The Oa

A sizeable peninsula to the west of Port Ellen in the southwestern corner of the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, The Oa (pronounced 'oh') gives us one of Scotland's shortest place names. Approximately 5 miles (8 km) in length and in breadth, The Oa was once heavily populated but suffered as a result of Clearances in the 19th C, together with emigration, and a movement to Port Ellen and the whisky villages of the south coast. Today, there is evidence of abandoned villages, but the area is characterised by moorland vegetation grazed by wild goats and by sheer cliffs. A band of limestone crosses the peninsula, giving rise to fertile pastures which continue to support a few small farms strung out along the only paved road. This road terminates a half-mile (1 km) before the Mull of Oa, a headland at the southwestern extremity of the peninsula. Situated atop the cliffs here is a monument that commemorates the American servicemen who died with the sinking two troopships in 1918. Much of the Oa is now managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds as a nature reserve, but also worked as a farm, with traditional cattle breeds and sheep. Coastal grassland and heath are managed for the benefit of rare breeding birds, including chough, twite and golden eagles. The Oa also benefits from a population of feral goats.

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