Port Charlotte is a stunning coastal conservation village on the Rhinns of Islay, situated on the western shore of Loch Indaal. As with most villages on Islay, its existence is based on the construction of a whisky distillery. Housing was needed for the folk who started working in the Lochindaal Distillery which opened in 1829. It was Walter Frederick Campbell who founded the village and named it after his mother.
Although the distillery closed in 1929, the centre of Port Charlotte is still dominated by the former distillery. The buildings which house the Islay Nature Centre and the Youth hostel were part of this distillery. The Distillery House B&B, opposite the road, was the former residence of the distillery manager. The open space opposite the Islay Nature Centre was the actual place of the distillery. The location of the distillery was close to the Pier which was needed to give a safe birth for the puffers to bring supplies and whisky to/from the distillery.
Port Charlotte Village
Community life in Port Charlotte is largely centered around the school near the former village hall on top of School Street, St Kiaran’s church and the local Spar shop, annex petrol station and post office. Also the two pubs of the Lochindaal Hotel and the Port Charlotte Hotel play an important part in village life. Like other places on Islay most of the locals know each other and there’s always time for a chat. Alastair MacLellan told me on several occasions that in earlier days folk were chatting on every street corner. Those days are now long gone….
St Kiaran’s Church Port Charlotte
St Kiaran’s church, half a mile before the village on your right, is built in the Norman style. It was built to serve the expanding population of the villages on the Rhinns. Begun with the laying of the foundation stone in 1898, it was completed a year later. St Kiaran’s became the Parish Church in 1977 when Kilchoman Church was closed due to the depopulation of the area it had served. It has an interesting interior with a Norman arch separating the nave and chancel, a curved wall with two small stained glass windows, and some attractive wall hangings. More info here
Holiday in Port Charlotte
Port Charlotte is a lovely village to holiday in as it has plenty to offer. The village has maintained a lot of its character although the area around the pier nowadays are mostly holiday lets. The views from several parts of the village over Loch Indaal are stunning. Take for instance the view down from School Street, or the view ahead when you enter the village.
It’s also an ideal place to walk or cycle from. The circular cycling route from Port Charlotte to Portnahaven and Port Wemyss and back over the west road is just stunning. You’ll pass the Cultoon stone circle, Kilchiaran Chapel and Bay and many other stunning places. And there are many walks to be made in and around the village. Here are few options:
Port Charlotte Lighthouse Walk
This is perhaps the most beautiful walk and not to be missed. When you come from the village beach next to Port Charlotte hotel, you”ll find a gate on the left which gives access to a field. Now keep on walking along the shoreline over a sheep track until you pass another gate. Make sure to close the gate again and follow the shoreline again while enjoying the views, the wildlife, the sheep and the many rocky inlets. The goal of this walk is the iconic white Lochindaal Lighthouse which was built in 1869 by David & Thomas Stevenson. The height is 13 metres and it’s managed by the Northern Lighthouse Board. The rocks around the lighthouse are ideal for some sunbathing or to fish from.
Loch Indaal Way – Footpath Port Charlotte to Bruichladdich
The newly built footpath, the Loch Indaal Way, is ideal to visit the neighbouring village of Bruichladdich. It’s a little over a mile long and offers stunning views over Loch Indaal. Near the war memorial at Port Ban is a lovely secluded beach with clear water safe for swimming. And of course the main attraction of Bruichladdich is the Bruichladdich Distillery which draws thousand of visitors each year, and especially during the Islay Whisky Festival. If you want a bite to eat or a coffee you can do so at Debbies Minimarket, a few hundred metres further down from the distillery on your left.
Other walks around the village
The single track roads going towards Portnahaven and Kilchiaran in the west are very quiet and are great for shorter or longer walks or bike rides. The nearest village towards Portnahaven is Nerabus. And to the west of Port Charlotte is Kilchiaran which has a farm, and more importantly Kilchiaran Chapel and bay. This is the place where St. Columba set foot on Islay in 560AD prior to founding the famous monastery on the Isle of Iona. Next to the chapel is a cup marked stone.
Port Charlotte Pier
From where I lived I could see the Port Charlotte Pier and the many folk visiting it and kids jumping off it. It’s a great place to sit on with a bottle of wine or with a fishing rod trying to catch a Mackerel, of which there are plenty from August onwards. Throughout the year you can spot Dolphins from the pier. The views are stunning, both towards the lighthouse and the Paps of Jura as well as to Bowmore and the Oa Peninsula.
The Islay Museum
The rewarded museum is housed in a former church and can be found on Daal Terrace, opposite the Rhinns Medical Centre. Islay Museum holds a large collection of historical Islay artefacts, photos and documents. It gives a wonderful view on Island life in the olden days and is not to be missed on a visit to the island. For opening hours and other info visit www.islaymuseum.org
Islay Nature Centre
For anyone interested in the local flora and fauna, which is a LOT, a visit to the Islay Nature Centre is a must. They hold a large collection of books, have displays of local wildlife and there is a hands on section for the younger visitors to get close to some of the local wildlife. The folk from the nature centre also organise walks to various parts of the island during the season. For opening hours and an overview of their activities visit www.islaynaturalhistory.org
Port Charlotte is blessed with four excellent restaurants. Two of them can be found in the village centre, the Port Charlotte Hotel and Lochindaal Hotel. Both hotels offer bar meals. There is also the Lochindaal Seafood Kitchen, formerly known as Yans Kitchen and Croft kitchen. The Seafood Kitchen can be found opposite the Islay Museum. Another restaurant is run by Ranga and can be found at Port Mor, the campsite just outside Port Charlotte on the road to Portnahaven. When you’re holidaying on Islay and want to dine out make sure to book a table as it can be very busy at times! If you fancy a traditional evening with music from local artists I can highly recommend a visit to the Port Charlotte hotel bar on Wednesday or Sunday evening. Combined with a good meal you’ll have a fabulous time!
Accommodation in Port Charlotte
As I mentioned earlier, the area close to the Port Charlotte Pier consists mostly of holiday homes. In fact, almost all the houses on Shore Street are holiday homes and with a good reason. It’s great to spend your holiday here, so close to the sea and the beach. Highly recommended come for instance 11 Shore Street and 1 Shore Street. If you’re looking for a hotel try the Port Charlotte Hotel or the somewhat lower priced Lochindaal Hotel. The former distillery building, which houses the Islay Nature Centre, is also home to the only Youth Hostel on Islay. For those arriving on the island with a tent or motorhome are best of at the Port Mor Campsite. They have Electric hookups for motorhomes and lots of space for tents combined with superb views over Loch Indaal and a nearby restaurant. Motorhomes are advised to book in advance. More accommodation can be found on the Islay Info website
Buy Port Charlotte Prints
Stuart Doyle from Islay Taxis purchased a drone recently and has uploaded some incredible videos to Youtube. Below is an aerial overview of Port Charlotte at sunrise on a glorious winter morning. Enjoy!
A Personal Note
Our family has lived in Port Charlotte for six years and we still miss the village a lot, and most of all its people. During our time in the village we’ve met so many wonderful, colourful and lovely folk. It still amazes us how easily we’ve been accepted into this close knit island community. I remember a funeral of one of the locals at Nerabus. Afterwards we had a dram and some oatcakes and Campbell came up to me and said: Now you’re one of us. And that’s exactly how it still feels to this day although we are miles apart. The memories of this wonderful period, the lovely people and the island itself will always have a very special place in our heart. Thanks ?