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Bowmore is a long sail in (and out) but worth a visit, maybe most of all for a first class meal — at a price — at the Harbour Inn (the dinning room and conservatory overlook the harbour, which is no surprise, and there are a few rooms as well). It is an attractive mid 19th century building, very cosy inside (ph 01496 810 330). It was taken over by the owners of the distillery in 2014.
The town itself, and it is a little town rather than a village, is the administrative capital of Islay. It has a better Co-op than Port Ellen, along with a hardware shop, butcher, fish van, a general touristy sort of shop (the Celtic House) which has an excellent selection of books, particularly sticking-in books for small children, and so on.
The town was laid out as a grid in the mid 18th century and is one of the few attractive towns in the area (along with Tobermory and Oban). The mostly 19th century distillery which was founded in 1779 (with tours, ph 01496 810 671) dominates the bottom of the main street by the harbour and God dominates the top in the remarkable form of Kilarrow parish church, built in 1767 and described by 'Pevsner' as “powerfully architectonic in conception and resolutely urban in its rural setting”. It is indeed a striking round shape, and inside it is beautifully elegant with splendid pine pews, and curved stairs up to the 19th century gallery. The central pillar holding the roof up is wooden although it doesn’t look it.
Islay’s only swimming pool (and leisure centre) is in a rather nice 1991 conversion of a former distillery warehouse right by the harbour; you swim under a curved wooden ceiling and can look out to the bay through windows at the end of the 25-metre pool. It is owned by the people of Islay and Jura and is called the MacTaggart Leisure Centre (ph 01496 810 767). There is a small launderette there too.
The Lochside Hotel is a less expensive food option to the Harbour Inn, but the dining room looks right on to the harbour and the food is fine — the range of Islay whiskies in the bar is legendary and it seems to be the place for music in the evenings (ph 01496 810 244). And since 2017 Peatzeria has appeared, looks good but have yet to try it.
So all in all not at all a bad anchorage to take a break and change crew. Port Ellen is a bit nearer the airport and more convenient for the ferry, but not such a good place to linger in.
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The round church from the main street
Bowmore from the air, the Round Church in the foreground