Road to the Isles, The

John McLellan, Dunoon
Slow Air

One of the most popular pipe tunes ever, and long a staple of massed bands at Highland Games throughout North America. It began as “The Bens of Jura,” written in Malta in the mid-1890s. According to Seumas MacNeill’s in “Masters of Piping (2007), it subsequently became “The 71st’s Farewell to Dover” but soon returned to its original name. Later it was “The Highland Brigade’s March to Heilbron,” then “The Burning Sands of Egypt.” These titles were all used by pipers, with whom the tune was immediately popular. But the composer referred to it always as “The Bens of Jura.”




  • That was very beautifully played, and he only breathed in three times. My dad played The Road to the Isles quite nicely, too. He taught himself for 20 years, then went to the College of Piping in Glasgow, where he was politely told he’d have to start from scratch if he wanted to become a decent piper. Being an ex-military man he did just that, and played in the New Year at his local pub only two years before he died at age 87.

  • The actual pipe tune is The Bens of Jura, composed my PM John McLellan DCM (Dunoon). The title The Road to the Isles came from the song sung in the music halls, sung by the great entertainer Sir Harry Lauder.
    This is referenced in an interview, I did with PM Jim Henderson who is the Grand Nephew of John McLellan and Jim talks about the Tune in the interview. If you would like to watch the interview, here is the link. I also got together with a few piping friends from Argyll and filmed them playing some of John McLellan’s tunes. You will be familiar with most of them, Stuart Liddell, Willie McCallum, Angus McColl, Alasdair Henderson and Daniel Mc Dermott.

  • Hi there! Since creating the P/M John McLellan DCM tribute website a few years back, ive relied a lot on the information found within this great website and many others. I also had to do a fair bit of research and Ive seen information online that supports the fact that ‘The Bens of Jura’ was actually composed by Jock in 1891 when he was 16 years old. A few days ago, during a nice conversation i had with Jim Henderson on the phone, i asked him about this and he agreed that Jock was indeed 16 years old when he wrote the tune.

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