Pilgrimage to Orwell

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, August 6, 7 & 8, 2004

Jura Isle

Before leaving for England to commence my Pilgrimage to Orwell I copied, in edited form, Orwell's directions to Jura into my Travel Diary. He'd written them in 1947 in a letter to a friend who was coming to visit him in Barnhill:

"Boats leave for Jura on M/W/F
Glasgow Central for Gourok
Join boat at Gourock
Arrive at East Tarbert
Take Bus to West Tarbert
Join boat at West Tarbert
Arrive Jura
Hire car to Ardlussa
You might have to walk the last 7 miles in which case
it would be better for you with a rucksack & haversack."

A few things have changed since 1947 because now the ferry leaves daily and people can drive from Glasgow to West Tarbert. And the ferry doesn't leave from West Tarbert anymore, but from Kennacraig, which is just a few minutes more down the road. And the ferry doesn't go directly to Jura but to the island of Islay where people and cars disembark and those going to Jura get on a small ferry for the five minute ride from Islay's port of Askaig to Jura's port of Feolin. And there are no cars to hire but a van is available for large groups. And the road goes two miles past Ardlussa now which shortens the walk to Barnhill to about five miles. But other than those minor details Orwell's directions are the guideline we used when finding the route on our map.

Jura Map

Inside the Kennacraig Terminal, after buying our tickets, I looked through the tourist rack and found a great big glossy map of Jura and Islay, and some Highland Holiday magazines, which I took to read on the ride.

Kennacraig Terminal   Ferry Coming   Leaving Kennacraig

Then we went to the dock and stared in the distance for first sight of the ferry, which by that time was almost there and before very long we were on board and Kennacraig was behind us and our journey to Jura had officially begun.

In the magazine shop on the ferry I found four little booklets about Jura and read that the word "jura" is Viking for "deer" and that the deer outnumber the people by a ratio of some 300/1 and there are more than 100 bird species. In the photos below I'm reading JURA AND GEORGE ORWELL by Gordon Wright and my husband is reading THE LONG ROAD, A DRIVER'S GUIDE TO JURA, by Peter Youngson. We were saving the last one, JURA, A GUIDE FOR WALKERS by Gordon Wright for when we got to the hotel room. The land mass barely visible in the upper right is the mainland of Scotland receding in the distance.

JJ Ferry Book     JJH Ferry Book

After sailing in open water for an hour and a half or so the ship moved into a channel and the land mass on our right was the island of Jura and the land mass on our left was the island of Islay. We sailed up the channel for a half hour and then the announcement said we'd be arriving shortly at Port Askaig, Islay. Soon the ferry docked, its big mouth opened and we all drove off. We were immediatlely loaded on to a little ferry that took about five minutes to sail across the channel to Jura. The photos below were taken from the middle of the channel and show Islay receding in the background and Jura looming ahead.

Ferry at Islay     Jura Ferry Dock

My excitement as we docked was hard to contain. I was almost jumping up and down with glee. This must be what it feels like to reach base camp at Mt Everest. The photo below shows me taking my first step on Jura 'terra firma'. "One small step for man, one Orwell leap for mankind".

Jackie on Jura

The drive from the ferry to the one and only town, Craighouse, takes about twenty minutes and is slow going because of the flocks of sheep who seem to think the juiciest grass is across the road and have no curiosity for the cars or people passing by. The road is wide enough for only one vehicle and so whenever two cars meet one must pull into a "passing place" and let the other car go by.

Jura Road     Hotel & Distillery

Going down a hill and then around a sharp bend the heart of Craighouse suddenly appears. That's me standing at the bottom of the hill with the Jura Hotel on my right and the Jura Distillery on my left.

We arrived on Jura during the busiest weekend of the year - the Regatta - and were very lucky to get the only room available due to a cancellation. Our room was the best in the house as far as we were concerned because it was on the top floor (the little dormer window above the 'E') and had a perfect view of the harbour:

JuraRoomWindow JuraRoomWindowIn

Jura Harbour

It was one of the prettiest rooms I have ever stayed in. There were twin beds with eiderdown quilts and a lamp and table in between. The bedspreads matched the bright, cheerful curtains and there were throw pillows and a cozy chair to read in. There were flowers on a desk and a stool for the suitcase and a dresser to throw our keys and change on and a big closet with a mirror and shelves for clothes and shoes. There was a shower in the bathroom 'closet' with a curtain that wrapped all the way around while the water sprayed down from above. There literally wasn't enough room to turn around in but it worked great. And there were all the fixings for tea and coffee and little packages of biscuits and crackers. I was glad we were staying for two nights so that we could settle into it comfortably.

