JURA. AN UNBAGGED island. Always wanted to go there, never been. Jura lies aslant
between Islay and Argyll, and is very sparsely populated - well, by homo sapiens, any-
way; there are only about 200 human residents. There are, however, zillions of red deer,
though from what I could gather these don't seem to have developed the same skills re-
garding ambushing innocent Land Rovers as their demoniac cousins on Islay, presumably
through lack of practice and opportunity. Jura's a steeply, roundedly mountainous, deeply
rugged island that looks like it's almost been torn in two by the Atlantic gales. (Actually,
for the purposes of the geographical and historical background in my novel The Crow
Road , it was torn in half; I'd decided I wanted to locate the fictional town of Gallanach
near Crinan, on the mainland. I needed the place to have a deep-water port with easy ac-
cess to the Atlantic and I didn't want to edit out the Corryvrecken so I blithely cut Jura in
two. You get to do this sort of thing when you're a writer.)
Jura is a short ferry ride from Port Askaig on Islay's east coast, close to the Caol
Ila distillery, so - as we're here, the weather's fine and there's a whisky book to be re-
searched - it has to be done. The perfect trip will include a visit to the distillery, a look
at the house where George Orwell wrote 1984 , and then a hike to the northern tip of the
island to see the tidal race there between Jura and Scarba, that wide, roaring whirlpool
called the Corryvrecken where Orwell once nearly drowned.
We managed the first two of these, missing the Gulf of Corryvrecken because we need
to make the last ferry.
Meanwhile we've visited Caol Ila, the slightly less remotely sited but even more
precipitously shore-pitched neighbour of Bunnahabhain, a couple of miles up the coast.
Standing between the big, modern still house and the sea, the view is stunning whichever
way you look: to Jura, its mountains mounded high and hazed across the waves, or back
at the great coppery bulks of the four great stills, gleaming behind giant windows in the
maritime light of an unseasonably warm spring; Ann practically has to be prised out of
the visitors' waiting room, mesmerised by the vista.
Yet again, this is a whisky that could well be a total star by now if it had had a bit of
marketing oomph behind it, and maybe a bit more consistency in its younger bottlings.
It's oily and seaweedy - hardly a surprise, so close to the water - toasty and brisk. Caol
Ila is probably the least familiar, least lauded Islay, but find a good one and it'll stand up
to almost anything. Arguably the very distinctive toastedness of Caol Ila has mitigated