Bridgend is not a village like the others on Islay. Most of the cottages belong to Islay Estates which also owns most of the land surrounding Bridgend. The village is situated at the head of Loch Indaal and is also the most central village on the island. It’s at a crossroads between the Rhinns, Port Askaig and Bowmore. Sooner or later you’ll find yourself in Bridgend and when you stop you’ll find out there is actually a lot more to Bridgend than you initially think.
Bridgend centre, if there really is one, would be the area around Bridgend Hotel and the Spar shop, before the bridge over the Sorn. In earlier days the latter was referred to as Jimmy’s, named after Jimmy Campbell, the former owner. The shop typically has everything you need, if you can’t find something anywhere on Islay, try Jimmy’s. There is also a petrol station, a car wash and a bowling green. The local bus stops here and you can change from bus line too. All this gives Bridgend a somewhat busy feeling. The large white building along the Sorn river is Sornbank, a bank in earlier days, now a self catering holiday accommodation.
Islay House was built in the late 17th century, but has been much altered and extended by successive lairds. The last one being the Morrison Family who sold Islay House in 1985 to an American Navy Captain, Tom Friedrich. It was used as a private residence until it was sold to a group of investors. After an extensive rennovation and restoration project it was turned into a luxury Hotel which opened in 2016. For more info visit www.islayhouse.co.uk
Islay House Square Bridgend
Somewhat hidden from the main road to Port Askaig, behind the parking place for Bridgend Woods, is Islay House Square. It is sign posted though so you can’t really miss it! The square was originally built to host the stables for Islay house and some workers’ houses. Nowadays it’s an attractive square with businesses, various shops and the Islay Ales Brewery. It’s the ideal place to get some original Islay produce and to buy Islay gifts.
Which Shops can be found in Islay House Square?
As of June 2022 you can find Islay Laundry, Islay Carpets and Flooring, The Islay Gin company, previously Nerabus Gin, Ma Macs marmalade, Islay Studios and Tarff which is a farmers merchants type store. Soon to be opened is a specialist whisky shop and another gin distillery currently going under Isle Gin brand, although that is likely to change.
The official name is The Islay, Jura and Colonsay Annual Agricultural Show, for locals “The Show”. This is THE annual highlight for the locals and takes place in Bridgend on the show grounds. The show has something to offer for everyone, it’s a great day out. There is livestock, highland dancing, the pipe band, highland games, kids amusements, stalls and lots more. The show grounds can be accessed from the main road to Port Charlotte coming from Bridgend. It is very well sign posted!
More businesses in Bridgend can be found at Whin Park, half a mile outside Bridgend on the Portnahaven road. There are several business units including Re-Jig, a second had shop managed by the Islay Development Initiative. Here is also Islay Car hire and Islay Tyres and Islay Auto Services. This brings me to the next section… Walks…
Walks in and around Bridgend – Snowdrops & Blue Bells
There are many walking options in this part of Islay and especially late winter and (early) spring is a great time to do so. From January onwards you can admire the snowdrops at the entrance of Islay House Hotel and in some other places in Bridgend. This is followed by the Daffodils and later the Blue Bells in May. Most abundant is the bloom in the vicinity of Islay House but you can also admire the colours in other places. For instance in Bridgend Woods, behind Bridgend Hotel, are miles of lovely walking tracks where you’re usually almost alone.
There are several tracks near Loch Skerrols which are very much worth a visit. One of them starts behind Whin Park and takes you to Eallabus House, the residence of Lord Margadale, owner of Islay Estate.
Walk to Balole Farmhouse
Exactly 0.8 miles outside Bridgend, on the Port Askaig road, is a single track road on your left. I think it is sign posted to Skerrols House. Park at the beginning! You can walk this entire track all the way to the end, and end up at Balole Farmhouse. This is one of the more beautiful rural Islay Walks and offers stunning views towards the Paps of Jura at some point. There is also a place with amazing views back over Bridgend and Loch Indaal. Nearer the end you’ll find Scarrabus Farm with standing stone. The last bit to Balole Farmhouse can be wet and muddy so proper footwear is recommended.
John Francis Campbell of Islay, heir of Walter Frederick Campbell, was probably best remembered as folklorist and it was him who was commemorated by the Glasgow Islay Association. They erected an obelisk overlooking Loch Indaal at Bridgend and it has an inscription too. You can walk up to the monument from the single track road going to Cluanach, behind the Islay Estate Offices.
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