The most popular way of reaching the Isle of Islay is to take the ferry from Kennacraig on the Scottish mainland. Ferry timetables vary at different times of year and should always be checked carefully in advance but there are on average three sailings per day in either direction. The ferries leaving Kennacraig call alternately at Port Askaig and Port Ellen on Islay with the crossing taking a little over two hours in either instance. It is always worth remembering that in severe weather conditions, crossings can be cancelled at very short notice for safety reasons.
How to Get to Kennacraig
There are two ways to get to Kennacraig from the main population centres of Central Scotland. You can either drive your own vehicle or take the public service bus (Glasgow to Campbeltown service). The bus leaves Buchanan Street Bus Station in Glasgow and stops at a number of pick-up points en route. There are no railways on the Argyll peninsula in modern times. The good news is that the bus is timed to have you at the ferry terminal around half an hour before each sailing.
The bus journey from Glasgow to Kennacraig takes approximately three and a half hours. The first hour or thereabouts is spent getting out of the city and its suburbs but after that, when you reach and pass by the south-western shore of Loch Lomond, you will start to see some of the beautiful scenery Argyll has to offer. The photos below are just a small sample and were all taken from the public service bus. Interestingly, those most used to driving the route or travelling as a passenger in a car will find that they see much more from the slightly higher vantage point of a seat on the bus.
Usually - and when time permits - the bus will make a brief comfort stop at the town of Inveraray on Loch Fyne. This is a short stop only and the driver will tell you when he is leaving again. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the bus will wait for you beyond this time. Remember this is a public service bus with a timetable to follow, not a private coach. If you're not back at the coach in time, you risk being left behind. A quick cigarette or short, leg stretching walk along the front is about all you have time for.
Pictures from the Bus Journey from Glasgow to Kennacraig
Arriving at Kennacraig Ferry Terminal
If you arrive at Kennacraig by bus, the bus will drop you immediately outside the bookings/ticket office. Drivers will have to follow the signposts either to the ferry boarding area or the long term parking area, whichever is applicable.
Cars and other vehicles should wait in line to board as directed by terminal staff. Tickets should be collected if applicable by the driver from the ticket office. Foot passengers will board via a gangway on the port side of the ferry and should have their tickets ready for inspection.
Aboard the Islay Ferry at Kennacraig
Kennacraig Ferry Terminal and The West Loch
Departing Kennacraig for Islay
The usual sailing time from Kennacraig to Port Askaig on Islay is just over two hours. It is about fifteen minutes longer if the ferry is bound for Port Ellen. The ferry for Port Askaig proceeds down the West Loch and crosses the Sound of Jura to enter the Sound of Islay, near the top of which is Port Askaig.
Food on the Islay ferry
Food is available on the Islay ferry from the point of boarding, either in the form of hot meals or as snacks such as sandwiches. The meals are reasonably good considering this is after all transport food and a fairly wide choice is usually available. Some of the options on the menu are made to order and a small waiting period will be required. In this instance, hunger resulted in steak pie and chips (which was ready to serve) being ordered.
If the ferry is busy, tables will fill up quickly, so it is advisable to either eat immediately or wait half an hour to an hour for the initial rush to die down. An announcement will be made via the tannoy system when the galley is about to close, though snacks will continue to be available throughout the crossing.
The Bar on the Hebridean Isles Ferry
The bar on the ferry opens as soon as the ferry sets sail. It is stocked with a fair variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. This trip saw a few Islay Ales sampled. It is important to note that while it is permissible to take your drink out on deck, you can not do so in a glass container for safety reasons. If taking your drink outside, you will have to ask the bar staff to pour it in to a plastic drinking vessel.
The Sound of Islay and Port Askaig
When you enter the Sound of Islay, the Isle of Jura is to starboard (your right, facing forward) and the Isle of Islay to port. The Paps of Jura (the three famous hills) will soon come in to view and you will have excellent views of them on a clear day.
There is plenty of time to stand on deck and watch Port Askaig come in to view, before either returning to the vehicle deck to collect your car or collecting your luggage and disembarking via the gangway.
A public service bus is available to take you elsewhere on Islay if you do not have your own transport and this usually meets the ferry, leaving shortly after everyone has disembarked.
Arriving at Port Askaig, Islay, from Kennacraig
© 2013 Gordon Hamilton