We’ve put together a comprehensive whisky sailing guide of Scotland's west coast!
December 10th, 2018
Here at Flamingo Yacht Charters, we write regular blogs that we hope will inspire readers to hire one of our yachts and sail around Scotland’s majestic coastline. Anywhere you sail in Scotland will be incredible, and Largs Yacht Haven is perfectly positioned for anyone planning to explore Scotland’s West coast. If you are a whisky lover, you are really in luck as this part of Scotland is littered with whisky distilleries that make Scotland’s West Coast perfect for a whisky-centric sailing adventure. With this in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive whisky sailing guide to help you plan your trip!
Eastern Kyle of Bute (Arran in the distance)
*A note about the stopping order of this whisky sailing trip
Most people are attracted to sailing because it offers absolute freedom to explore at their own pace. So, rather than offering a strict itinerary of stops, we’ve given you a suggestion for a trip that could last around 7 days and highlights some of the best whiskies and scenic spots along the West Coast. We leave it to you to use this to plot your own course and lengthen or shorten your journey at your leisure.
Aerial view of Crinan
If you are planning to head to the far-flung distilleries of the Western Isles we would suggest heading for the Crinan canal first. Once you have picked up your yacht from our base at Largs Yacht Haven and familiarised yourself with your vessel, you should head northwest, up the Firth of Clyde towards Portavadie, Tarbert, and Ardrishaig. This is a beautiful part of Scotland with plenty to see and do on the way if you have the time. In Tarbert, you can stroll around the old fishing village, visit a 14th century castle that was once inhabited by Scotland’s national hero, Robert the Bruce or just head to the pub. In Portavadie, you can relax in the spa or rent bikes or even just walk along the peaceful coastal paths before enjoying some locally sourced food on board or in the restaurant at the marina resort.
You may wish to travel straight through the Crinan canal from Ardrishaig or you could choose to stop off in quaint Cairnbaan on the way to explore the area and get a bite to eat or moor up for the night.
Open swing bridge on the Crinan Canal, between Crinan and Ardrishaig
Travelling through the Crinan Canal is a joy. This is a supremely tranquil part of the world. There are few things as calming as crawling slowly along the canal in a yacht; it’s an excuse to take things as easy as possible and just take in the views as you dream of the distilleries that await you. Once you reach the other side, you can enjoy the beautiful seaside town of Crinan. If you have enough time, it’s well worth taking a walk through Crinan Wood and Knapdale Forest.
The Jura Coast
Now the true whisky part of this journey begins! As you exit the Crinan canal, you’ll see the Inner Hebrides looming in front of you. This amazing archipelago is home to many of Scotland’s most important whisky distilleries and to some of Scotland’s most beautiful islands including Islay, Mull, Rum, Jura and Skye.
Jura, with its jagged peaks rising up from the sea, is the first stop on your recommended route and its full-bodied whisky will be first in your tumbler. Jura whisky is famous all around the World for its nuanced notes of sweetness and smokiness. There is only one distillery on the island and it runs tours all-year-round, but you will need to book in advance.
Once you’ve sampled the whisky, take the time to explore the island of Jura. It’s a beautiful place with its own very special character. If you are a keen hill-walker, you could take a hike up the three imposing mountains that make up the Paps of Jura, or just relax and have another dram instead while you enjoy the surroundings and chat with the locals!
Stunning Islay coast
Leaving Jura, we would recommend that you head for Port Ellen on Islay. It is the ideal place to moor up before visiting the myriad of distilleries on Islay. This wee island is a whisky lover’s paradise with 8 working distilleries to choose from including some of the best-known whisky names in the world; Ardbeg, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Isla and Kilchoman.
The whiskies of Islay are best known for their smoky, salty flavours which come from the water and the island peat that is kissed by the seaspray before entering the traditional distilling process. The distilleries are all very welcoming and make for fascinating visits. If you are a distillery aficionado, it is worth noting that on the island, only Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Kilchoman have their own malting floors.
In terms of taste, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig are the “big peaty boys” for those who like a punchy, smoky-flavoured robust whisky that makes you instantly feel like you are sitting by a fire in a cosy cottage. Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain, Caol Isla & Bowmore are slightly less smoky on the palate and have lighter mossy notes evoking thoughts of the sea and the greenery of the island.Kilchoman is an interesting farm distillery which opened in 2004 and they even grow their own barley which goes into their whisky production resulting in a dram that is said to taste of dried fruits, dark chocolate and peat smoke.
When you have completed your whisky mission, Port Charlotte is a lovely little seaside town to wander around before you head off to sea again.
A selection of Scottish whisky
Lighthouse on the Isle of Mull
After Islay, if you are heading south again, we would recommend sailing around the Mull of Kintyre to Campbeltown (weather and tide permitting). Perhaps sing a verse or two of Paul McCartney’s 1977 hit song ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as you go! Campbeltown has plenty of restaurants and shops for you to choose from if you need to re-stock.
Although Campbeltown once claimed to be the whisky capital of the world with over 30 distilleries in its heyday, it now only boasts three: Spingbank, Glen Scotia, and Glen Gyle.
Taste-wise you will find Springbank to have a strong, peaty, smoky flavour with a hint of the sea. Glen Scotia is lighter and fresher tasting with mossy, grassy notes whilst the Kilkerran whiskies which are produced by the Glen Gyle distillery tend to be lightly peated with fruity notes.
If you want a wee break from distillery hunting, you could take a wander up to An Ceardach Garden. This used to be a blacksmith’s cottage with five acres of abandoned land, but several local gardeners have transformed this space into an incredible garden.
The highlands of Arran
Casting of your lines or hauling up your anchor at Campbeltown, we would recommend that you now head to the Isle of Arran for some final whisky tasting at Lochranza before you head home to Largs Yacht Haven. Heading into the anchorage at Lochranza you will feel dwarfed by the mountains that surround you as you pick your spot for the day or evening near the beautiful castle and within spitting distance of the Isle of Arran Distillery. This distillery is home to Arran’s first legal whisky distillery for 160 years and it’s one of the newest single malt whiskies in Scotland. The friendly staff at the distillery and visitor centre and the interesting array of malts being produced here make it well work a visit.
Arran is often referred to “Scotland in miniature” as it offers a little bit of every type of Scottish scenery within its boundaries. It is also a source of fascination for geologists as it is home to many types of rare and ancient rock formations and types.
If you have a bit more time to spare before you head back to Largs, sail round to Brodick and visit the impressive castle and gardens or climb Goatfell before doing a spot of holiday souvenir shopping for your loved ones at James’s Chocolate shop, the Arran Brewery, the Arran Cheese Shop or Arran Aromatics.
Lochranza at night
We hope this guide has inspired a few readers to start planning a West Coast sailing trip. It’s perfect for whisky lovers, but it’s also just a beautiful, tranquil part of the world. If you would like to know more about our range of yachts, please feel free to get in touch. You can start planning your Scottish West Coast Whisky trip today!
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