There are very few places that truly take our breath away. Sure, there’s plenty of places we call ‘breathtaking’, but occasionally there’s something so special, so unique, that you have a quiet word with yourself about all the overzealous hyperbole you’ve lavished on the ‘next best thing’.
One such place is Jura; a remote – and by this we mean really, really remote – island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. With a population of around 170 inhabitants and an exceptionally unreliable ferry (if you can call it that) being the only link to Islay’s relative civilisation, the place that George Orwell referred to as “extremely unget-at-able”, may well be bleak, but its beauty and emotive mystery make Jura the sort of dramatic, spellbinding island that dreams are made of. And the Jura Lodge is perhaps the island’s finest treasure…
Designed with playful elegance by the American-born Parisian, Bambi Sloan, the Jura Lodge is part of the island’s famous distillery, and we recently had the privilege of being invited to spend time there; to experience the island, get under the skin of their unique range of malts, and to hopefully avoid the lodge’s other famous spirit; its supposed resident ghost.
The lodge is truly delightful and truly exclusive, there’s 5 grandly furnished bedrooms, an opulent music room, a wonderfully retro kitchen and a lounge with eye-blistering views; all for a mere £2,500 a night. With a feeling of luxury, decadence and eccentricity – yet ultimately befitting of its surroundings – Bambi Sloan’s remodelled lodge is not just a stylish country retreat, it’s also the sort of place your childhood dreams were made of; you expect there to be a secret room behind the bookcase, you expect the suit of armour to walk around after midnight… And if you’ve had enough of the local spirit, it sometimes does.
The picture windows look out over the idyllic village of Craighouse with its handful of white buildings, picturesque stoney waterfront and yesteryear way of life. We’re taken on a short tour up the island’s one road; we visit a tiny parish with an even tinier, un-manned library where locals pop in to swap books, a graveyard where a number of Knights Templar rest, and drop in on ‘Tea on the Beach’; a lonely table on the beach on which a walkie talkie peculiarly sits, a local lady waiting in a house nearby to bring tea to passers by who get in touch. It’s a remarkably beautiful island, curiously there’s native palm trees, the elegant three peaks of the Paps of Jura are omnipresent and the famous red deer (they outnumber humans on the island by some 40-1) are around every turn.
In fairness, the island can be just as hostile as it is beautiful, we’re taken to witness the fierce waters of the Corryvreckan Whirlpool, passing the remote lodge where Orwell wrote his iconic 1984 on the way; the writer himself having to be rescued from the whirlpool’s clutches in 1947 following an ill-fated boat trip with his son, niece and nephew. We experience the feeling of isolation the locals endure, when weather halts the island’s only ferry.
We are, of course, bombarded by wind and rain too, but once back inside the lodge, all is calm. It’s like an oasis of serenity amongst the island’s rugged charms; there’s no television, no mobile reception and a supply of high-grade single malt that even we can’t begin to decimate.
And what about that single malt? There may be just one road, one hotel, one pub and one shop, but around the world the island’s name is synonymous with its famous whisky; just a few minutes spent with locals in the solitary watering hole and you realise its the life and soul of the island. And having spent time with the distillery’s manager, Willie Cochrane, and global ambassador Willie Tait – with all their passion and knowledge – it’s clear why it’s not just the Diurachs (the locals) who are in love with this fine liquid.
As you kick back in the lodge’s majestic antler arm chair with a ‘wee dram’, take in the resplendent views, and eye-up the classic typewriter, you begin to imagine yourself as a classic writer of Orwell’s calibre. You’re so disconnected from the real world that time begins to stand still; it’s just you, the uncompromising beauty of the island, and this truly exquisite lodge. You begin to feel that this might be the greatest place on earth…