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Port Ellen is an early 19th century planned village because the laird, Walter Frederick Campbell, wanted to expand employment from just agriculture to fishing and distilling. The first quay was added in 1824 and the lighthouse in 1832. He named the village after his wife Ellinor.
It may be the easiest place to flee to on the south coast of Islay, and there are a couple of good shops for provisions (you could stock up in the Coop), and a hardware store. I haven’t in the past rated it much as a place to visit — the visitors' moorings were too far out. However, they have now been removed in favour of publicly owned non-profit pontoons within easy reach of what shops there are, but watch out for the shallows beyond those pontoons.
There didn’t seem to be much in the way of a good eaterie until the Islay Hotel was completely rebuilt and opened in 2011. And then rebranded as 'The Islay' which makes me flinch a bit. Personally I don't like the rather open-plan interior, nor the faux marble toilets, and there are no real ales. But the coffee and cakes were good, and the restaurant has grand views and looks enticing enough to give it a try, which I will one day. Overall, smart not cosy I would say (ph 01496 300 109). Then, in 2015 the Sea Salt Bistro and takeaway opened, a very jolly place seemingly run by women, and quite good food too — not cheap (01496 300 300).
There is a pub,The Ardview Inn, where the piped music is hellish loud. There was no real ale, nor any food, but the Guinness was good, presumably because Ireland is so close. It seems a bit beaten up, but is certainly friendly.
The beach in front of the town would be OK for kids to muck about on. St John's Parish Church at the far end of the beach is worth a look. Built 1897, it is solid, with shining brass and polished wooden pews.
If you do get stuck here, consider getting the bus to Bowmore where there is more to do and see, good shops, and the swimming pool.
Or, hire a bike behind the garage next to the hotel and go on your own distillery tour — Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg all within easy reach. And it makes a quite reasonable walk too.
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A nice B&B sign
The pontoons in early April
The beach at the head of the harbour