Portnahaven is a planned village, built during the 19th century, with fishing and crofting as the villager's main employment. The villages of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss share one church, with separate doors for the people of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss. Opposite the bay is Orsay Island and the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse, which was built in 1825 by the Stevensons, the famous lighthouse builders. The lantern is 45 metres above high water mark and is visible from a 40 kilometres distance. Also on Orsay island is a chapel with well preserved walls. An early Christian carved stone from Orsay chapel is in the Museum of Islay Life.
The pattern of small crofting fields is well seen in this part of the island. As each planned village on Islay was constructed, areas of surrounding land were made available to the inhabitants to cultivate. They became crofts in the latter part of the 19th century. The traditional methods of cultivation, hay-making and growing of oats and potatoes, have greatly diminished in recent years, in favour of silage making as winter feed for sheep and cattle.
Portnahaven is built around a small, sheltered harbour and is an excellent spot for observing Grey Seals, which sometimes sit on the rocks around the bay to sunbathe! Both villages are very quiet and peaceful and Portnahaven especially offers picturesque views. Portnahaven also has a quaint little pub down at the harbour which serves great food - it looks like a private house and is called An Tigh Seinnse, which means 'the house of singing' in Gaelic. Port Wemyss is situated near to Portnahaven and has a very beautiful sea side with lovely coloured cottages. A little pathway takes you to the waterside and often, like in Portnahaven, seals can be spotted.
Further round the coast to the west, at Claddach, is Islay's wave-power station, a concrete structure set down into the low cliffs, feeding several hundred kilowatts to the national electricity grid. Off the extreme south-western point of the island are Frenchmen's Rocks, named when a French squadron of three ships was driven on to the rocks in 1760 after a battle with three British frigates. This is one of the best spots on Islay for sea-bird watching, especially in autumn when shearwaters, petrels, gannets and auks can be observed. During south-westerly gales, the seas crashing on the rocks and sea-spray being thrown high in the air are outstandingly spectacular.
Portnahaven Local Information: