Portnahaven, and neighbouring Port Wemyss, should really be on your itinerary when you visit Islay! From experience I know that some visitors to Islay never make it to this part of the island. That’s really a shame, as the Southern tip of the Rhinns is perhaps the best place to experience being on an island. It feels remote and can only be reached by a 20 minute drive over a beautiful single track road from Port Charlotte.
Portnahaven is a fishing village. The first thing you’ll see when you arrive is the beautiful bay on your left, usually with some anchored fishing boats. And of course the terraced cottages along the shore and back up on the hill. It doesn’t get more picturesque than this!
Dominating the skyline is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse with a height of 45 metres, built on Orsay island in 1825 by the Stevensons. Right from the lighthouse are the remains of a chapel and on top of the cliffs is the red fog horn which is no longer in use.
Where most villages on Islay have their own church, the one in Portnahaven is shared with the neighbouring village of Port Wemyss. That’s why this pretty church, built by Thomas Telford, has two doors. You can find the church in the village centre, next to OK corner. Portnahaven church has a very pretty interior and is open for visitors. Highly recommended is T in the Church on Wednesday mornings. Everyone is welcome to pop-in, have a coffee and cake, and mingle with the locals. They are a happy and welcoming bunch. T in the Church is organised to support the upkeep of the church, you’re presence and contributions are therefore very welcome!
If there’s one place on Islay where you can easily spot seals it’s in Portnahaven Bay. They are quite curious and often observe the observers! But mostly they are just enjoying their place on the rocks and some sunshine. Larger groups of seals can be found on Orsay island, below the lighthouse. Quite often you can hear from from a distance and even see them from the Path of the Fisherman, the shoreline footpath in Port Wemyss.
Beaches in and around the village
At the top of the bay, opposite the Spar shop, is the entrance to the village beach. It’s a small beach but very secluded and facing south, ideal for some sunbathing and for kids to play on. If you’re looking for a somewhat larger beach it’s best to go to the Currie Sands at Claddach. You can find this beach a little over a mile to the west. Walking from Portnahaven is recommended as the views from the Claddach road are breathtaking!
Portnahaven and the road up to Claddach offer some of the best places to watch the sometimes enormous waves coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say this happens most in the winter months, from November to March. Islay is at its quietest in these months and most beaches and other places feel somewhat deserted. For folk looking for peace and quite this could be an ideal period to holiday on Islay. And it’s guaranteed midge free in winter!
To discover the area around Portnahaven I can recommend a stunning walk. This is the Portnahaven – Ballymeanach – Claddach walk. The walk is around 3 miles. From Portnahaven village head out north to the west road towards Ballymeanach. Make sure to visit the Celtic Craft shop on your left. This is a treasure trove of stunning handcrafted Islay gifts! They also sell online. Now take the first road on your left and head towards the sea. When you reach Claddach Loch walk on a little further, halfway up the hill is a gate, go right onto the field and keep on walking west keeping the hill on your left. From here you’ll have amazing views of the Frenchmen’s Rocks. This is a great place to observe Gannets. Follow the sheep tracks along the shore until you reach the former wave station, this is no longer in use. From here you can follow a track through the dunes and enter the Currie Sands from the west. On stormy days it’s great to do some wave watching but be careful on the cliffs!
In the vicinity of Portnahaven is An Gleann Tablet. They make hand-made butter and whisky tablet and are a real treat. Jane Mitchell, the owner of An Gleann, lives between Portnahaven and Port Charlotte and sells her tablets and other local produce from her home. She is open most days! Visit her website for more info and opening hours.
On the west road, not far from the Cultoon Stone Circle, you can find Tormisdale Croft Crafts. Much like the Celtic Craft Shop, but different, this is a treasure trove of lovely bits and bobs, nice souvenirs, yarns and some fresh produce too. Anne, the owner of the shop, is very friendly and she’ll happily show you around the place. A must visit!
Accommodation and eating out in Portnahaven
There is no hotel in Portnahaven, neither a pub. An Tigh Seinnse, the last remaining pub in this part of Islay, unfortunately closed recently. Hopefully someone will take over soon. There are a few B&B’s and Self Catering properties in and around Portnahaven. For a comprehensive overview visit Islay Info.
Buy Portnahaven Prints
A Portnahaven Sunset£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Cattle Portnahaven£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
November Sunset£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
OK Corner Portnahaven£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Portnahaven Bay£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Portnahaven Evening£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Rhinns Lighthouse Orsay£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Storm Portnahaven£28.00 – £48.00 Select options
Currie Sands Video
Below is a video I shot a couple of years ago. Enjoy!