Estates on Islay Islay Estates - Dunlossit - Ardtalla - Foreland - Laggan

Some history of estates in Islay:
When the time of the Lordship of the Isles ended in 1493, all of Islay's lands were forfeited to the Crown (the Scottish government), to King James 4th. However, violent feuds continued in Islay between the families of the MacDonalds and the MacLeans, ending in the Battle of Traigh Gruinart in 1598. In an effort to keep the peace, Islay's lands were given to John Campbell of Cawdor by Crown charter in 1614. The Campbells of Cawdor held all of Islay for one hundred and twelve years, but their financial difficulties and poor management left the Islay lands in disorder and the Islay people in great hardship. Daniel Campbell of Shawfield bought Islay from the Campbells of Cawdor in 1726.

DJ MacPhee and Stag on Islay
Donald James MacPhee, former head gamekeeper of Dunlossit Estate

By this time, large pieces of land had been given to tacksmen by wadset mortgage from the Campbells, and the tacksmen then rented farms and crofts to tenants. Gradually Islay's lands were broken away from the main 'Islay' estate, as the tacksmen paid up their wadsets and became the new owners of their land-holdings. Some of these bigger pieces of land- holdings were enlarged over the years as farms and other lands were bought. These large land-holdings eventually became some of the estates which now exist in Islay. The Shawfield Campbells held Islay lands until Walter Frederick Campbell died in 1848, when the estate was declared bankrupt. The Morrison family bought Islay estate by auction in 1852, and have held Islay Estate since then.

Nowadays Islay has five main estates who own most of the land on Islay: Ardtalla & Kintour, Dunlossit, Foreland, Islay and Laggan. There isn't much 'rest of the land' outside of the estates, farms and crofts. The RSPB owns farmland at Aoradh and Smaull. Service industries which supply electricity, the public water supply and telecommunications to Islay's households and businesses own relatively small amounts of land in order to deliver these services. (There is no piped gas supply on Islay.) Some Islay businesses own their premises, but many rent from the estates or other owners.

Dunlossit Estate - Glen Road
Glen Road on Dunlossit Estate

Estates and Farms
Most of the agriculturally useful land in Islay had been organised into individual farms by the 1870s, as the estates joined smaller crofts or other rented holdings together, or by adding smaller pieces of land to existing farms. These larger more modern farms are either rented to farmers by the estates, or else they have been bought by the farmers themselves. The farms from that time are much as we see them today in the Islay landscape. A few larger farms have been bought by property owners who then either rent out their farms or employ farm managers to run them. Some farms are made up of both owned and rented fields.

Farm on Islay EstateOn farms which are owned by estates and rented to farmers, an annual rent is paid. Islay Estate's farm rents, known as Agricultural Tenancies, are paid in May and November each year. This follows the old custom of paying rents and other debts on the ancient 'quarter days' which were pre-Christian feast days and which now correspond to Christian holy days. These 'settling up' days are still part of the Scottish legal system, and in Scotland the traditional quarter days are referred to as Term Days:
Candlemas - the feast of the Purification (and old St Bride's/Brigid's Day), 2nd February;
Whitsunday - Pentecost,15th May;
Lammas - Loaf Mass, or the Feast of First Fruits, 1st August;
Martinmas - The Feast of St. Martin, 11th November.

Recent legislation (Term & Quarter Days (Scotland) Act 1990 c.22) has specified new Scottish quarter days as: Candlemas ' 28th February, Whitsun ' 28th May, Lammas ' 28th August, Martinmas ' 28th November. These new quarter days apply to more recently agreed leases unless otherwise stated, and they divide the year into more equal 'quarters'.

Estates and Crofts
In Islay and Scotland, a croft, may look very much like a small holding, small farm or even an extra-large garden, but is managed by a unique system of land tenure regulated by Scottish Law through the Crofting Acts. Crofting is found only in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and in Islay there are crofts near Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, near Portnahaven, at Lyrabus near Bridgend, outside Port Ellen and on the Oa. Most crofts which come up for sale at present are offered by private individuals, who had already bought their crofts from estates. Purchasing a croft was first made possible by law in 1976; before then crofts could only be rented, no matter how long a family had lived on and worked to improve the croftland. If property is bought from an estate, the estate which is selling can impose many terms and conditions about what new owners can do or build on the property, and about re-selling at a later date. Besides dealing with the estates or private owner to rent or buy a croft, a would-be crofter must present a formal business plan to the Crofters Commission. There must be a detailed description of the agricultural business which the applicants intend to run on the croft, before the application may be accepted.

Recent developments on estates
In recent years, changing financial and political climates and increasing concerns about the natural environment of wild lands have moved Islay's estates on from being private kingdoms of wealthy families to becoming businesses run on a commercial basis. Estates are, on the whole, more willing nowadays to offer support to Islay's community ventures, as well as becoming more responsible land managers due to pressures from SNH and the requirements of applications for government's agricultural grants for land stewardship. New Scottish Outdoor Access laws which came into force in February 2005 gave both more rights and responsibilities to the general public wishing to access the outdoors for non-motorised recreational use. This has had an impact on Islay's estates because of the increased public rights to visit estates' lands which had previously been off-limits. Read more at As with any landlord, estates have a duty to maintain rented properties for tenant farmers and tenants of cottages or business premises.

