The Isle of Jura
If you’re looking to “get away from it all” and you want an adventurous holiday, you might be interested in visiting the Isle of Jura, off the west coast of Scotland. Described as “one of Scotland’s last wildernesses”, it has a population of around 200 people, who are outnumbered by the 5,000 red deer who also inhabit the island. Indeed, the island’s name is said to derive from Dyr Oe, Old Norse for Deer Island. Jura is an ancient settlement steeped in Celtic myth and legend, but in more recent times has attracted tourists, some of whom became aware of the island due to its associations with the writer George Orwell, who lived in a remote cottage on its northern tip for two years, from 1946 to 1948, and wrote his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four there.
Orwell appreciated the remoteness of the island, describing it as “an extremely ungetatable place”. He discovered Jura in 1945 through his friend David Astor, whose family owned an estate on the island, and in 1946 moved into the farmhouse of Barnhill. He was suffering from tuberculosis and his wife had recently died, so he chose to get out of London, give his three-year-old son Richard a country upbringing, give himself “six months of quiet” and work on his book, which he planned to call The Last Man In Europe. The farmhouse had no electricity or telephone, was situated at the end of a rough track and was 25 miles from the nearest shop. This would have been enough to deter many literary people, but Orwell seemed to revel in the hardships, fishing, gardening and farming on a small scale. For transport, he relied on a rowing boat with an outboard motor, and an old motorcycle which frequently broke down. Illness eventually forced Orwell to return to London and he died in 1950. His sojourn on Jura has been seen as both a spur to his creativity and a factor in the deterioration of his health.
In the 1990s, Roger Deakin, the writer and environmentalist, decided to follow in Orwell’s footsteps by visiting Jura. Like Orwell, he enjoyed the hospitality of a member of the landowning Astor family – Lord Astor, a nephew of Orwell’s friend. Deakin, inspired by the American writer John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer”, took it upon himself to swim through the British Isles, and described his experiences in his best-selling book “Waterlog” (1999), which stimulated interest in “wild swimming” in the UK . A chapter of his book describes his visit to Jura, walking, camping and swimming, staying outdoors as much as possible and taking everything that the island’s rainy climate could throw at him. He swam in lochs, pools and waterfalls, although he decided against risking his life in the Gulf of Corryvreckan, “one of the most notorious stretches of water anywhere around the British Isles”, and officially classed by the Royal Navy as “unnavigable”. Orwell had narrowly avoided tragedy there, when the whirlpool dragged the outboard engine off his boat, which capsized. He, his sister, his son and two teenage nieces had to be rescued, so Deakin, otherwise intent on pushing himself to the physical limit, turned away from this challenge, although he remarked that contemplating Corryvreckan’s “excess of mad energy” made him feel like “the last man in Europe”.
Nowadays, conditions are much less primitive than in Orwell’s time, when tourism was nonexistent. Nevertheless, there is still no direct ferry service from the mainland (most visitors arrive on ferries from the neighbouring Isle of Islay), and there is only one road, one hotel, one pub and one distillery (which has also become a visitor attraction). You can hire transport to travel around the island, but you still have to watch out for red deer and other livestock on the road. Jura nowadays makes more of its distinctiveness from its neighbours in the Hebridean island chain; promotional videos for the island don’t mention Orwell, but have plenty of idyllic views (mostly shot in summer weather) and invite visitors to enjoy nature and sample this island’s whisky.
For more, please see an article by a literary tourist who visited Jura at
You can find accounts of George Orwell’s life on Jura at http://www.orwelltoday.com/juraorwell’slife.shtml
Also visit the Isle Of Jura website at http://isleofjura.scot/