The pretty village of Bowmore is Islay’s administrative capital. The famous and iconic warehouse number one of Bowmore distillery, the harbour and the pier gives Bowmore a very attractive sea-side. There’s also a sandy beach in between the pier and the distillery, a nice place to enjoy the views over Loch Indaal towards the Rhinns of Islay. The harbour can be a busy place as quite a few fishermen are landing their catch here. On the top of Main Street is another iconic building, the Round Church of Bowmore, one of just a few round churches in Scotland.
Visitors of Bowmore might find the centre busy compared to other parts of Islay. Fact is that Bowmore has the most shopping facilities as well as supermarkets, two banks, a swimming pool, high school, hospital, garage, petrol station, gaelic college, primary school, council offices, energy trust, Ileach office, community hall, Jean’s fish van etc etc. This explains why it’s sometimes hard to find a parking space, especially near the co-op, as it’s the only “large” supermarket on Islay.
Shopping in the “Co” isn’t always easy. Sometimes the things you need aren’t there, due to cancelled ferries, or when it’s simply sold out due to the tourist season. It can also be a very social thing as you always seem to bump into someone you know and haven’t seen in a while. Often, the most heard word in the co-op is “Sorry”. This explains that shopping in the co-op can be somewhat chaotic! It’s best to bring a patient attitude and you’ll be fine!
One of the nicest happenings in Bowmore is the annual “Lights On” event early December. There are lots of folk about, there is singing, eating and Highland Dancing around the Xmas tree in The Square. A great atmosphere and not to be missed! And that’s also the case with the fireworks at Hogmanay!
Smoke, peat, salt and sea-weed. These are a few distinctive characters of a Bowmore dram. With a warehouse almost IN Loch Indaal it makes sense. And they are making whisky since 1779, which makes this the oldest legal distillery on Islay. I mention legal on purpose, before that time a lot of illicit distilling took place on the island. This is one of only three distilleries who have floor maltings. The distillery is owned by Santoro, a Japanese company. A visit is highly recommended, especially as they usually give you a peek in warehouse number 1. To book a tour or learn more about the distillery please visit their website
Bowmore Tourist Information
The Bowmore Tourist Information centre is part of VisitScotland, it’s a so called iCentre. They have a great collection of maps, books and guides for Islay and Jura as well as information about events. The Tourist Information Centre is located on The Square, opposite MacTaggart Leisure Centre and the co-op. To get in touch phone +44 (1496) 305165 or email Bowmore@visitscotland.com. They are open during week days outside the season and during the tourist season also on Saturday and Sunday. For detailed opening hours click here
The main restaurants in Bowmore are the Harbour Inn near the Harbour, Peatzeria on Shore Street, the Lochside Hotel also on Shore Street and Bowmore Hotel on Jamieson Street. They all serve excellent food so you can’t really go wrong, unless you forget to book. If you only want a coffee with cake make sure to visit Roy’s at The Square/Shore Street. The ground floor is a book and gift shop, the first floor is for clothing and good coffees!
MacTaggart Leisure Centre
Situated next to Bowmore Distillery, the MacTaggart Leisure Centre is mainly a pool, heated with water from the distillery. It’s a unique and clever solution. Besides swimming for everyone on Islay and Jura the pool is also open to non residents. There’s also a gym on the first floor with stunning views and a sauna. For more details and opening hours visit www.mactaggartleisurecentre.co.uk
Walks around Bowmore
Bowmore might be a busy place but peace and quiet is easily found. My favourite walk is the one on the backroad towards the radio mast on the hill. It starts on the road behind the round church and you walk as far as the High Road. There is hardly any traffic on this single track road and the views over Bowmore and further away are just stunning. There is also a lot of wildlife to be seen. Another walk starts right from the High School to “The Battery”. And you can walk all the way to Gartbreck on the Moss Road, this is the road behind the warehouses.
The Round Church in Bowmore, belonging to the Parish of Killarrow, was built in 1767 by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield and Islay. Walter Campbell, who succeeded Daniel and continued to build on what he started, died in 1816 and is now commemorated by a white marble obelisk headed mural monument.
Now why was a round church built in Bowmore and not a rectangular or square one? The story goes that the church was built in a circular shape to keep the devil from hiding in a corner but this is not supported in any of the documents to be found online. Perhaps Daniel Campbell, who had the church built at his own expense, just preferred a circular shape? Whatever the reason is, The Round Church is the only one of it’s kind in Scotland built in this period. A visit is highly recommended!
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