After unpacking we drove the thirty miles up the island as far as the manor house at Ardlussa to get the lay of the land for our trip to Barnhill the next day. When we got back to the hotel I shopped at the souvenir display in the lobby and bought postcards and a hand-knit wool toque (prounounced 'tuke') which is Canada's word for a hat. It fit perfectly and would match my black wool winter coat. I'll forever call it my "Jura Hat". We had dinner in the bar-room next to the pub. I ordered Jura venison and pursuaded my husband to eat something with haggis in it so I could have a taste. I remembered Orwell's description of it:

"There is the famous Scottish haggis, in which liver, oatmeal, onions and other ingredients are minced up and cooked inside the stomach of a sheep."

Breakfast the next morning - before our hike to Barnhill - was the usual toast, bacon, ham, sausages, eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, and beans with the additional item of "black pudding". My husband raved on about its virtues and I tried a bit but wasn't as crazy about it.

Dining Room

You can see how elegant the dining room is with its chintz drapes and beautifully laid tables. That painting on the wall is a view looking south at Craighouse. We took the hotel up on their offer of "bagged lunches for hikers" because we were planning to have a picnic at Barnhill. While they were preparing it I sat in the lounge reading the "Scotsman News" in hard-copy as opposed to on-line like I usually do. It's one of my favourite newspapers and I link to it alot on the website. We walked to the village store to buy postage stamps and crisps. They sold beer and hard liquor there so we asked for Jura whiskey. They said we'd have to buy that at the Distillery but it being Saturday the Distillery was closed.

We walked to the car - put our boots in the 'boot' - and then began the drive up the island to where the road ends and the walk to Barnhill begins. Two miles after driving past the manor house at Ardlussa - and opening and closing two gates to keep the cows contained - we came to the end of the road for cars and parked in the space available there.

There was a stack of coal in clear plastic bags destined, we assumed, for Barnhill. I imagined it to be a gift to Orwell from the coal-miners he'd immortalized in The Road to Wigan Pier. He said, "Our civilization is founded on coal and in the metabolism of the Western world the coal-miner is second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil...You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower'. Orwell would be disgusted with the treatment of the coal-miners these days who are permanently out of work while coal is brought to Newcastle on Russian ships. I'd read about it in Canada just before leaving and had looked for coverage of outrage in England but I'd found none.

Just beyond the point where the trail to Barnhill begins a solitary white horse was watching us. I went up to try and pat him but he walked away before I reached him. He didn't seem to want his picture taken.

Walk Begins     Horse & Jackie

My feelings as we began the walk to Barnhill are hard to explain. I kept thinking of the words written on a biscuit tin I'd used for years, "The road to a friend's house is never long". I felt that I was truly going to visit a friend, a friend who I very much wanted to see.

Walking to Barnhill     Walking to Barnhill

We weren't in any hurry and stopped a few times to take photos. The weather was absolutely perfect with glorious sunshine but not too hot. My husband walked ahead of me most of the way but sometimes we'd walk side by side and talk about Orwell. After walking for an hour and a half or so we made a bet to see who would be the first to spot Barnhill. Not long after that we came to the crest of a hill and there it was! It appeared all of a sudden and all at once! And I won the bet.

Barnhill in Sight

After our incredible visit to Barnhill, which is described in its own section called VISITING ORWELL'S BARNHILL, and which you should go to now, we climbed the big hill we'd earlier descended.

Barnhill Hill

Exhausted after the climb I had a nap on the slope of Orwell's hill, my idea of "Splendour in the Grass". After awakening we took one last photo of Barnhill which was again a small white dot in the landscape but one that I would forever remember full size and up close.

Barnhill Nap     Jackie & Barnhill

Walking back from Barnhill seemed to go faster than walking to it had. Maybe it was because my head was so full of thoughts of visiting with the Fletchers and of actually seeing Barnhill with my own eyes. We took pictures at opposite sides of a little bridge where I jotted down thoughts in my Travel Diary to make sure I didn't forget them.

