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To me, and anyone else who has been in the Scottish Islands Peaks Race, this is a special place where the fleet of yachts come in for the second stop to release their runners over three of the Paps of Jura. I used to do this run myself once, so Craighouse means pain to me. Later I just did the sailing bit, but even that can be a big pain if there is no wind and lots of rowing. Now I have retired from such frivolity. During the race, a rush in by dinghy to set the runners off and then back to sort out the boat and have a rest, and for the runners the agony getting back along the road after the Paps doesn't allow for much looking about. But, when cruising there is a lot to do, as well as just sit in the boat at anchor, or on one of the now 16 moorings (pay at the hotel), and admire the view of the Paps as clouds swirl about their tops or the sun sets behind them.
This would not be too bad a place to pick up and drop off crew because there is a passenger ferry from Tayvallich on the mainland in summer — you can get here from Edinburgh in a total of about five hours, including a coffee stop in Tayvallich. But the ferry only survives on a wing and a prayer, plus a subsidy.
On a quiet sunny day, perch on the wall overlooking the small harbour (a Telford design built in 1812), eat an ice cream from the nearby Jura Community Shop (early 19th Century), gaze at the mountains of Arran over Kintyre, and let the children play on the beach — it may be small and rather scrappy but the children love it nonetheless. Perhaps it is a touch too noisy hereabouts in the summer holidays when there seem to be an amazing number of boats coming and going, including noisy speed boats in good weather. There has been a bit of a cloud over the shop's viability, but in 2012 it was taken over by the Isle of Jura Development Trust who employ a shop manager, and in 2013 they got over half a million from the Big Lottery Fund to help with restoration and rebuilding. Make sure you do your bit and buy your stores there to benefit the local community, they need your custom much more than Tesco does.
The distillery founded in 1810 makes a pleasant ensemble with the surrounding buildings. The tacked-on manager's house looks like a small castle. There are tours and — of course — a shop for buying you know what (ph 01496 820 385). Do not be misled by the 'standing stone' across the road in the small car park — it is a fake erected by the distillery in 2011.
The Antlers (ph 01496 820 496) is a bring-your-own-bottle bistro and restaurant in a very nicely restored building. There have been favourable reports, the coffee and cake are certainly good, and there are some crafty things to peruse and buy. In 2011 it was up for sale and it too was taken on by the Isle Jura Development Trust who seem determined to keep it going — so use it!
The walk north through the village is pleasant. The church seems to have a semi-permanent collection of old photographs of Jura people. One of an early local GP with a cigarrette in hand. And there is an an audio, Jura 'sound-scape'. The building was started in the late 18th Century but has had several waves of alterations since then. It is plain, calm and Scottish. There is a very useful playground just next to it. And nearby an outdoor table tennis table.
A bit further north, and up the hill a bit, there is an old village called Keils with the remains of crofting houses, some rescued by — I guess — incomers. Further up still is Cill Earnadil, an atmospheric graveyard, which can be tricky to find. Here there is a serene view across the Sound of Jura to Kintyre. Look out for the plaque to Gillouir MacCrain who was said to have "lived to have kept 180 Christmasses in his own house", buried 1645. The birdsong and the sound of a rushing burn must drown out the minister's words. A good last resting place if only one was around to enjoy it. Unfortunately there is a ghastly concrete extension with horrible railings, particularly vile juxtaposed against the beautiful old rubble walls.
You can hire bikes (ph 07092 820 385), walk to or take the bus to Jura House and its lovely gardens, as good as Achamore on Gigha. But don't. The gardens have been closed since the estate was bought by an Australian hedge fund manager in 2010. He has renovated and extended the house (no expense spared) and built for himself a world-class 18-hole golf course, along with hyper-luxury accomodation for paying guests (£20 000 a night for the full facilities apparently). Maybe he is expecting Donald Trump to call, certainly not people like me. Maybe one day this place will become a mouldering monument to the ludicrous wealth and divisions of the early 21st century, like Kinloch Castle on Rum is a monument to the excesses of Edwardian society.
The Jura Hotel built in 1834 has 17 now refurbished rooms, a bar (the only real real ale at the moment is an undistinguished Islay brew), showers round the back (refurbished in 2014), and excellent meals in the public bar, lounge bar, and dining room — try the ultra fresh langoustines (ph 01496 820 243). And do try the cakes at tea time. It is all rather cosy with lovely views from the sitting and dining rooms, and the bar, and from some of the bedrooms too — with tropical trees in the foreground as well as the occasional stag at night time. It was bought by friends in May 2010 and so — by definition — it will be a success! Make sure to book if you want to eat in the dining room.
Palm trees outside the Jura Hotel
Second stop on the Scottish Islands Peaks Race, dropping off the runners
The playpark and church
The single malt
The Craighouse moorings
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