Scotland's Gigha and Islay

The Water of Life

Scotland's Gigha and Islay

06 October, 2017

The southern-most isle of the Southern Hebrides, Gigha (population 160) is one of the smallest populated Islands in the Hebrides. But don't let its size fool you. Like so many of Scotland’s outer reaches, its past is adorned by grand history.

Nestled in woodland and extensive gardens, Achamore House was built in 1884, for Lt-Col William James Scarlet who became a Captain of the Scots Fusilier Guards regiment of the British Army. He served in the Crimean War between 1854 and 1855 before visiting the US during the American Civil War and being promoted to Major in 1868.

Achamore Gardens were purchased by the people of Gigha in 2002.

It’s also famous as the home of apprentice artist and architect Charles Rennie Macintosh (1868-1928) who, it's thought, influenced the many features of the house.

Whisky barrels lined up against granite walls, where the famed drink is matured before shipping all over the world.

Like so many great artists before him, Macintosh's work was only appreciated decades after his death. An exhibition of his work accompanied the year-long Glasgow European City of Culture 1990 and even the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held a major retrospective of his works in 1996.

Now operated as a Trust, the gardens are testament to decades of love by plant collectors and landscape designers.

Nearby, there is evidence of civilisation over 10,000 years old. To the southwest there is the 13th century Kilchattan Chapel ruins and a several thousand year-old Ogham Stone, the only one of its kind in the west of Scotland. There are roughly 400 known Ogham inscriptions on stone monuments scattered around the Irish Sea, the bulk of them dating to the 5th and 6th centuries. Ogham itself is an Early Medieval form of alphabet or cypher, sometimes known as the "Celtic Tree Alphabet".

While neighbouring Islay is more commonly associated with Whisky production, Gigha claim the oldest documented record of distilling in Scotland. According to 13th century tax records 'the Exchequer Rolls' this occurred on Gigha as long ago as 1494. The entry lists 'Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae' (water of life).

So this is a fitting place to begin a journey through Scotland and for visitors, a chance to celebrate long life, by sharing in the water of life - a dram of whisky, at one of neighbouring Islay's historic distilleries.


The Scotland in Depth tour visits Gigha and Islay on day three of the trip, departing Glasgow on 27 May 2020- The Water of Life


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