Isle of Islay


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Islay, a Scottish island, known as "The Queen of the Hebrides" (Banrìgh nan Eilean), is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. It lies in Argyll just to the west of Jura and around 25 miles north of the Irish coast, which can be seen on a clear day. Scottish Gaelic is still the main language of the west of the island. The island's capital is Bowmore, famous for its distillery and distinctive round Kilarrow Parish Church. Port Ellen is the largest settlement.

Islay is the fifth largest Scottish island and the sixth largest island surrounding Britain.

Islay has just over three thousand inhabitants. It has a total area of just over 600 square kilometres (239 square miles). Its main industries are malt whisky distilling, and tourism largely based on whisky and birdwatching.

The island is home to many bird species and is a popular destination throughout the year with bird watchers, notably in February to see a large colony of Barnacle Geese. Resident birds include Chough, Hen Harrier, Oystercatcher, Cormorant and many wading birds.

The climate on Islay is often more clement than the Scottish mainland owing to the Gulf Stream.

The island's population is mainly centred around the villages of Bowmore, Port Ellen, and Port Charlotte. Other smaller villages include Portnahaven, Bridgend, and Port Askaig. The rest of the island is sparsely populated and mainly agricultural.

The south-western end of the main body is a largely rocky region called The Oa. The north western arm of the island is called the Rhinns of Islay. There are several lochs on the island including Loch Finlaggan, Loch Gruinart, Loch Gorm, Loch Indaal, Loch Ballygrant and Loch Allan.

Lochindaal, a sea loch which separates the Rhinns of Islay from the rest of the island, is formed along a branch of the great Glen Fault called the Loch Gruinart Fault, the main line of which passes just to the north of Colonsay. This separates the limestone, igneous inclusions and Bowmore sandstones from the Colonsay group rocks of the Rhinns. The result is occasional, minor earth tremors.

There are no Munros on Islay or Jura, the highest peak being Beinn Bheigier a Marilyn at 491 metres (about 1,610 feet).

The influence of the Gulf Stream keeps the climate mild compared to mainland Scotland. Snow is rarely seen and frosts are light and short-lived. One might expect therefore a gardener's paradise and indeed, it is not unusual to see exotic plants growing in gardens. However, the winter gales which sweep in off the Atlantic can make travelling and living on the island during the winter difficult, while ferry and air links to the mainland are frequently delayed. The weather tends to become more pleasant around Easter and the summer season then extends until well into September.

Islay has some of the finest brown trout fishing in Europe. The imported rainbow trout have not been released on the island and the "brownies" still dominate the freshwater ecosystems. In 2003 the European Fishing competition was held on five of the lochs. Most of the estates organise fishing on the rivers and lochs and maintain the banks for fishing. Sea angling is also popular especially over the many shipwrecks around the coast.

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