Travel Journal March 28, 1999
Jura: A good forest is hard to find.


Drive west again to the coast, then down the Mull of Kintyre, the section of the Scottish coast that points like a finger towards Ireland. If you liked the islands and want to see more of them, take the ferry to Islay and then to Jura, the least inhabited and wildest of the islands. Here is both the only truly neolithic forest in Scotland, and also the cabin in which Orwell finished Animal Farm. There are also an amazing number of shipwrecks on the island, some of which are still visible. Spend the night on Jura. -- Richard Foss

I have been very dissapointed by Britain's forests. I happen to like walking in the woods, but every forest that I've been to in Britain looks terribly artificial, endless monocultures of trash pine in neat geometric rows. Sometimes you'll find a mass of dead trees in the center of a clump, but instead of falling over and rotting like proper trees should, they stand there like corpses in stasis, waiting to be harvested.

So I came to Jura primarily to find this old-growth forest that seemed to be implied by Rick's description. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find it. It's possible that it was in a part of the island that I couldn't get to; However, one should note that 99% of the land area of Jura is treeless; some areas look like they have been clear cut. What forests I did find were all plantations, i.e. highly artificial looking, except for steep hillsides where it was obviously too difficult to harvest.

Another dissapointment was the weather; After being so nice all day long yesterday, for some reason it decided to turn bitchy again. In fact the weather was so bad that I was pretty much unable to take pictures the entire day; For this reason, I'm illustrating today's adventure with a few pictures borrowed from tomorrow's journal entry. (If it looks at all sunny in the picture, then it's one of the borrowed ones.)

Here's the view from the ferry, run by Caledonian MacBrayne ("cal-mac" to the locals). CalMac has pretty much a monopoly over all of the major ferry routes in the western isles of Scotland. The ferry to Islay runs approximately once per day.

Here's Port Askaig on Islay (pronounced 'Eye-La'). As you can see, there's not many buildings (4 to be exact).

Here's the view from the port, once I got off the ferry.

A smaller ferry takes you over to Jura, which as you can see is only a short distance away. The ferry landing on the Jura side is nothing more than a concrete dock, with a small shack next to it, and no other buildings.


I wasn't on Jura more than about 10 minutes when I saw a nice stag, about 10 meters from my car. I later saw quite a lot of deer on the island.

I did find a small swath of forest that was mostly planted, but had one or two interesting bits on steep ground. Here's a picture (I took several, but for some reason this is the only one that turned out well.)

I should also mention that according to the tourist information brochure, it was actually "1984" and not "Animal Farm" which was written on Jura. However, the cabin mentioned was also in the part of the island I could not get to. Jura has, for all intents and purposes, a single paved road which stretches from the ferry landing almost to the far tip of the island. This road road deteriorates in quality the farther you get, and because of the weather it was quite muddy. I made one attempt today and turned back about halfway along the road, intending to make a second try tomorrow if the weather was better.

One might get the impression that I was dissapointed by Jura, but in fact I was not. This was largely due to the fact that I met up with a group of Scottish tourists from the Orkneys at the hotel in Craighouse (the only hotel and pub in the only village on the island). We had a long and enjoyable conversation which lasted late into the night and in which I learned many interesting things.