The Isle of Islay offers a plethora of photography opportunities. Miles of white Atlantic beaches, colourful sunsets, and awesome light all year round. The “Queen of the Hebrides“ does not compete with the likes of Mull or Skye when it comes to mountains, yet be assured that there is still plenty of drama to be found. I have compiled this list of five of my favourite places to take images on the island.
Saligo beach is located on the north west coast of Islay, reached by the minor ring road which circles Loch Gorm. A two-minute walk from the small parking area takes you over the dunes and reveals a relatively short stretch of beach. To the southern end is the mouth of the Saligo river. The skyline to the north is dominated by the rocks of Dun Bheolain, locally known as “opera house rocks” due to its uncanny resemblance to the famous opera house in Sydney. These make a great backdrop to images, although difficult to emphasise with the wider lens. If it is a sunset photo you are after, Saligo is where it’s at. Its westerly facing position allows it to receive unobstructed sunsets for almost all of the year and some say this area receives the best light in the UK. Saligo’s features are constantly changing with the tide and every visit will reveal some new composition. It’s probably best to visit while on a low tide as more of the rocks and sands are exposed.
2. Ardnave, Gruinart
Ardnave is a large promontory of farmland in the north of the Island. In my opinion, It is one of the most beautiful and peaceful areas on the Island. The interior is mostly comprised of sandy dunes and short grass, grazed by cattle and sheep. The best photography is found in the small stretches of beach which punctuate its rocky coastline. The east side of Ardnave gives great views over Loch Gruinart and to the hills beyond, although you will also want to take the circular walk to see what the west side has to offer. There are stunning views to the North of the Isles of Mull, Colansay and the much closer Nave Island. These do not make the best photographic subjects however due to their distance. As you explore the area, you will almost certainly meet some of Islay’s amazing wildlife. Ardnave is a hotspot for the rare and characterful Chough.
3. Lossit Bay
Lossit Bay is Islay’s hidden gem. This unspoiled, white sandy beach lies nestled away in a valley, protected from high cliffs on either side. Take the B road, signposted Kilchiaran, from Port Charlotte and head west into the Rhinns. After 7 miles or so you will see Lossit farm at the end of a private road on your right. Don’t take this road but instead carry on until you see a track leading from a gate which disappears over the crest of the hill. There is no parking here so it is perhaps best to carry on until suitable parking can be found. Take the afore mentioned track and follow it over the field until it eventually peters out. By now you will have had a glimpse of the secluded beach of Lossit Bay. Be careful in this field as the livestock can be dangerous, particularly in the summer. It is not advised to take dogs to this location. Continue to make your way downhill and on to the beach where you can spend literally hours exploring. You will rarely meet another soul here and will almost certainly have the place to yourself. Photographic compositions can be found on both sides of the bay and will you also be able to make use of the river as a leading line. Be sure to find a composition from an elevated viewpoint looking down on the beach in its entirety.
4. The Oa & Lower Killeyan
The Oa is a large outcrop of wild land in the south of Islay which can be reached by a single-track road west from Port Ellen. On the western tip of the Oa you will find the RSPB nature reserve and the American monument, which commemorates the Otranto and Tuscania disasters of 1918. There is a great circular walk from the carpark which allows spectacular views of the cliffs and across to Ireland. This walk can also be extended to take in the Oa’s highest point of Beinn Mhòr (202 metres). I find the best photos are to be had closer to the monument when the light is good. Care must be taken when trying to get shots close to the edge as one slip would spell certain death to the unwitting photographer.
A much less visited area of the Oa is the cliffs and shores of Lower Killeyan. Slightly north of the monument, the area can be reached by taking the fork in the track which leads down to a small number of houses. Parking is allowed in the sign posted area. Walk down through the gate and continue down through the field to the cliffs beyond. Appropriate footwear is required here if the area is to be properly explored. It is possible to get down to the beach via some muddy paths which weave down through grassy openings in the cliff face. Compositions can be difficult due to the messy and chaotic nature of the rocks, though with some experimentation, nice pictures are there to be had. This is a sunset location due to its westerly aspect, although long exposures of the sea stacks can be had at all times of the day. Have a look for the secret waterfall which is hidden in a gully in the middle of the beach. Some scrambling is required to get a proper view of this lovely fall and pool.
5. Machir Bay
The most popular of all Islay’s beaches is undoubtably the beach at Kilchoman, A.K.A Machir Bay. Though this is a well known and easily accessible location, it is still common to find yourself the only person on the entire mile stretch of beach. The beach is much longer than other beaches such as Saligo, however is comparatively featureless. As you walk from the car park onto the beach you may see the remains of an old steamer buried in the sand, tide permitting. This can provide some interest to your foreground. Rocks can be found at both the northern and southern ends of the beach. It is worth the walk to explore these two extremities. Do make sure to climb up into the dunes which bear down on to the beach for the wider view.
It may be noted that many of these locations reside in the west of the Island. There are many other sites such as Bunnahabhain, the Sound of Islay, Ardtalla, Ardberg, and the big strand which all offer great photography. As some of these areas can be hard to reach, I opted to keep this guide to places which are a little more accessible to visitors to the island. Do be sure to explore further however as images are to be found around every corner. Happy shooting.