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The local area guide to living in Isle of Islay

A remote and picturesque island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, the Isle of Islay, otherwise referred to as ‘The Queen of the Hebrides’, is perhaps best known for its whisky distilleries. The distilleries not only draw many to the region for holidays, they’re also a source of much of the work here, alongside agriculture and tourism. The stunning landscape is another of the major perks for residents – as well as the number of birds that live on the island. Islay has excellent beaches too, with Saligo Bay on the Atlantic coast and Singing Sands to the south.

Islay is 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, making it the fifth largest Scottish island and seventh largest island surrounding Great Britain. Despite its position, the climate here is relatively mild. This is thanks to the Gulf Stream, which tends to promise temperatures of a three degree minimum year round. Rainfall can be heavy in winter months though, with January usually seeing the worst of the rain. This is a result of storms from the Atlantic.

Information about the local residents

According to census data from 2011, the population of Islay was recorded as 3,228. This figure reveals a decline over the previous ten years, with the population 7% higher at the time of the 2001 census.

Bowmore is home to around a third of the population with almost 1,000 residents. Other major villages in Islay include Port Ellen, Port Charlotte and Portnahaven.

Nearby schools

As expected, there are very few schools on the island, with just five primary schools and one secondary school. The primary schools include Bowmore Primary, Keills Primary, Port Ellen Primary, Newton Primary, and Port Charlotte Primary School.

The secondary school, Islay High School, is named after the island and has around 200 pupils. In its latest inspection by Education Scotland, a number of the school’s features were praised. These included the school’s ‘ambitious and innovative curriculum’, and ‘the wide range of learners’ experiences, including those supported by a variety of local, national and international partnerships.’ Overall, the school was evaluated at ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in all areas.

Getting around

The best way to get in and out of Islay is via car and ferry. For travel around the island, the road networks are easy to navigate, but roads do tend to be fairly narrow and not as well maintained as in other areas. Farm animals may also slow down your journey. If you’re travelling short distances, it’s also common to cycle. The island is quite flat, making this a viable option.

Bus services are also available on the island, servicing Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Bowmore, Port Charlotte, Portnahaven, and Port Askaig. Bear in mind that services are limited on Sundays. Buses also run from Glasgow to Kennacraig, where you can catch the ferry.

Islay also has its own airport, offering flights to Colonsay, Oban, and Glasgow. By car, the island is around four hours and 30 minutes from Glasgow.

Local shops

If you’re wanting to stock up on your groceries, the largest supermarket on the island is the Co-op in Bowmore. Small grocery stores can also be found across the region in Port Ellen, Bridgend, Port Askaig, Bruichladdich, and Port Charlotte.

While there’s plenty to see and do on the island, there aren’t that many shops. The majority of shops you’ll find here are gift shops and independent craft stores. Handcraft businesses are located in Islay House Square, and include Islay Woollen Mill and Islay Quilters.

Golf, fishing, hillwalking, and visiting the island’s many distilleries are some of the more popular things to do here. There are also a number of festivals – including the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Islay Jazz Festival, the Rugby Festival and the Cantilena festival.

Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure the above information is up to date, some inaccuracies may occur. If you notice any inaccuracies please contact

All information was correct at time of publication and is provided in good faith.

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