Walking Back Bridge     Walking Back Diary

Before we knew it we saw the white horse in the distance again which meant that we were almost at the starting point where we'd parked the car. This time he didn't look away when we took his picture.

White Horse Again

On the way back to Craighouse I popped some postcards into a mailbox located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, next to a 'typically English' red phone-box (which you see part of on the left of the photo). There's a little village down there where the sun is shining. The sun was starting to set in the west and the trees were casting long shadows.

Mail & Phone Box

A little further on I tried to snap a picture, from the car, of a deer who didn't run away when we stopped to look at him. But the camera refused to flash and he eventually frisked away.

Back in Craighouse we unwound with a pint of Scottish beer in front of the hotel and talked about the wonderful experiences of the day. We drank a toast to Orwell.

Beer at Jura

We spent our last night in Jura attending the dance at the Community Hall where a Scottish band was playing and the locals did some fantastic highland dancing and a young man played the bagpipes. We bought a raffle ticket hoping to win a bottle of Jura whisky (they don't sell it anywhere on the island except at the distillery but the distillery was closed).


JuraWhiskyBox JuraWhiskyBottle

Our ticket didn't win but we did manage to get a bottle of Jura Whisky at the duty-free shop of the airport before leaving England.

In the dining room the next morning we told our waitress that we'd seen her dancing the night before and that she must be very tired. She scoffed it off saying "not at all, I left early" and then proceeded to bring us a pot of hot water with no teabag.

Our ferry was leaving shortly after 10AM to take us to Islay in time to catch the 12 o'clock ferry back to the mainland. In the time we had to wait we took a drive on Islay and on our way back took pictures from the top of the hill where the road starts corkscrewing down:

Paps of Jura     Islay Port

Those mountains in the distance are the Paps of Jura and that's Port Askaig down below. Notice the little Jura ferry pulled up at the dock waiting for the cars to come off the big ferry which is obscured behind the trees.

Wishing I were beginning my visit to Jura and not ending it I walked over to the dock and watched the cars driving on to the little ferry. It lifted its little draw bridge and headed back to Jura, looking more than anything like "The Little Engine That Could".

Jura Ferry

The day was very windy and the sea very choppy and it felt good to stand on deck and be almost blown away.

Jura Goodbye   Bottom of Jura

In the first photo above you can see the Paps of Jura immediately behind me. I'm hiding the ferry dock but on my left - a mile along the road to Craighouse - you can see a driveway leading down to a big house. That's a private residence now but it used to be a hotel. Our DRIVER'S GUIDE TO JURA says it was built in the 17th century, by government statue, as an Inn for the highlanders "to protect them from the serious effects of their own hospitality". I stayed on deck for a long time, staring with my binoculars at Jura receding into the mist on our left. The second photo shows the bottom of Jura and its eastern tip as we exit the Islay channel.

I tried to imagine how hard it must have been for Orwell to be leaving Jura for the last time, knowing that he would never be back and that he didn't have long to live. The tune to Roger Whittaker's song "Durham Town" kept running through my head:

I've gotta leave old Jura town,
I've gotta leave old Jura town.
I've gotta leave old Jura town,
And that leaving's gonna get me down.

Back in nineteen eighty-four,
I remember Orwell walking out the door.
Many said he would write no more, he was leaving,
Leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving.

I've gotta leave old Jura town,
I've gotta leave old Jura town.
I've gotta leave old Jura town,
And that leaving's gonna get me down.

When Eileen was a girl, she spent her time,
Sitting on the banks of the river Tyne.
Watching all the ships going down the line, they were leaving,
Leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving, leaving.

I've gotta leave old Jura town,
I've gotta leave old Jura town.
I've gotta leave old Jura town,
And that leaving's gonna get me down...

~ listen Durham Town (The Leavin') You Tube

Leaving Scotland and heading back to my husband's relatives between Durham and Newcastle, we stopped at Hadrian's Wall. The next day, our final day up north, we all went to South Shields for a picnic but it rained so hard we ate it in the car instead of on the beach. After taking 'a seaside photo' we drove to Newcastle for shopping.

South Shield Beach     Angel of North

Orwell's wife Eileen had been born and raised in South Shields and she is buried in Newcastle. Several times on his journeys to and from Jura Orwell stopped in Newcastle to visit Eileen's grave. As we passed the "Angel of The North" I snapped a photo in rememberance of her for Orwell.


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
website: www.orwelltoday.com