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Jura, Scotland facts for kids

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Norse name Dýr-ey/Hjǫrt-ey
Meaning of name Old Norse for 'deer island'
OS grid reference NR589803
Coordinates 56°00′N 5°54′W / 56°N 5.9°W / 56; -5.9
Physical geography
Island group Islay
Area 366.92 km2 (142 sq mi)
Area rank 8 
Highest elevation Beinn an Òir 785 m (2,575 ft)
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Argyll and Bute
Population 196
Population density 0.5 people/km2
Largest settlement Craighouse

Jura ( JOOR; Scottish Gaelic: Diùra) is an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, adjacent to and to the north-east of Islay. Compared with its fertile and more populous neighbour, Jura is mountainous, bare and infertile, covered largely by vast areas of blanket bog, hence its small population. In a list of the islands of Scotland ranked by size, Jura comes eighth, whereas ranked by population it comes thirty-first. It is in the council area of Argyll and Bute.


Evidence of settlements on Jura dating from the Mesolithic period was first uncovered by the English archaeologist John Mercer in the 1960s. There is evidence of Neolithic settlement at Poll a' Cheo in the southwest of the island. The modern name "Jura" dates from the Norse-Gael era and is from the Old Norse Dyrøy meaning "beast [wild animal] island".

In the 6th century, it is believed that Jura may have been the location of Hinba, the island to which the Irish founder of the Christian Church in Scotland Saint Columba retreated for prayer and contemplation from the monastic community which he founded on Iona.


The Viking occupation of the Hebrides began in the 9th century, and was formalised when sovereignty was secured in 1098. From this point, Norse rule continued until 1266, when the Hebrides, together with Kintyre and the Isle of Man, were ceded to Scotland in the Treaty of Perth. A key figure during the Norse period was the warlord Somerled, whose descendants, for around 150 years from the mid-14th century, styled themselves Lords of the Isles.

Lords of the Isles

The Lordship of the Isles was dominated by Clan Donald, whose seat was at Finlaggan on Islay. The Lordship came to an end in 1493, but Clan Donald continued to rule the southern part of Jura, through the MacDonalds of Dunnyveg. The north of the island, however, was owned by this time by Clan Maclean, whose seat was at Aros Castle in Glengarrisdale. In 1647, this was the site of a notable battle between the Macleans and the Campbells of Craignish. For many years in the 20th century, a human skull stood on a ledge in a nearby cave, and it was traditionally said to have been the remains of a Maclean who had been killed in this battle. The skull is no longer there, but the latest editions of Ordnance Survey maps still mark the location as 'Maclean's Skull Cave'.


The demise of the Lords of the Isles at the end of the 15th century was shortly followed in 1506 by the Treaty of Camas an Staca, which removed MacDonald rights on Jura and gave them to the Campbells. Despite this, the 16th century was a period of skirmishing between the warring clans: McDonalds, Campbells, MacLeans and others. Then in 1607 the Campbells finally bought the island from the MacDonalds. This was the beginning of some three hundred years during which the island was ruled and largely owned by eleven successive Campbell lairds. The north of the island, however, remained in MacLean hands until 1737, when it was sold to Donald MacNeil of Colonsay.


From the mid-18th century, long before the notorious Highland Clearances of the 19th century, there were a number of waves of emigration from Jura. In 1767, fifty people left Jura for Canada, and from that point the population gradually shrank from over a thousand to its 20th century level of just a few hundred. Mercer notes that although relatively few forced clearances on Jura were recorded, the emigrations were far from voluntary, but were the result of factors such as hunger and spiralling rents.

Recent and current ownership

During the first half of the 20th century the Campbells gradually sold the island as a number of separate estates, and the Campbell connection with Jura ended in 1938 with the sale of Jura House and the Ardfin Estate. There are now seven estates on Jura, all in separate ownership, with six of the seven held by absentees: Ardfin, Inver, Jura Forest, Tarbert, Ruantallain, Ardlussa and Barnhill. There is also a relatively small area owned by Forestry Commission Scotland.

Barnhill was the home of British novelist George Orwell, who lived there intermittently from 1946 until his death in January 1950, and who completed his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four while living there. Despite its isolation, Barnhill has in recent years become something of a shrine for his readers.

The Ardfin Estate is situated at the southern tip of the island, between Feolin and Craighouse. For some seventy years from 1938, Ardfin belonged to the Riley-Smith family, brewers from Tadcaster in Yorkshire. In 2010 the estate was bought by Greg Coffey, an Australian hedge fund manager, and since then the famous walled garden of Jura House, which had previously been a popular tourist attraction, has been closed to the public. Having also wound up the estate's farm, Mr Coffey then submitted proposals for the construction of a private 18-hole golf course on the estate, which was due to be completed in 2016.

