In 2015, Unfiltered magazine undertook a two-wheeled tour of Islay to experience the island in all its glory – cycling around all of its (then) eight distilleries in one day

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Islay is blessed in many ways. Not only does the island have an abundance of all the natural ingredients necessary to create great whisky, it also has the ideal rolling landscape, and scale, for an unforgettable day out on two wheels.

Cycling gives your senses free reign to soak up the essence of the island: not only its sights and sounds, but the distinctive smells associated with whisky in general and Islay in particular. This is as much a sensory as a physical journey, to be savoured as you would draw out the depths of your single cask, single malt.

To discover the distilleries and connect with the heart of the island, Unfiltered set out on the inaugural Tour de Islay, a 63-mile (101 km) route from Ardbeg to Bowmore.

To add to the occasion, we pulled on a special Fèis Ìle 2015 cycling jersey and stuffed a Tour de Islay brevet card in our back pockets, to be stamped at each distillery along the way.

Ready for the off - the team gathers outside Ardbeg distillery.

Ardbeg to Lagavulin and Laphroaig

With a thick mist and an island drizzle in the air, our Tour gets off to what could euphemistically be called an atmospheric early morning start at a deserted Ardbeg distillery. The only way to warm up is to get moving. Within three miles we have stamped our brevet cards three times, quickly adding Lagavulin and Laphroaig to the list – but the island tour has barely begun.

Getting our special Tour de Islay brevet card stamped.

Laphroaig to Caol Ila

From Laphroaig and neighbouring Port Ellen, we take the quieter High Road, with its wave-like undulations – a cyclist’s delight. From out of the mist, an isolated red phone box appears, and as we approach the turn off for the Glen Road there is a welcome break in the clouds. The Glen Road exposes us to the wild moorland at the heart of the island, and a gradual climb, before we sweep down onto the smoother tarmac heading to our next stop, Caol Ila.

The imposing, factory-like surroundings of Caol Ila are tucked away at the bottom of a steep descent which tests our brakes and our appetite for climbing when we have to return to the main road. The distillery might not be the most picturesque, but we can’t fault its location on the Sound of Islay. Brian tells us the distillery manager had to turn his desk around to face away from the view, otherwise he’d never get any work done.

Exposed Islay countryside between Laphroaig and Caol Ila distilleries.

Caol Ila to Bunnahabhain

We climb out of Caol Ila and roll along the sweeping single-track road towards Bunnahabhain, the most northerly of the distilleries and considered by many to be the most untypical of Islay. The smell of malt hits us as we drop down to the shoreline and take a seat on casks piled high on the shoreline.

A tricky wee climb to get back up the road out of Bunnahabhain distillery.

Caol Ila to Bunnahabhain

We climb out of Caol Ila and roll along the sweeping single-track road towards Bunnahabhain, the most northerly of the distilleries and considered by many to be the most untypical of Islay. The smell of malt hits us as we drop down to the shoreline and take a seat on casks piled high on the shoreline.

Studying the brevet card outside Caol Ila distillery.

Bunnahabhain to Kilchoman

We’re half way through our tour and in need of sustenance, so we stop off at Labels café in Ballygrant to refuel on hearty homemade soup and sandwiches. After all the stopping and starting, it’s time to get a move on, so we form a neat peloton heading down towards Bridgend and then along Loch Indaal.

Before Bruichladdich, we turn right for a four-mile slog into the wind to reach Rockside Farm, home of Kilchoman. The island’s only in-land distillery is a welcome sight, not so much for the structure, but for the knowledge we can turn around and pedal back towards Bruichladdich with the wind behind us.

Not a bad spot to stop and catch your breath.

Kilchoman to Bruichladdich

The distinctive aqua colours of Bruichladdich’s casks which spell out the distillery’s name are a welcome sight, as we sweep through the gates to get our brevet cards stamped again. We’re also almost there – seven down, one to go.

Time for a quick look around the still room at Bruichladdich.

Bruichladdich to Bowmore

We’ve saved the best spell for last, with a strong wind propelling us along the coast of Loch Indaal towards our finishing point at Bowmore. It’s time for quiet reflection as we gaze across the white sands to the grey-blue waters lapping on the shore. The Tour is complete, and the memories are already being stored. As we celebrate with a well-deserved dram, we make a toast to Islay – and to returning to do it all again next year.


Check out the Strava route from our Tour de Islay in May 2015 here. Hope to see you back on Islay in 2021!

Tour de Islay: The Homecoming video

Unfiltered also put together a fantastic video of the Society’s Fèis Ìle bottling returning to the island in 2015, along with the Tour de Islay. Check it out below: