MacTaggart Leisure Centre – Bowmore, Scotland - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

MacTaggart Leisure Centre

Bowmore, Scotland

If you can’t dive into a whisky cask, this swimming pool might be the next best thing.  

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The isle of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides is famed for its peated Scotch whisky and the Bowmore Distillery, located on the shore of Loch Indall, is the oldest active distillery on the island. On its journey from grain to glass, whisky undergoes several processes including fermentation, distillation, and aging before being bottled and sold. The byproduct of several of these steps is waste heat, which Bowmore puts to some creative uses. After being captured by a heat recovery system, the excess heat is transferred to the distillery’s visitors center and the town’s public pool.

In the 1980s, when a new facility was opened outside of the city center, the distillery gifted its former warehouse next door to the community for use as a recreation center. Local leaders set about raising funds, and by 1989 had gathered the £1,000,000 necessary for construction. In 1991, the Mactaggart Leisure Centre, named for Sir Ian Mactaggart, opened its doors on School Street with a four-lane, 25-meter swimming pool. Still the only indoor swimming pool on the island, the pool’s water is warmed by waste heat from the distillery via a system of underground pipes. The facility was later expanded to add a sauna, hair salon, laundromat, and gym with a view of Loch Indall. 

By 2010, the place was starting to show its age with roof leaks and frequent mechanical problems. Once again the community raised funds and over the next few years the building was repaired. The upgrades included mechanical and efficiency improvements as well as some aesthetic touches. Pagoda-style ventilation turrets were added to the roof to match the style of the distillery and the pool hall was given a new wooden ceiling built to look like the inside of a whiskey cask. 

Slàinte mhath! (Good health!)

Know Before You Go

The Mactaggart Leisure Centre is open to both Islay residents and visitors. 

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March 9, 2023

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