It was the year 560AD that St Columba set foot on Islay, at Kilchiaran Bay, prior to travelling to the Isle of Iona where he founded the famous monastery. Kilchiaran Bay is not a beach like many others on Islay as it is mostly shingle and rock but it is stunning nevertheless. By the way, you officially pronounce Kilchiaran as Kil-a-chee-ran but from what I understand it sounds more like Kil-hirran. The name derives from Gaelic.
Getting to Kilchiaran Bay
Drive to the pretty village of Port Charlotte where you’ll find the sign “Kilchiaran”, in the centre of the village. Take the road right, up to school street, and keep on driving until you reach Kilchiaran Farm. You can recognise it due to the round shape of the main farm building, the only one on Islay if I’m correct. It’s best to find a parking space here, make sure not to block farm access. To access Kilchiaran Bay walk for a few hundred metres onwards until you reach a gate on your righthand side, next to Kilchiaran Chapel.
Kilchiaran Chapel is in a ruined state but the remaining walls and stonework are remarkably well preserved. The chapel is built next to a burn around 300 metres from the sea. The views from the chapel over the bay are beautiful. Outside the chapel is a well preserved cup marked stone. The purpose for these stones is unknown, they were created and used by early farming communities in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, between around 6000 and 4000 years ago.
Apart from its historic significance, Kilchiaran Bay was also important as a slate quarry. You can still see many slates lying around and quarrying took place mostly on the western rocky outcrops. The length of the shingle and sand beach is merely 150 metres but due to the chapel and the remote location it is very much worth visiting. On the west side of the bay to your right you can climb the hill and get some amazing views of the bay and surrounding area.
Walk to the Radio Station at Kilchiaran
Driving up from Port Charlotte you will see the radio masts on the hills to the west. These are the same masts you see from Kilchoman Beach at Machir Bay. If you walk back towards the farm you’ll see a white house to your left. Right from this house is a track going all the way up to the radio station. It’s a relatively short walk but you’ll be surprised by the truly breathtaking views you’ll have from the radiostation over large parts of the west coast and central parts of Islay.
The West Road
Follow the road south and you’ll pass Tormisdale Croft Craft, make sure to visit!! Next up is the Cultoon stone circle on your right before you reach the gate to Lossit Bay. Follow the road for a few miles more and you’ll reach Portnahaven and Currie Sands Beach if you follow the road to the right. For Portnahaven and Port Wemyss go straight ahead.