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Craighouse is the only village on the island of Jura. It sits in the south western corner of Small Isles Bay, a broad bay on the island's south east coast sheltered by a series of islands collectively known as the Small Isles. The village is home to a large proportion of the island's population which stood at 188 in 2001.
There is only one significant road on Jura, and it leads from the terminus of the Islay ferry at Feolin around the south end of the island before descending into Craighouse. You know you are getting close when you pass a bonded warehouse belonging to the Isle of Jura Distillery and the coastguard station. As you enter the village you pass the main part of the distillery on your left before emerging at what is the village's, and the island's, only significant road junction. If Craighouse can be said to have a focal point, then it is probably this junction, with the distillery on one side, the attractive Jura Hotel on the second, and views out over Small Isles Bay on the third.
The Isle of Jura Distillery was built in 1810. Craighouse already existed before the distillery was built here: which is probably why Jura Parish Church was relocated to a position on what is now the north edge of the village in 1777. The presence of the distillery as the island's population shrank from its high point of 1,312 in 1831 does, however, helps explain why Craighouse survived as a village when other settlements on the island did not: at least until the distillery's effective closure in the early 1900s: it reopened in 1963.
The 1800s would have found Craighouse busy for other reasons as well. The road that now follows the south and part of the east coast of Jura was built to facilitate the droves of Islay cattle being herded from the Sound of Islay crossing at Feolin (where today's Islay ferry operates) to Lagg, from where cattle were ferried across the five miles of the Sound of Jura to the mainland, en route to markets in central Scotland. The passing traffic would certainly have added interest to life in Craighouse and an impetus to its economy.
During the era of the steamers, which finally came to an end in the decades after World War Two, Craighouse could be reached by sea directly from a number of locations in mainland Scotland. Since car ferries became the normal mode of transport, the direct links have largely disappeared, though the village remains a port of call for passing sailors from around the UK and Europe, and for the occasional larger ship such as the Hebridean Princess. The exception to the loss of direct links has been in the shape of a passenger ferry service from Craighouse to Tayvallich on the mainland, which got under way in 2008 using an advanced RIB type vessel with a cabin. Public funding was cut in early 2011 but a reduced service continued.
The original stone pier built to serve the distillery has been supplemented in recent years by a much longer pier built at the south end of the village. The end of the newer pier offers excellent views over the village and of the island more widely.
The new pier is reached by doubling back around the shore past front of the Jura Hotel, the fire station, and the island's fuel pump. If you press on the other way, north past the distillery, you encounter Craighouse's third largest building, the Jura Stores, with, beyond it the cream and bright red-roofed confection that is Jura Hall. To call this red roof striking is an understatement, and in distant views of the village from further up the coast, the hall's roof is rather more obvious than the much larger mass of white painted buildings produced by the stores, distillery and hotel. In a slightly uphill location opposite the hall is The Antlers Bistro and Restaurant.
Much of the rest of the village straggles attractively north along the shore of Small Isles Bay, with the village effectively ending at Jura Parish Church. Thereafter our description of the island is taken over by our feature on The Road North up the eastern shore of Jura.