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Scotland’s ‘Island of the Deer’

March 26, 2024|SEE MORE TRAVEL

Join us as we venture along the single-track road that runs along the sparsely inhabited island’s east coast

Over 5,000 deer roam the almost uninhabited wilderness that is Jura, which the Norse named ‘Island of the Deer’. Arriving at Feolin, a short hop of the car ferry from Port Askaig on Islay, the contrast between the two neighbouring Inner Hebridean islands is stark. Where Islay is well populated with its lowland machir dune beaches, Jura, of a similar size, has only around 200 inhabitants and is dominated by the Paps of Jura. These three steep-sided quartzite mountains on the western side of the island are an omnipresent horizon as you travel along the single-track road along the east coast. At the northern edge of the island sits the rental cottage Barnhill House, to which George Orwell escaped to finish his dystopian vision of the future, 1984. You can still walk today in Orwell’s footsteps from the end of the public road, approximately 3 miles north of Ardlussa Bay, and experience the tonic of remoteness he must have felt as he headed towards the cottage.

misty landscape of Jura's east coast
rain covered thistle on the island of Jura

The Corryvreckan whirlpool, the world’s third largest, lies not far from Barnhill within the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Orwell visited the whirlpool by rowing boat and almost succumbed to its roaring dark waters, scrambling to safety nearby. Today, the intrepid can visit the whirlpool from the safety of a guided tour. Many cautionary tales have become legends from this unrelenting force of nature, and the island is imbued with a sense of the sacred and supernatural. The tallest of the Paps, Beinn an Oir or the Mountain of Gold, stands to the west of Beinn Shaintaidh, the Sacred Mountain. The final Pap in the trio, Beinn a’Chalois, the Mountain of Sound, is the smallest of the three. This area is a walker’s paradise, with far-reaching views if the weather is settled. During our own trip to Jura, the weather was cloudy and the rain softly drizzled, the Paps enshrouded by mist. 

group of trees in a rainy Scottish landscape on Jura

We travelled slowly along the single track, east coast road, with a growing sense of reverence for the seemingly untouched ancient landscape. Soon, the quietness struck us, nothing to be heard from the gull on the wind, or the sea eagle above. Perhaps they, too, felt like us. Perhaps they were at that place just out of reach, that landscape which is neither from a dream nor a memory but, somehow, might be both. As we reached the final walking path towards Barnhill, the weather grew tempestuous, matching our desire to retreat to the comfort of the known road, back towards civilisation via the Jura Distillery. We had not seen a single deer. The Island, however, we felt had somehow revealed itself to us without our knowing. Perhaps, like Orwell and the whirlpool, it decided to let us be.

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