Orwell spent a reclusive period writing his famous novels and, if the weather's nice, we might have Tea on the Beach!

Day 6
It's a relatively early start to catch the 0830 flight (to be confirmed) to Glasgow so that everyone is able to get home the same day.

Please note that although we will try to visit all the sites mentioned, the actual itinerary will be determined by weather, tides and the presence of any birds of particular interest.