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Juliet Savigear

Well, there can be no better combination than a couple of dives in the clear Scottish waters followed by the warm, soothing sensation of one of the finest Scottish malts slipping down your throat. Oh, and in case one just isn’t enough, there is a whole host of different distilleries to enjoy ‘tasting’ at around the island.

Islay is a stunning island off the South West coast of Scotland. There is a wide choice of diving to do whether you’re into metal, fast drifts or wildlife and you can pretty much guarantee that you will be the only divers there, unless you bump into one of the local scallop divers. However, getting the dive sites to yourselves comes with its own problems, as there is no dive centre on the island, so you will have to take everything you need with you, including enough filled tanks for the diving you intend to do.

We headed up there in August last year, travelling from London in a white van, (so I’m now the proud holder of the title of ‘The only white van girl from Diving Leisure London’). Driving up through the night, brought us to Loch Fynne for a hearty breakfast before taking the ferry from the Kintyre peninsula. Once on the island, it’s time to move into a slower gear and don’t be alarmed that all the drivers wave at you as you pass on the roads – they’re a friendly bunch up there.
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Islay Boat and Skipper An early rise the following morning and a short drive to Port Askaig to meet the skipper of our boat, who would drop us in a short distance away from the harbour by Dunlossit Lighthouse. We were then in for a zippy glide over the rocky bed completely covered with dead mans fingers, a whole array of coloured seaweeds and swaying kelp. Nestling among this, there were anemones, urchins, scallops and crabs and probably much more if only you had time to look before the currents swept you passed. Looking into the green hues of the water there are hundreds of wrasse swimming all around. It is all too quick before the dive seems to be over and we’re back on board with a cuppa and Mars bar in hand, although a couple of our team were soon back into the water to help a local fisherman and check out the propeller on his boat.

Our second dive ran at an even quicker pace, as we sped over a sandy bed among forests of kelp. This dive site was set between the Island of Jura and Islay and despite a speedy jump into the water, the current had swiftly taken us away from the intended spot of the Chrysilla wreck. What we did see however, were a wide variety of crab and a huge number of some of the biggest starfish I have ever seen, benefiting from the oxygen-rich cooler waters. Not only that, we later stuffed our faces with the freshest lobster and scallops!

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Ardbeg Having planned our dives early, it was time for a wee bit of whisky tasting. Oh, and if you head over to Ardbeg, this is a top place for a spot of lunch where you can dine under the vaults of the old distillery. The Ardbeg single malt whisky is an exceptionally peaty number and you and your buddies can argue as to whether or not a touch of water should be added to your dram to ensure that you really bring out the flavours of the liquor – I firmly believe that you should.

The next morning, following the advice of a local scallop diver, we headed over to the Outer Narrows of Tarbert Loch off the Isle of Jura (the neighbouring island). If you’re happy to just slow down for a bit and let the timid sea-life pop out from their holes in the sandy bottom then this is macro heaven. The sea bed was littered with anemones, crabs of all different shapes and sizes, butterfish (so-named due to their slippery skin, making them impossible to pick up), feather-duster worms, enough scallops for a whole dive club to consume and a whole plethora of different creatures.

For those turned on by a bit of metal, our next dive would fit the bill, as we made our way to the Atlantic side of Islay off Ardnave Point, where the wreck of the Veni lies in 18 metres of water. This 321ft Norwegian wreck was sunk on 11th January 1948 when she hit Balach Rocks on the North side of Islay in bad weather. The ship now lies on its port side and is still largely in tact, with the boilers and engines clearly identifiable, and it is now surrounded by a beautiful kelp forest.

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  To finish off the weekend's diving, we decided upon a bit an adrenalin rush to really kick a**e. With a good skipper you can time it right to hit the tide change and a super-fast drift dive in front of the Bunnahabhain distillery and everything will pass you by in a blur and that’s without having drunk a drop of the golden liquor.


Getting there:
By Ferry: Caledonian MacBrayne operate the two hour crossing which runs twice daily throughout the year, once on Sundays, with additional sailings during the summer season. www.calmac.co.uk
By Air: British Airways run a 35 minute scheduled service, Monday - Saturday from Glasgow Airport to Islay, in the morning and afternoon. This is the quickest way and can provide spectacular views of the islands and Kintyre. This service is operated by Loganair. For information on schedules, contact British Airways at Glasgow +44 (0)141 887 1111 or Islay Airport +44 (0)1496 302022. To make bookings contact 0870 850 9850 or Islay Airport +44 (0)1496 302022. The timetable is also available online as well as bookings.

Accommodation: There are a variety of hotels, guest houses or self-catering apartments to stay at. For listings check out www.isle-of-islay.com

Skipper: Roger. The boat is licensed to carry 12 but with dive kit, 7-8 people is comfortable.

Nearest recompression chamber: Millport – 0845 408 6008 (24 hours)
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  Islay Distilleries:
Ardbeg Distillery – www.ardbeg.com
Bowmore Distillery – www.morrisonbowmore.com
Bruichladdich Distillery – www.bruichladdich.com
Bunnahabhain Distillery – www.bunnahabhain.com
Caol Ila Distillery – www.malts.com
Jura Distillery – www.isleofjura.com
Kilchoman Distillery – www.kilchomandistillery.com
Lagavulin Distillery
Laphroaig Distillery – www.laphroaig.com
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