Mhairi Clarke

Sun-filtered memories of Islay flash into my mind, 8mm cine camera style, as I board the plane for my visit. Picnic days and barbecue nights on Kilnaughton beach, the excited childhood chattery ramble through the ferns over to the Singing Sands, the distant noise of the waves crashing onto the Big Strand, the excitement of the Sunday lunchtime ferry coming in to Port Ellen with the newspapers, the cycles from my grandparents’ house up past Lagavulin and on to Ardbeg, ice creams at Davaars and pocket money treats at the Post Office. The places and people of Islay; some are still here, some are gone.

I have Islay in my blood, a family connection going back 200 years. I come here every year. With a lifetime of memories and a strong, spiritual connection, I feel like a distant local, so when I heard that international hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray was putting his inimitable stamp on The Machrie, I started having my own little virtual check in now and again to see how things were going. Very well it would seem.

As I travelled the quarter mile towards the hotel from the Bowmore road, I was struck by how little had changed. It was still a big white building in the misty distance. As I got closer, the mists (of Machrie Moor, and time…) lifted and beyond the white croft exterior, I could see things had changed hugely.

Much of the hotel, an 18th century farmhouse, has been retained and refurbished and to the rear a courtyard and wings have been built to offer a first floor restaurant with Atlantic views, private dining facilities, a cinema, spa, gym and an additional 20 rooms to the original 27.

The light in Islay is so different to anywhere I’ve been. On a dull day (even with 50 mph winds…), it’s still spirit-raisingly bright. You can get lost watching the mood of the sky change throughout the day, staring out the enormous windows. The thoughtful design of The Machrie allows Islay’s light from the south west to connect you to the landscape and energy, no place more so than in 18 Restaurant & Bar, with its double height vaulted ceiling and wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows. The nuances in the light throughout the day are captured in the hotel’s design, a mix of Scottish colours and textures led by a Scandinavian design ethic.

The Machrie decor is uplifting and airy but cosy, simple and unfussy with layers of detail, from the placement of every piece of furniture, the eclectic mix of colours that shouldn’t work but completely do, the different fabrics, textures and woods, the carefully curated items that appear on walls and tables offering inspiration; the contemporary wooden block stag’s head above the roaring fireplace in the Stag Lounge to the ‘nod to golf’ Hermès-inspired style scarves dotted around the walls of the hotel in giant picture frames.

The landscapes of Islay run through the interiors with a beautiful, minimalist subtlety; a mix of sage and forest greens, russet hues, heathery pinks, soft blackberry, dove greys, marine blues and warm whites, with welcome bursts of golden yellow.

My bedrooms is gentle minimalist with character. Bed the size of a giant cloud, sunshine yellow DAB on my bedside table, enormous pale French grey panelled wardrobe with the right amount of hanging and drawer space, wooden cross leg table with creeping ivy plant and a selection of books, a bathroom that has been thoughtfully designed – basket of towels, luxury products and a spa-like interior.

The food in 18 Restaurant & Bar draws inspiration from the island’s farms, distilleries and shores and nearby pockets of Argyll’s larder. A two-course lunch will set you back £18.95 and £21.95 for a 3-course. I had the Isle of Mull cheese soufflé and mustard sauce to start; the most divine, cheesy cloud of perfection and the roast chicken breast, garlic potato and broccoli for my main course. The chicken was bursting with flavour, complemented by another worldly dreamy mix of silky Dauphinoise potato heaven, gravy, sweetcorn, creamy sauce and shreds of bacon.

Expressions from each of the island’s distilleries sit side by side at the bar, which also offers a range of local, hand-crafted ales, local gins, continental beers and lagers and two exquisite, expansive wine menus with carefully selected wines and vintages.

The golf course is a joy whether you’re swinging a club or watching from the Terrace with a G&T but The Machrie is much more than a golf hotel. It’s a ticket to tranquility.

Fact Box:

Rooms at The Machrie are £235 single occupancy and £245 for a double, including breakfast. Visit or contact Tel 01496 302 310

Loganair fly to Islay twice a day from Glasgow, return flights start at £150 or you can sail with Caledonian MacBrayne