For as popular as Islay is with whisky lovers around the world, there are surprisingly few options when it comes to finding accommodation on the island. This situation comes to a head every May during the Feis Ile, the Malt and Music Festival that heralds a week of indulgence in Islay’s claim to fame, when visitors need to book accommodation a year in advance. The situation isn’t as dire during the rest of the year, but as a rule of thumb you should book a minimum of three months in advance of your trip. Six months ahead is better.
After I returned from trips to Scotland and Vancouver in May and early June, I had less than three months until my next trip started at the end of August (a flaw in my plans that’s risen to prominence over the past year). I decided to gather some recommendations from contacts in Scotland to help winnow down my options, and, ultimately, I settled on Ballivicar Farm, a small family farm on Islay’s Oa Peninsula.
Ballivicar Farm is a pretty stone farmstead surrounded by limitless acres of pasture just west of Port Ellen. Harriet and Toby Roxburgh, a couple of transplants from the south, provide three self-catering apartments that must have been housing for farmhands at one point. It’s a working farm, and ponies, Clydesdales and other horses, yard dogs, and sheep are common sights.
I stayed in The Bothy apartment, a cozy space designed for two people. All of the apartments share a common stone side of the farm compound, and the door to The Bothy stood right in the center. Entering the apartment, I stepped into the sitting room/kitchen combo. Plush chairs angle around a small table and a TV sits in the corner where a small window lets in a surprising amount of light. The kitchen area has tons of counter space and even a washing machine tucked down next to the sink (though I found out later it’s just a washing machine, not a dryer as well). All of the necessities were at hand to support home-cooked meals.
The other half of The Bothy is where I found the bedroom and bathroom. Two twin beds and an antique wardrobe and dresser fill up the bedroom while the bathroom provides a functional shower/tub beneath a skylight. The Bothy is heated by radiators and is outfitted with surprisingly fast wifi.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Oa Peninsula is pretty far from the life of the island. Ballivicar Farm stands about 10-minute drive from Port Ellen and about 30-minutes from Bowmore. This is a great situation for those looking for peace and quiet and a lot of solitude – the Roxburghs leave their guests to their own devices – but not as well suited to those who like to be closer to the action.
I spent a week at Ballivicar Farm and found it to be an affordable, suitable stay. It’s pleasantly near some beautiful scenery on the Oa and a trio of excellent distilleries in Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. The Bothy itself was cozy and met my wifi-addicted needs perfectly. On the other hand, the isolation and distance from the center of the island made it quite a lonely place, especially for a solo traveler. The interior of The Bothy could use some updating, and the bed mattresses had seen a few too many nights. All in all, Ballivicar Farm provided good value for the money.
Disclosure: I arranged a discounted rate for my week-long stay. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.