Ghost hunting on Jura

31 Jul

There is a legend at Jura Lodge – a lofty, alluringly designed self-catering lodge attached to the Jura whisky distillery in Scotland – that the ghost of a former school teacher wanders its halls, waiting to spy on unassuming guests.

I did not know this.

At least, not when I agreed to stay there.

It wasn’t until I was with a group of people driving to the ferry which connects Islay and Jura, that I found out I was due to stay two nights with a potentially haunted figure.

As it turned out, most of Jura Island feels it should be haunted. Despite its eeriness, it is a stunning place to visit if you find yourself heading northwards.

The island in the Inner Hebrides has only 200 residents on its craggy shores and is connected to the more populous next door island, Islay, by a small car ferry. Ringed by the soaring purple and pink Paps of Jura, the 37 mile long land feels anchored in a mysterious past, made modern only by its inhabitants and their guests – many of whom sit in the realm of the glitzy and glamorous (think: the Astors and Prime Minister David Cameron).

I was there visiting the Jura whisky distillery, a small, single malt producer owned by Whyte & Mackay. The aforementioned Lodge was previously the home of the distillery manager, but was renovated for guests of the distillery and people wishing to rent the space for a visit.

With expansive wooden-floored rooms filled with fireplaces, claw-footed bathtubs and picture frame windows looking out onto the bay, the place would feel peaceful if you were unaware of light-footed ghouls. When I entered my room, I made sure to say hello to the ghost, let her know I was not there to harm her and would be sure to be as quiet as possible (all things one is apparently supposed to do when sharing a space with those trapped in the otherworld).

Despite my focused admission of a potential roommate, it did nothing to ease my wariness when I lowered myself into the big bathtub, with its long curtain which draped awkwardly behind my head, therefore creating a crevice into which a ghost could slip. Seeing the room reflected in the taps, I was sure I would catch sight of something whooshing past. Luckily, I managed to get through my soak sans sighting, but that did little to convince me all would be fine.

The next day, I took a fascinating tour of the island during which I learned of its spooky, superstitious history, most of which is illustrated at a lovely little photo exhibit in the local church. Black and white shots going back to the early 20th century show how hard life was on the rocky, windswept island, cut off from the rest of Scotland. The population declined rapidly over the years, with many people moving to the mainland to seek employment.

The land is said to have been visited by the Knights of the Templar. A walk up to the graveyard showed heavy stones inlaid in the ground, embellished with intricate carvings, featuring swords. At the other end of the graveyard rest many of the famous former owners of much of Jura: the Campbell family. While the family was in full power until the early 20th century, a legend called ‘The Jura Prophecy’ tells that the family fell in disrepute after trying to raise taxes on an already suffering population. When the landowners refused to pay, the family destroyed all of their houses. A wise woman is said to have cursed the family with the idea that the last Campbell would leave with all of his possessions in a cart pulled by a white horse and be blind in one eye, which is just what happened to Charles Campbell in 1938.

Driving around the rest of the island makes one feel like being stranded away from most living creatures. This was exactly what George Orwell – who retreated to the island to write his famed novel, 1984 – was after. His trip nearly saw fate deal him a fatal blow, however, when he came close to drowning in the swirling, tumultuous Correyvrecken whirlpool. He was luckily saved and went on to write his most renowned piece of literature in 1948. If you go to visit the Correyvrecken with one of the local boat companies, be sure to look out for the lovely Jura seals, which lounge languidly on rocks far out in the bay.

If you do visit Jura, continue on your journey to the far tip of the island to Inverlussa beach, where you’ll find ‘Tea on the Beach’. Here, patrons can radio in to the hostess, who happily delivers homemade cakes and tea or coffee down to the beach to those wishing to partake – a brilliant way to spend some time relaxing before heading back down the island.

And, if you find yourself visiting Jura Lodge, but find it’s too scary to occupy – head across the road to the Jura Hotel, which also serves up a tasty meal in its pub – a perfect spot to watch the waves and sunset over the harbour.

If you are comfortable sharing a space with potential ghosts, then definitely check out Jura Lodge – if only to say hello to the man donning a suit of armour in the lounge, or to view the hauntingly, spine-shivering black and white photos of young girls clutching dollies in the second lounge.

Just make sure to keep the noise down and ensure the former school teacher that you’ll be kind to her if she appears.

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One Response to “Ghost hunting on Jura”

  1. Annick Gwilt August 17, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    What a gorgeous place : history, legends, distillery,scenery and a marvelous hotel : LG- life is good for Alwynne !

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