(Gaelic name meaning: The rounded headland)


The Oa stands at the very edge of the Hebrides, looking out towards Northern Ireland and the vast expanse of the Atlantic. It’s a natural wilderness of untamed beauty, a nature reserve brimming with birdlife.

The cliffs are jagged and imposing, with commanding views out to sea where you might just glimpse a mysterious creature or two. The cliffs themselves are home to numerous seabirds and in the grassy clifftops you might just spot a chough – a rare bird that people travel for miles to see.

Looking down from atop these cliffs look out for seals and bottlenose dolphins that might be travelling close along the shore. Casting your eye further out to sea might catch you a glimpse of bigger species of whale, like the magnificent humpback.

There is much more to Islay than whisky - The Oa will take your breath away and steal your heart.

A bit about the site

It is about a 1.5km walk to the clifftop viewpoints. The route is marked and has short sections of boardwalk across wetter areas. The route is mostly natural and unimproved paths, which can be soft underfoot, short sections of moderate gradient.

The Oa is a working farm and RSPB nature reserve, dogs should be kept on a short lead or at heel at all times, as livestock is present on the route all year, with ground nesting birds through spring and summer. Coastal viewpoints and walking routes are close to tall cliffs, so care should be taken to avoid edges of cliffs and steep drops.

Nearest facilities (toilet, cafes, etc) are in Port Ellen 5 miles away.

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Getting here
Nearest public transport is to Port Ellen, so walking or biking from there is possible but quite a long distance. Most visitors come by car, single track road from Port Ellen, with RSPB car park at end of road/start of trails.

Not fully accessible

Useful links
RSPB - The Oa Reserve
Visit Islay & Jura
Islay Natural History
Islay Museum
Visit Scotland - Islay
Responsible Access

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Wondrous creatures in the waters

Look out for

Basking sharks
Bottlenose dolphins
Risso’s dolphins
Killer whales (orca)
Minke whales
Humpback whales
Wild goats
Golden Eagles
Hen harriers

Check out the latest sightings on HWDT Whale Track


Ocean Wanderers

Gazing out towards the endless ocean, the view from the Oa might make you think the seas are vast and empty. You would be wrong. Here at the edge you have a glimpse into the underwater highways of the ocean wanderers - humpback whales, killer whales, minke whales. These and many other species travel huge distances, travelling north or south, or crossing the wide Atlantic.

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American Monument

American monument commemorates the lives lost due to the sinking of the troopship carriers the Tuscania and the Otranto, in the last year of 1st world war, off the coast of Islay. There is a powerful sense of place here, atop the windy cliffs and looking out across these wild seas with the monument standing tall.

Header image © Phill Catton