North of Ardfin, and flanking the Paps of Jura, lie the estates of Forest and Inver. Forest Estate, on the east side of the Paps, belongs to Samuel, 3rd Baron Vestey, Chairman of the food and farming business Vestey Group Ltd, and Master of the Horse of the Royal Household. Below the west slopes of the Paps lies Inver Estate, which belongs to Sir William Lithgow, Vice-Chairman of the Glasgow shipbuilding group Lithgows.

North of the Corran River, and stretching as far as Loch Tarbert, is the Tarbert Estate. Former Prime Minister David Cameron has visited the estate on several occasions. It is sometimes reported that the 20,000-acre estate is "owned by his wife's stepfather Lord Astor" although the ownership of the Tarbert Estate is in the hands of Ginge Manor Estates Ltd, based in Nassau in the Bahamas, and there is "no means of verifying" who the beneficial owners are. North of Loch Tarbert is Ruantallain, which was created when the northern half of the Tarbert Estate was sold off in 1984. It is owned by businessman Lindsay Bury, who is a former president of the influential wildlife charity Flora and Fauna International. The north of Jura belongs to two members of the Fletcher family. The owner of Ardlussa is Andrew Fletcher, who lives at Ardlussa House with his family - they are the only estate owners to be permanently resident on Jura. And at the northernmost tip of Jura, overlooking the famous Corryvreckan Whirlpool is the Barnhill Estate, which is owned by Jamie Fletcher.


Wfm jura landsat
Satellite picture of Jura

With an area of 36,692 hectares, or 142 square miles (368 km2), and only 196 inhabitants recorded in the 2011 census, Jura is much more sparsely populated than neighbouring Islay, and is one of the least densely populated islands of Scotland. Census records show that Jura's population peaked at 1,312 in 1831, and that, in common with many areas of western Scotland, the island's population declined steadily over the ensuing decades. However, there has been a small increase since 2001. During the same decade Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702. Alongside the long-term decline in Jura's population has been a decline in the number of Gaelic speakers. The 1881 census reported that 86.6% (out of 946 inhabitants) spoke Gaelic. In 1961, for the first time less than half (46.9%) spoke the language and by 2001, this figure had dropped to 10.6%.

The main settlement is the village of Craighouse on the east coast. Craighouse is home to the Jura distillery, producing Isle of Jura single malt whisky. The village is also home to the island's only hotel, shop and church.

Between the northern tip of Jura and the island of Scarba lies the Gulf of Corryvreckan, where a whirlpool makes passage dangerous at certain states of the tide. The southern part of the island, from Loch Tarbert southwards, is one of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland.


The isle of Jura is composed largely of Dalradian quartzite, a hard metamorphic rock which provides the jagged surface of the Paps. Throughout the western half of the island the quartzite has been penetrated by a number of linear basalt dikes which were formed during a period of intense volcanic activity in the Lower Tertiary period, some 56 million years ago. These dikes are most apparent on the west coast, where erosion of the less-resistant rock into which they are intruded has left them exposed as natural walls. The west coast also has a number of raised beaches, which are regarded as a geological feature of international importance.


Jura lies close to the Scottish mainland, and yet it is often described as "remote"; the island's most distinguished resident, George Orwell, famously described it as "extremely ungetatable". This may be because it has no direct air or ferry link to the mainland, apart from a passenger ferry which runs, in the summer only, from the village of Tayvallich near Lochgilphead. Most travellers to Jura go by CalMac car ferry from Kennacraig on the Kintyre Peninsula to Islay, and then cross to Jura from Port Askaig on Islay by the MV Eilean Dhiura, a small vehicle ferry which is run by ASP Ships on behalf of Argyll and Bute Council. Islay can also be reached by air: Islay Airport is served by daily flights from Glasgow and twice weekly from Oban.

Jura has only one road of any significance, the single-track A846, which follows the southern and eastern coastline of the island from Feolin Ferry to Craighouse, a distance of around eight miles (13 km). The road then continues to Lagg, Tarbert, Ardlussa and beyond. A private track runs from the road end to the far north of the island. A local bus service on the island is operated by Garelochhead Coaches.


