Do not dis­turb

The re­mote Scot­tish is­land of Jura of­fers the ideal es­cape

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JENNY GROSS

For a quiet es­cape in Au­gust, Barack Obama heads to the golf cour­ses of Martha’s Vine­yard. Europe’s top politi­cians un­wind on the Mediter­ranean coast or by Tus­can vine­yards. But Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, trav­els to the lesser-known hol­i­day spot of Jura, in Scot­land’s In­ner He­brides archipelago. One sunny day re­cently, I set off for the misty, rugged is­land in search of soli­tude and an ad­ven­ture.

Known for its se­cluded beauty and sin­gle-malt whisky, this lit­tle is­land is where Ge­orge Or­well holed up in a farm­house, far away from the dis­trac­tions of Lon­don, and fin­ished his mas­ter­piece, Nine­teen Eighty-Four. In a 1947 let­ter, he de­scribed the is­land as “com­pletely wild” and “un-get-at-able”.

Th­ese days, it’s pos­si­ble to get from Lon­don to Jura in about four hours, fly­ing to the air­port at Is­lay and then tak­ing a quick ferry to Jura. But I am ea­ger to take in some beau­ti­ful High­land scenery, so I take a more leisurely train-bus-ferry-ferry-bus route, end­ing up 22 hours later at the Jura Ho­tel, a cosy, fam­ily-run white lodge on the windswept south­east coast of the is­land.

I awake early but re­freshed on my first morn­ing. In the ho­tel’s din­ing room over­look­ing the coast, I eat a hearty vege­tar­ian cooked break­fast and lis­ten to the pit­ter­pat­ter of rain against win­dow.

The weather is brisk, but I am ea­ger to ex­plore, so, bun­dled up in sweaters and a wa­ter­proof jacket, I head out to­wards the walk­ing trail rec­om­mended by the ho­tel wel­come book. On a bi­cy­cle rented from the Jura Bike Hire shop near the ho­tel, I ride along the coast, paus­ing for a rest un­der a canopy of tree­tops, which shield me from the rain, and to breathe in the scent of flow­ers and fresh air. I have heard that thou­sands of red deer live on the is­land but, as I cy­cle, birds are my only com­pany.

Af­ter a few kilo­me­tres, I leave my bike un­locked on the side of the road (the ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist has as­sured me it will be per­fectly safe) and set out on a trail sign­posted as Evan’s Walk. I hike for an hour or so, past banks of wild­flow­ers and over a small stream, and make it as far as one of the is­land’s three daunt­ing moun­tains, known as the Paps of Jura, be­fore ad­mit­ting de­feat and turn­ing around. The track is so boggy that my shoes sink deep into the mud with ev­ery step.

Back at the ho­tel, the food is fresh and de­li­cious. I’m a pescatar­ian, but I fall off the wagon with a thump; I can’t re­sist or­der­ing lamb sourced from neigh­bour­ing Is­lay. The next night, the wait­ress shows me how to crack open fresh lan­goustines, fished from the wa­ters around Jura, which I eat with new pota­toes and a glass of wine and feel thor­oughly con­tent.

Less than 50km long and 11km wide in some places, with a sin­gle main road, Jura is easy to nav­i­gate. In ad­di­tion to the Jura Ho­tel, Craig­house, the only vil­lage, has a church, a tea­room and a pub.

A li­brary ma­te­ri­alises ev­ery three weeks in the form of a van full of books. “It’s really nice hav­ing one of ev­ery­thing,” says Cather­ine McCal­lum, the owner of the ho­tel, who likes the is­land’s in­ti­macy. “If ev­ery­one’s out, you know they’ll be at the pub.”

Alex Dun­nachie, a tour guide who lives on the is­land, says he fell in love with Jura when he first vis­ited from Glas­gow three decades ago. “It’s just peace­ful,” he says. “I go to bed and hear the last birds whistling, and I wake up and hear the first birds whistling.”

On my sec­ond day, Dun­nachie and I drive north, past tow­er­ing cliffs and to­wards Ge­orge Or­well’s out­post, spot­ting seals swim­ming and deer with gi­ant antlers. We turn onto a smaller road, which ends at a beach, sur­rounded by rocks, grass and a few stone houses. Our des­ti­na­tion? A wooden stand with a hand­writ­ten sign ad­ver­tis­ing Tea on the Beach. In sum­mer, visi­tors can help them­selves to home­made cakes, tea and cof­fee from the ta­ble, for a do­na­tion. We both have a mug of tea, and some cake — a de­li­cious lemon driz­zle for me, chocolate for Dun­nachie. Sud­denly, spot­ting a trout or salmon in the shal­lows, he leaps to re­trieve his fish­ing rod from the car. While I sip my tea and enjoy the breath­tak­ing views of the cove, Dun­nachie pur­sues the fish. (It gets away.)

Dun­nachie drops me back at the ho­tel just in time for my small group tour of Jura’s whisky dis­tillery, one of the is­land’s main draw­cards. Though the dis­tillery was es­tab­lished in 1810, and re­built in 1963, I learn from our tour guide, Danielle Batey, that the peo­ple of Jura made whisky in their homes with pot stills as far back as the 1600s. Batey takes us through a se­ries of rooms, with whisky at dif­fer­ent stages of pro­duc­tion. “It smells a bit like ba­nanas at this stage,” she says as we take turns sniff­ing the enor­mous vats of bub­bling liq­uid.

At the end of the tour, I enjoy a dram of one of Jura’s sta­ple whiskies, Jura Ori­gin. On the ad­vice of lo­cals, I add a dash of wa­ter, which opens up the flavours and makes it eas­ier to drink. Back at the ho­tel, the sun fi­nally comes out. The light dances on the sur­face of the sea, and the dark waves that greeted me on my first day trans­form to glis­ten­ing shades of blue and green. A lo­cal man plays the bag­pipes as a pas­sen­ger boat pulls away from the shore to­wards the main­land in the dis­tance.

In the sum­mer of 1946, Or­well wrote to a friend in Lon­don, invit­ing him to visit. “You might find it rather paintable here,” he wrote. “The colours on the sea are in­cred­i­ble, but they change all the time.” • ju­ra­ho­tel.co.uk • ju­rawhisky.com • visits­cot­land.com • isle­ofjura.scot

THE WALL STREET JOUR­NAL

The Paps of Jura, top; Craig­house pier and dis­tillery, above; Jura stag, be­low

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