Port Ellen is dominated to the south by the Oa peninsula, which is almost an island in its own right being almost cut from Islay by several streams following both ways from Kintra. The Oa peninsula rises steadily from sea level at kilnaughton chapel and graveyard to 202 metres at Beinn Mhor which is the most southerly point. A few miles to the west is the American Memorial (the monument) on the Mull of Oa which is 131 metres high. There are several lochs on the Oa from which Loch Kinnabus in the south is the largest followed by Loch Ard-Achadh a few hundred metres to the north east. Two other lochs can be found in the west at Lower Glen Astle.
Most of the shoreline is cliffs and a lot of them virtually sheer, but there are a few sandy bays, the first on the Port Ellen side at Kilnaughton and then further on past the lighthouse, the Singing Sands, with Kintra beach and the Big Strand on the Loch Indaal side. Out at the end at Lower Killeyan is a very attractive, sheltered, sandy beach, with a large cave which is frequently used by campers. The only disadvantages to this beach are that it is a good walk from the main road and it is not particularly good for swimming as there is rather a lot of seewead and the chance of dangerous currents. This is a very tranquil part of the island, a great spot to observe coastal wildlife and very pleasant to sit and watch the world go by.
Until recently the only occupation of the Oa was farming, but there is now quite a large area of forestry all in the area almost to Port Ellen, which is already changing the landscape. Some would say that this is a very bleak landscape and so most of it is, particularly during the winter, being dominated by rocky outcrops and blanket peat, but stretching through the centre is a fertile strip following the limestone bedrock and this produces the green fields which keep the farming enterprises viable.
Before the clearances, the peak population of the Oa was around 800, so consequently if you look carefully there can be found a lot of ruined houses and particularly two abandoned villages, one on the hillside the opposite side of Port Ellen Bay called Lurabus and the other Sruthan Poll Nan Gamhna or Chrasdail, in a very remote area on the Loch Indaal side beyond Kintra. Opposite the abandoned village of Chrasdail, on the other side of the glen, are the ruins of another settlement called Tockmal where a cup and ring marked stone, a standing stone (part of a burial site) and the ruins of a chapel can also be found. At the end of the burn, which flows through the glen towards the sea, is a huge sea stack called Soldiers Rock in an area of outstanding natural beauty. At Risabus, in the heart of the Oa, are the remains of the former Oa Church, built by Thomas Telford in 1828. The church is now derelict and in a bad condition.
A chambered cairn can be found at Cragabus. The chamber and part of the facade comprise virtually all that now remains of this chambered cairn, which is situated 60m SW of Lower Cragabus at the NW end of a rocky knoll known as Creag Mhor. The conspicuous standing stone about 10ft east of the chamber is 7ft high, the stone should probably be regarded as the survivor of a pair of portals, which would mean that the chamber was originally about 26ft long, with 4 or 5 compartments.
Another visitor attraction on the Oa is the American Monument, built in 1920 to commemorate the huge loss of life when two troop ships sunk in Islay's waters in the last year of WorldWar I. The walk to the monument and the view from the cliffs are very rewarding and highly recommended.
The area around the monument is designated as RSPB nature reserve with plenty of wildlife to see throughout the year. The reserve is particularly important for rare birds such as the chough and golden eagles. In spring corncrakes return from Southern Africa to nest in the Oa's nettle patches and iris beds. Sea birds such as fulmars, kittiwakes and razorbills nest on the steep cliff-faces during the summer, and otters can often be seen along the tide line. The coastal heath is a valuable habitat for many insects including the marsh fritillary butterfly. A good sign posted walk can be made which starts at the parking place and takes the visitor to the American Monument and over the steep cliffs offering dramatical coastal scenery. Recently, in 2007, the west side of the Oa was designated as Special Protection Area (SPA) for the protection of the chough and will cover the area from the coast at Kintra to Ineraval in the south-east. The total area of the SPA is 1931.31ha. Being designated as SPA means that strict guidelines come into effect in accordance with the EC directive on the conservation of wild birds.
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