The Isle of Jura is unlike any Scottish island we’ve visited before. One hundred and fifty miles due west from Glasgow, Jura sits between the mainland and a vast expanse of ocean looking out toward Newfoundland. Home to just over two hundred people, you might think the island is barren and, for the most part, empty, yet the first thing you realise after setting foot there is that you are not alone.
Jura is home to over six thousand deer. Indeed, the island’s name is derived from the old Norse word for ‘Deer Island’. Everywhere you look deer can be seen grazing, basking in the evening sun. At this time of year, the stags are rutting and the distant barks of males seeking mates echo around the island.
As we drive across the island, we forget about GPS. There’s only one road here. A single lane track with a strip of wild grass demarking it’s centre. Strangely, it only covers two thirds of the east coast of the island. If you want to venture into the far north, you’ll need to leave the car and proceed on foot for the remaining twelve miles. It’s no wonder George Orwell chose this remote spot to write his modern classic - 1984. On the rare instances that we meet oncoming traffic, we reverse to one of the many passing places dotted along the route. Other than that, we do as we wish. There’s one street sign. One pub. One shop...
...and, of course, one distillery. We are in Scotland, after all.
The Jura distillery has been producing delicate, light whiskies for over fifty years. There’s been a distillery on the island since the early nineteenth century, but none quite so famous as this one. The key to the unique flavour, we’re told, is the tall copper stills. Only the lightest particles make it out of the top during the distilling process, hence the smooth taste.
To drink a whisky on the island where it’s made is a great pleasure. We discover from a local that it is best drunk with a dash of water from a nearby byrne. Tap water used to be fine - the colour of light tea, it was flavoured by the earth, but in recent years a new water purification centre was installed on the island and now, the water is just too bland. That’s island life for you! No wonder the gaelic for Jura is ‘Diùra’ - meaning ‘tough’ or ‘durable’.
We spend four days exploring the Isle of Jura. With the Land Rover packed with our kit, we set off in search of the route less travelled. Most of the island is owned by three estates, who all play their part in managing the deer population by leading stalking parties.
With the season in full flow, we’re mindful not to get in the way, but we find a rocky, untamed trail off the road leading into the wilderness. As we crawl along, it’s as if we’re the only people here. Complete silence envelops us.
We round a corner to find the dusky grassland open up before us. Tucked between the hills is Loch Tarbet, a sea loch that nearly divides the island in two. With the tallest mountains on the island - the Paps - in the distance behind us, we find ourselves at the lochside just as the sun begins to set on the horizon. The water is perfectly still, the odd rowing boat or dinghy casting long shadows across the mirrored surface. A buzzard hovers overhead, and a herd of deer graze lazily on the far shore as the stag barks from the hillside.