Jura is an island in the Inner Hebrides close to the Isle of Islay. Only 200 inhabitants live across the island’s 142 square miles, which makes Jura one of the least inhabited places in Scotland.
Visitors can explore the open landscape by taking a ferry from Port Askaig on Islay and cycling or driving around the A846 on Jura, which offers an enjoyable journey along the east coast of the island.
The Isle of Jura is often considered to be one of the wildest and hardest-to-reach places on the west coast of Scotland, even though it’s only 60 miles from Glasgow as the crow flies.
Three conical mountains known as the Paps of Jura, which are visible from the mainland, dominate the island. These mountains are a popular challenge for hikers, especially the highest peak, Beinn an Òir, which means ‘Mountain of Gold’ in Scottish Gaelic.
Each year, the island hosts the Jura Fell Race, a challenging event that takes runners across the Paps and covers a distance of about 17 miles (28 kilometres) with roughly 2,370 metres of ascent.
However, the majority of visitors are daytrippers from Islay who either cycle or drive around the eastern side of the island. There’s only one road, which is single-track and known locally as the ‘Long Road’, that stretches about 30 miles from the south to the north end of the island. It’s not in the best condition, to be honest, but it’s by far the best way to explore Jura as the interior of the island is covered with thick grasses and bogs, which makes walking tough going, even for seasoned hikers.
Just 200 people live on this picturesque island, many of whom are employed in the fishing industry and live in the east coast village of Craighouse. This is a small village, but it’s notable for having a whisky distillery along with a large hotel overlooking a picturesque bay, so it’s certainly worth visiting if you decide to tour the island.
Although Jura is quite small at 142 square miles, it’s absolutely full of wildlife and a visit will almost certainly guarantee sightings of herds of red deer, whose numbers currently hover around 5,000. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that deer on Jura outnumber humans 25 to 1!
1: The scenery on Jura is amazing, as is the amount of wildlife, so pack binoculars in your backpack to make the most of a visit (see my guide to recommended binoculars).
2: The distillery offers an interesting tour that’s a reasonable price considering they include a couple of drams, and the shop is pretty good too.
3: Jura has some beautiful sandy bays. Stunning, in fact, and as the island is so quiet, you can visit many of them and find you’re the only person there, even in the height of summer.
1: Check the ferry timetable page for timing revisions before setting out.
2: Facilities are very limited on Jura, so I suggest packing a lunchbox and water bottles if you’re going on a day trip. I took a Berghaus backpack filled with travel essentials, and it served me very well.
3: If you set off across the island for a walk, watch out for the blanket bog which soaks up water like a sponge. Wear waterproof boots (boot reviews), or you’ll end up with soggy socks within minutes.
Chief amongst the attractions on Jura are the Paps, which offer a challenging climb, though at under 3,000 feet they sit firmly in Corbett territory rather than being classified as Munros. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth climbing, though, as the views are stunning – which I can personally vouch for having puffed my way to the top of Beinn an Oir.
I won’t go into details about the route, but I started from a small parking area on the A846 opposite the turning to Knockrome. The return walk took around 8 hours and was about 10 miles in total, with a lot of loose scree towards the summit, so it’s not really suitable for first-time mountain walkers.
If you’d like to climb Beinn an Oir yourself, I recommend purchasing a waterproof paper map from Ordnance Survey which covers the entire island. Alternatively, get an OS Maps mobile app subscription, but make sure you take an extra battery power pack. Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.
Other attractions include the famous Corryvreckan, the world’s third-largest whirlpool, which is a short boat ride to the north. Strong tidal flows washing between the islands of Jura and Scarba are what cause the whirlpool, where tidal water rushes over a deep hole in the seabed. It’s a spectacular sight, but I wouldn’t advise going out there on your own.
Divers frequently cite the Corryvreckan as one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the British Isles, and having witnessed it myself I can see why. You can take boat tours to the whirlpool from both Islay and Jura, but I recommend Jura Boat Tours who have a fast (and great fun) RIB to get you there and back in double-quick time.
Back on land, another attraction is the Isle of Jura distillery, which was founded all the way back in 1810. Isle of Jura whisky ranges in flavour from non-peated to heavily peated, so it manages to bridge the gap between the sweet floral notes of mainland whisky and the often medicinal whisky produced on Islay. I tried a few samples during my visit and I highly recommend both ‘Origin’ (honey finish) and ‘Prophecy’ (peat finish).
You can join a distillery tour for around £15 per person, but be aware that booking is essential as spaces are limited. Remember, there’s a good chance you’ll be given a sample or two during your tour, so if you drive, you won’t be able to drive back as Scottish law has a zero-tolerance policy for drink driving.
Thankfully, you can book a room at the Jura Hotel next door, which features stunning views overlooking the harbour where you’ll be treated to a landscape of sandy bays and deep blue waters, guaranteeing a memorable evening of watching the sunset with a whisky in hand.
