The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Hold on to Your Hats!
Well we had rain and we had shine, but possibly the most notable feature of our stay in Jura, Islay and Colonsay was the wind. The weather came and went at the most astonishing speed, leaving rainbows and cancelled ferries in its wake. We were almost blown off cliffs, monuments and all three Paps, but still managed a bit of sunburn.
A great consolation to us that our accommodation on Jura was truly top notch – the holiday let of prime ministers, no less. Every evening we sat down to eat in the formal dining area, and, after a lip-smacking meal where each of the cooks tried to out-do the previous, we retired with our coffees and whiskies to the elegant drawing room. Each morning we woke to the gentle baa-ing of lambs and the sun rising over the peaceful waters of Tarbert Bay. At least we would have seen the sunrise if we’d got up at 5am like Ian.
The landscape on Jura is very rugged and the island is known for only having one footpath. Having walked at least part of the footpath, in places I don’t know that even that one really counted. Yomping across trackless bogs, fording bridgeless rivers and slithering around on vertical scree, all made the walking very challenging. Even quite modest mileages left you with exhilarating, thigh-burning exhaustion. However on the plus side we had the most gorgeous views of craggy shores, lonely bays, pristine wilderness. On the first walk James saw both a Hen Harrier and a Sea Eagle and plenty of other wildlife was seen during the holiday.
Aside from the wild beauty, Jura had other gems to offer. For culture you could visit the remote farmhouse of Barnhill, where George Orwell lived whilst he was writing ‘1984’. The lonely cottage is set in splendid isolation at the far end of the island, the nearest neighbour about a mile away. Away from the bogs of the interior, the northern coast is rocky and instead of tussocks there is grass underfoot and remnants of ancient woodlands with all their bluebells and primroses on show. A couple of miles beyond Barnhill and you got to the viewpoint for the Coryvrekkin - the famous whirlpool that nearly claimed Orwell’s life. I have to admit that on our visit to this natural wonder, it wasn’t quite the scary monster of legend – apparently you have to see it at both the right tide and right time of year to see it ‘whirl’.
So apart from luxury accommodation, natural beauty, incredible wildlife, famous literary connections and a legendary whirlpool, what else did the island of Jura have to offer? Well, there was a very nice tearoom and the distillery was running free tastings whilst we were there. All this definitely made up for the slightly patchy weather.
It’s four thirty on a Thursday afternoon and we’ve just descended the highest point on Jura, the rubbly summit of Beinn an Oir. We still have a three mile walk across trackless bog to get back to the car, which would probably see us back at the Lodge in time for a civilised cup of tea before dinner at seven. However, Fergus has a slightly panicky look about the eyes at the prospect of not ‘completing’ the Paps of Jura. We’d done the horrid one a few days previously, just done the biggest one and that left the littlest one un-bagged. We compromise by walking around the vertiginous head of the valley, but as Beinn Chaolais gets closer Dave P is also hearing the call of the mountain. At the decision point Dave and Fergus go up and Ali and Gerry go down. The ascent on already aching knees is a challenging slither on shifting scree, but the cloud is clearing and there is the promise of views over Jura, Islay and Colonsay in the golden evening light. The descent is worse, but you’ve earned those views and the bragging rights, so what’s a few miles of scree and bog? And how much more satisfying is your supper when eaten at 10pm and you’re super-hungry.
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