Having been nagged, on my own blog an’ all, about not having posted any pics from my trip to Islay yet, I have spent a hungover Sunday afternoon perusing them, saving them and now sticking em up on this site.
A big chunk of the pics were actually of places other than Islay – we also went to neighbouring island Jura, and drove from Falkirk to Tarbert, where we caught the ferry to Islay, so there are some snaps as well of the Falkirk Wheel – which links the two main canals in Scotland in an impressive manner – and of Inverarary, which is beautiful. And some of Scottish scenery.
This post will contain only a few of the pics, but the remainder of the ones I picked out can be found in several folders on this site, if anyone’s interested. Follow these links:
So… the holiday…
Rachel and I flew up to Edinburgh where we were picked up by her sister Jessica and husband Neil and spent the night at their flat in Falkirk before driving to the bottom of Loch Lomond (along the A811).
Then along the side of Lomond to Tarbert, along to Loch Fyne and a break for coffee at Inverarary. I love Inverarary.
It’s at the end of a long Loch and has a wonderful approach and then just when you’re getting used to it, you have to stop at the lights to get over a little humpback bridge…
… where you catch a glimpse of the great, almost Disney-like castle.
I also have a soft spot for Inverarary and the A83 from Campbeltown to Tarbet (at the top of Loch Lomond) because the beautiful scenery helped me get my head together when I fled a disastrous, failed boat trip to conquer Rockall.
And then all the way down the west side of Loch Fyne to Tarbert (not to be confused with Tarbet) where we caught a ferry to Islay. A journey by car of roughly 100 miles on a very bendy but charming route.
It was a beautiful day but incredibly windy. But rather stupidly I failed to even attempt to get a pic showing the wind. Although Rachel did decide she wanted to get a quick kip on the deck. It didn’t work.
And then a few hours later we drew in between neighbouring islands Islay and Jura and pulled into Port Askaig on Islay.
We got off the big ferry at Askaig and immediately drove onto the smaller launch which ferries between Islay and Jura.
While Islay is comparatively well populated – considering it’s an Inner Hebridean island, Jura is very sparse and contains only one proper road following the coastline.
Is it heavily populated instead by red deer and is strikingly beautiful.
We drove round to Craighouse, where the only hotel on the island is, right next to the only distillery (where Isle of Jura comes from).
And then we set up our tents on the grass outside the hotel overlooking a lovely bay.
After a stroll, an evening in the hotel pub – which has some cracking paintings done by a local painter clearly featuring the local characters in the bat itself – and what could have been a peaceful night’s sleep were it not for a rat-arsed dad who was with his kids (but not his ex-wife) who decided to cook food at 2am and drunkenly set fire to a camping gas canister, nearly blowing everyone up. The result was a painful-to-hear argument between the hopeless drunk of a father and his sons. Then nearly set fire to his tent and mine a second time, before destroying whatever relationship he had left with his eldest son and then, thank god, passing out. The next morning no one stirred in the charred tent and we drove to Ardfin Gardens, a cracking beach, walled garden and manor house.
The weather was lovely and we could have been on the North African coast it was so pleasant and the water so clear. We weren’t of course – the water was so cold that my feet went numb within five minutes of wadding around.
We lazed around a bit…
And then headed back to the ferry terminal but not before finding the biggest standing stone on the island at Camus…
… and finding silly inspiration.
From Port Askaig on Islay we then drove to Port Charlotte where Neil and Jessica booked into the youth hostel with Rachel and I ending up in a tent in a mozzie pit on a pleasant farmer’s land. The next day we did what I really itching to get at – which was whisky distillers.
I am a huge single malt Scotch whisky fan, something I picked up at a ridiculously early age, mostly thanks to my dad’s love of single malts as well. Islay to my mind produces the best whiskies in the world. While Highland Park is lovely, and I have a soft spot for a number of other Speyside whiskies, it is Laphroaig, Bowmore and Lagavulin I most love – and there are all within a few miles of each other on Islay.
There are a number of other distilleries on the island of different size, name and approach. I was insistent on going to Laphroaig (my favourite whisky) but with some thought and some good fortune we also went to a smaller distillery, close to Port Charlotte at Bruichladdich.
Bruichladdich is not that well known and where Laphroaig is known internationally for its exceptional peaty taste, few have heard (or can pronounce) Bruichladdich. The result is that the distillery itself is still very traditional, with all the old equipment and with a really friendly and helpful staff, a great tour and so on. I have actually started buying Bruichladdich as a result.
We stopped in Bowmore after that and went to a cracking whisky bar. Although – and this is the really strange thing – the whisky on Islay is incredibly expensive. In fact, it is more expensive than on the mainland.
This fact really bugged me last time I was on Islay. It seems insane to me that since it is one of the great homes of whisky that really great whisky isn’t fantastically cheap. I have yet to find anyone to explain it. If Islay was owned by America, they would see the value in making the whisky cheaper – to entice tourists and their cash.
I would have spent alot more money on whisky if it had been within reach. But after you pay Â£10 for a shot of whisky and that is only mid-table in terms of cost, you do end up buying a beer. Fortunately they have two nice local beers too.
Why is Islay home to so many great whiskies? Two reasons – the peat and the water. The peat grows in huge amounts on the island and it is this which is burnt and the smoke used to stop the malt’s germination. The result is the famous peaty taste of Islay whiskies. On the tours, they will hand you some of the smoked malt itself which really brings its home. Islay is also on right on the edge of the Atlantic so has great water – and water is vital to the flavour of the whisky. Huge amounts of water are used in the whisky making process and this is why the distilleries are found on the coastline and at the edge of the various inlets.
And then onto Laphroaig – which we were late for despite some extraordinary driving and wolfing down of food.
Laphroaig was also interesting, especially the free dram, but Bruichladdich is definitely better if you are a whisky enthusiast. Fortunately for everyone I didn’t push it and ask to go to any more distilleries, although I was tempted.
Back to Port Charlotte and the next day, a trip to the port in the far corner of Islay, Portnahaven, for a cracking lunch.
And then onto Lossit Bay – where you have to stroll through a whole field of cows and sheep to reach (something which the farmer complained about with a note on the car).
And then the long journey back. This time taking the ferry from Port Ellen to Tarbert, then the drive back – this time through Glasgow because of a road closure – to Falkirk, where we stopped to see the Falkirk Wheel – an impressive canal joiner.
And a cracking bit of engineering.
And then a (delayed) flight from Edinburgh back to London. A bus from Heathrow to Oxford and then bed at some daft time in the morning, just in time for an entire week spent non-stop finishing off my book. The holiday, the fresh air and of course the whisky made the marathon possible.
And that was my holiday to Islay.