Come to one of Scotland’s gentlest islands for peaceful, simple camping on grass-backed sandy beaches.
Islay is a gentler proposition than many of its fellow Inner Hebridean islands—the climate is comparatively mild, grand yet mostly low-lying scenery is edged by sandy beaches, and the delightful communities are dotted with photogenic distilleries. Seemingly a benign backwater today, Islay was once the centre of the powerful Lords of the Isles dynasty, Britain’s most powerful landowners after the Scottish and English monarchs for many centuries. Islay is one of the greatest Scottish islands for camping, with most campers favouring the fertile sandy coastline for their pitch—particularly on its two big western peninsulas and along the entrancing south coast.
The peninsula thrusting southwest from Bruichladdich is picturebook Islay: everything that the island does best is here, from charming whitewashed seaside villages like Port Charlotte and Portnahaven to whisky distilleries, pristine sandy beaches, and lochside nature reserves. Iomairt Chille Chomain’s campsite at Port Mòr is a community-run spot by an important bird refuge for the endangered corncrake, just south of Port Charlotte.
Southwestern Islay is taken up by the long, sandy, dune-backed Laggan Bay, beside the tiny, somnolent airport and the island golf course. The beach’s southern end has the main campsite at beautifully located Kintra Farm, where basic facilities include a reading library. The Oa itself is Islay’s southwestern-most land, a seldom-trammelled place of craggy cliffs and abundant prehistoric sites and superb—if demanding—hiking.
One of the prettiest coastal roads of any Scottish island meanders from Port Ellen northeast via whisky distilleries Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, and then on a minor lane via Kildalton to terminate at Ardtalla. There are several spots to pull up and wild camp, including at road-end Ardtalla. Beyond this, the elemental coastal walk via Proaig and An Claddach bothy to Ballygrant—with several wild camping possibilities—awaits.
Jura is Islay’s wild sister, lying just across the Sound of Jura and accessible by regular boats from Port Askaig on Islay’s east coast. The island is far more rugged than Islay, a hiker’s delight crested by its three 2,300-plus-foot peaks, the Paps of Jura. The northwest-facing side of the island is rough and mostly pathless, while the more sheltered, woodsy southeast-facing shore with its several sandy beaches offer the best pitching prospects.