Another recommended place to visit is Barnhill Farmhouse, located on the far northern edge of the island. This house was a favourite retreat for George Orwell and it’s so remote you’ll need a 4×4 to get there. Orwell was so taken with the remoteness of this part of the island that he wrote 1984 while staying there.
Fianlly, with regards to walking routes, one trail that’ll show you some of the best sights of the island crosses both coastlines on a 5-mile circuit from Loch Tarbert on the west coast to Tarbert Bay on the east. There’s a small parking area at the Loch Tarbert side where you’ll be able to set out to explore Jura’s rugged coastline and windswept grasslands, and while you’re enjoying the hike, keep your eyes open for golden eagles, otters, and seals, which all thrive in the area.
Things to Do
Wildlife Exploration: The Isle of Jura is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, boasting a rich ecosystem teeming with red deer, sea birds, and even the occasional golden eagle. Guided wildlife tours provide an informative experience that allows visitors to appreciate the island’s wild animals in their natural habitat.
Jura Whisky Distillery Tour: Jura is famous for its delicious single-malt Scotch whisky. The Jura Distillery offers guided tours that offer insights into the whisky-making process, from malting to maturing in casks, and whisky aficionados will no doubt relish the chance to sample a dram or two of Jura’s celebrated spirits.
Hiking and Hillwalking: With its rugged terrain and spectacular vistas, Jura is a paradise for hikers. The mountainous peaks of the ‘Paps of Jura’ offer challenging climbs and panoramic views of the island, though would-be adventurers should note that the trail is challenging and requires a fair amount of scrambling over loose scree.
Sea Kayaking: For an exhilarating adventure, visitors can take to the waters around Jura on a kayaking trip. This activity provides a unique perspective on the island’s rugged coastlines, secluded bays, and abundant marine life.
Exploring Historical Sites: Jura’s history is steeped in mystery and intrigue and there are numerous sites to discover for amateur historians. From the ancient standing stone at Tarbert to the haunting ruins of Claig Castle, these sites provide a fascinating glimpse into the island’s past.
Things to Do Nearby
1: Paps of Jura. This range of 3 peaks is easily recognisable from any point on Jura. Though they’re not the highest mountains in the Western Isles by any means, they’re one of the most popular with hill climbers thanks to the stunning views they offer from any of the summits.
The highest mountain – Beinn an Oir – is 2,576 feet (785 metres) which means it’s categorized as a Corbett, while the other two – Beinn a’ Chaolais and Beinn Shiantaidh – are categorized as Marilyns.
2: Corryvreckan whirlpool. The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba on the west coast of Scotland.
The combination of strong currents and large waves lead to this particular stretch of water becoming known as one of Britain’s most dangerous marine locations, as well as being home to the world’s third-largest whirlpool. Visiting the whirlpool requires expert navigation so visitors are recommended to join an organized tour to see it.
3: Isle of Jura Distillery. In addition to being one of the island’s main tourist attractions, Jura Distillery is famous for the quality of the single-malt whisky it produces. The distillery operates guided tours which explain the whisky-making process in full, as well as the history of Jura whisky. Afterwards, visitors can enjoy a sample in the visitor centre before purchasing an exclusive bottle from the on-site shop.
4: Walking. Jura is a superb island for getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and there are lots of walking trails to enjoy across its 142 square miles. Although much of the interior is open moorland there are a number of highly recommended walking trails around the coastline, especially in the area around the island’s main settlement of Craighouse.
5: Wildlife watching. As a remote island with just 200 permanent human residents, Jura is a haven for wildlife. Arguably the main wildlife attraction is the island’s population of red deer which number between 6-7,000, but wildlife spotters can also enjoy numerous sightings of golden eagles, sea eagles, hen harriers, buzzards, seals, dolphins, otters and many more animal species.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get to the Isle of Jura?
The most popular route to the Isle of Jura is taking a ferry from either of the mainland ports of Kennacraig or Oban to the Isle of Islay, then taking the small car ferry from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin on Jura.
How much does it cost to visit the Isle of Jura?
There is no fee to visit the Isle of Jura other than ferry costs. See the Calmac website for details.
Why are they called the Paps of Jura?
The name ‘pap’ originates from an old Norse word meaning breasts. The mountains were given the name ‘Paps of Jura’ due to their appearance.
What visitor facilities are there on the Isle of Jura?
Visitor facilities are limited on Jura. The main settlement is Craighouse, which has a village store and a hotel with a restaurant. The newly-opened Ardfin golf estate has luxury accommodation and a restaurant.
Can you drive on the Isle of Jura?
Yes, it is possible to drive on Jura, as long as you have a valid driver’s license and the necessary documents for your vehicle. However, it’s important to note that some areas of Jura may have difficult terrain, so it’s a good idea to check the road conditions before setting out.