The island has a large population of red deer and it is commonly believed that the name Jura is derived from hjǫrtr, the Old Norse word for deer. (In Old Norse dýr was a euphemism for hjǫrtr, as this was a sacred and tabooed word.) Through browsing, the deer prevent the vegetation on the island from turning back to woodland, which is the natural climax community; indeed an alternative explanation of the island's name is that it derives from 'the great quantity of yew trees which grew in the island' in earlier times.

Jura is also noted for its bird life, and especially for its raptors, including buzzards, golden eagles, white-tailed eagles and hen harriers. Since 2010 Jura has been designated by Scottish Natural Heritage as a Special Protection Area for golden eagles. Like many other parts of the Hebrides and western Scotland, the shores of Jura are frequented by grey seals, and the elusive otter is also relatively common here, as is the adder, the UK's only venomous snake.

Two of the Paps of Jura taken from above Caol Ìla on Islay
Scree-covered peak of Beinn an Òir
Beinn Shiantaidh from the south
Beinn Shiantaidh from the south

Paps of Jura

The island is dominated by three steep-sided conical quartzite mountains on its western side – the Paps of Jura – which rise to 2,575 feet (785 m). There are three major peaks:

  • Beinn an Òir (Gaelic: mountain of gold) is the highest peak, standing at 2,575 feet (785 m), and is thereby a Corbett.
  • Beinn Shiantaidh (Gaelic: holy mountain) stands at 2,477 feet (755 m) high.
  • Beinn a' Chaolais (Gaelic: mountain of the kyle) is the lowest of the Paps, reaching 2,408 feet (734 m).

The Paps dominate the landscape in the region and can be seen from the Mull of Kintyre and, on a clear day, from the Skye and Northern Ireland. The route of the annual Isle of Jura Fell Race includes all three Paps and four other hills.

These hills were the subject of William McTaggart's 1902 painting The Paps of Jura, now displayed in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Literary accounts

In 1549, Donald Monro, Dean of the Isles, wrote that the island was "ane ather fyne forrest for deire, inhabit and manurit at the coist syde", with "fresche water Loches, with meikell of profit" and an abundance of salmon.

However, when the soldier and military historian Sir James Turner visited Jura in 1632, he was less impressed, reporting that '[it is] a horride ile and a habitation fit for deere and wild beastes'.

But at the end of the 17th century, the writer and traveller Martin Martin went there and concluded that 'this isle is perhaps the wholesomest plot of ground either in the isles or continent of Scotland, as appears by the long life of the natives and their state of health'. Martin noted some extraordinary examples of longevity, including one Gillouir MacCrain, who was alleged to have kept one hundred and eighty Christmases in his own house. And he was impressed by the good health of the inhabitants: 'There is no epidemical disease that prevails here. Fevers are but seldom observed by the natives, and any kind of flux is rare. The gout and agues are not so much as known by them, neither are they liable to sciatica. Convulsions, vapours, palsies, surfeits, lethargies, megrims, consumptions, rickets, pains of the stomach or coughs, are not frequent here, and none of them are at any time observed to become mad.'


Like all inhabited Hebridean islands, Jura has its own indigenous tradition of Gaelic song and poetry. Since 1993 it has also been the home of the Jura Music Festival, which takes place annually in September.

Towards the north end of Jura, some miles beyond the end of the metalled road, is Barnhill, a remote house where the novelist George Orwell spent much of the last three years of his life. Orwell was known to the residents of Jura by his real name, Eric Blair. It was at Barnhill that Orwell finished Nineteen Eighty-Four, during 1947–48 while critically ill with tuberculosis. He sent the final typescript to his publishers, Secker and Warburg, on 4 December 1948, and they published the book on 8 June 1949.

Jura is also known for an event of 23 August 1994, when Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, known then as the music group the KLF, filmed themselves burning £1 million in banknotes in the Ardfin boathouse on the south coast of the island.

Jura is featured in the plot of the 2003 novel A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin, and the 2007 novel The Careful Use of Compliments by the Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith, and is a setting for some of the narrative and action in Anne Michaels' 2008 novel The Winter Vault.

In music, Jura is mentioned in: "Crossing to Jura", a song by R. Kennedy and D. MacDonald, recorded in 1997 by JCB with Jerry Holland on the album A Trip to Cape Breton; "The Bens of Jura", a song by Capercaillie; and "Isle of Jura", a song by Skyclad.

The 2010 album Poets and Lighthouses by Tuvan singer Albert Kuvezin of the band Yat Kha was recorded and produced by the British musician Giles Perring on Jura, with some of the performances being recorded in the forest at Lagg. The album reached Number 1 in the European World Music Charts in January 2011.

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