Estates as employers
Dunlossit Estate OfficeEstate buildings and grounds maintainance is now usually done by Islay or mainland contractors, rather than by permanent employees of the estates, as used to be the case. Taken as a whole, the estates of Islay and their enterprises are together a major employer of Islay people. The main jobs and tasks on estates are:

Factors/Estate Managers

  • Carry out owners' instructions and manage the day to day running of the estates
  • Property management
  • Special projects of estates

    Head Gamekeepers, under-keepers, ghillies, river watchers:

  • Organises shoots, stalking, target practice
  • Know where deer or birds for shooting are likely to be.
  • Deal with carcases of shot deer
  • Teaching fishing and shooting skills to novice guests
  • Transport for guests and shot carcases
  • Pheasant rearing (bought in chicks penned and fed until able to feed themselves)
  • Vermin control (there are no foxes in Islay, but there are feral ferrets, rats etc which
        harm ground-nesting birds such as pheasant)
  • Brown Trout Fishing: permits, lochs, boat hire
  • River fishing for salmon; maintainence and allocation of riverbanks
  • Train and keep working dogs for use in shooting and retrieval of game birds

    Stalking and shooting
    DJ MacPhee of DunlossitDeer-stalking is the hunting, the 'creeping up' on an animal to get close enough to it to shoot and kill it, or alternatively, to photograph the wild deer. Modern high-powered rifles with telescopic sights make it easier to shoot deer from a distance. 'Shooting' is done when pheasants are chased by 'beaters' (humans, often with specially trained dogs) through rough ground towards where the waiting 'guns' are standing ready to shoot. Other game birds and duck are shot where they are found. It's the gamekeepers', or on some estates a specialised stalker's job to know where the deer and birds are likely to be. They must closely observe the habits of the animals, and check the weather and wind directions carefully as these affect the animals' movements. In the interests of public safety, estates keep notices on gates leading out to hill ground, stating dates of deer-stalking in the area and giving gamekeepers' phone numbers. In some areas of mainland Scotland there is a Hillphone service, which advises hillwalkers of areas where deerstalking is taking place. Unfortunately, this service does not now give reports for Islay and Jura hill ground.

    The 'Monarch of the Glen' television series was an entertaining parody of life on a Highland estate. On most estates, the ghillie works under the gamekeeper; he or she is the person who works as a sort of general labourer at the keeper's tasks, and may be in training under the supervision of the keeper. The ghillie may have the task of carrying or transporting shooting equipment out to the hill and for transporting the shot deer back down, traditionally using Highland ponies carrying specially made deer saddles or, more often nowadays, by using some kind of 4WD vehicle. In the 'Monarch'' series the character 'Golly' was in a responsible position on the estate, but was still called the ghillie. While this was fun for a TV show, the wacky character 'Duncan' was more the true ghillie. In Gaelic, ghillie means 'boy, or youth', so the ghillie on an estate is generally a less responsible post.

    Contact and other details for the estates on Islay:

    Ardtalla Estates Ltd
    Owner: Ardtalla Estates Ltd.

    Self Catering Cottages tel: 01496 302441. For more info check or email:

    Contact Details
    Port Ellen
    Isle of Islay PA42 7EF
    Gamekeeper (Kildalton)
    tel: 01496 302218

    Dunlossit Estate
    Owner: Trustees of Bruno L Schroder & Dunlossit (Farming) Ltd.

    Fishing, Stalking and self catering accommodation

    Contact Details
    Dunlossit Estate Office
    Knocklearach Farm
    Isle of Islay
    PA45 7QL
    Tel: 01496 840232
    Fax: 01496 840694
    Chief Executive David Gillies has overall responsibility for the whole of Dunlossit Estate

    Foreland Estate - Bruichladdich
    Owner: Richard, Rosemary, David, and Alexandra Macaire and Edmorston Trustee Company Limited and RF Macaire's Settlement

    Contact Details
    Foreland House Bruichladdich Isle of Islay
    PA49 7UU
    Tel: +44 (1496) 850259
    Tel: +44 (7753) 768219

    Foreland House Islay
    Foreland House

    Islay Estates
    Owner: Islay Estates Company Inc.

    Stalking: red & roe deer. Shooting: pheasant, partridge and duck, snipe, woodcock. Fishing: salmon and sea trout, brown trout. Self-catering accommodation

    Contact Details
    Isle of Islay
    PA44 7PB
    Tel: 01496 810221
    Bridgend Hotel: Website:

    Islay Estate Office
    Islay Estate Office

    Laggan Properties Ltd
    Owner: Laggan Properties Ltd. (registered in Northern Ireland)

    Salmon fishing; sea trout, brown trout loch fishing; red and roe deer stalking along with game and wild fowl shooting. Self catering accommodation.

    Contact Details
    Estate Office, Tel / Fax: 01496 810235
    Estate Secretary - Fiona Marrion

    Callumkill Estate
    Owner: Florian Hansmann

    Sports such as stalking and shooting. On their land they farm cattle and sheep. Callumkill also offer two selfcatering accommodations, the Farmhouse and the neighbouring Ardbeg cottage.

    Contact Details
    Estate Office, Tel: 01496 302642
    Game Keeper - Donnie MacNeill

    Estates map of Islay

    A map showing the estates on Islay. The map was created by Andy Wightman from

    Estates Map

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