Islay Travel Report 2007 - The Second Week

Saturday 19 May
We had an early start and found out that the weather was a bit greyish and we decided to start the day with a firm walk at Machir Bay. The wind was still considerable and when we arrived at Machir a rain shower caught us by surprise, so instead we visited the old Kilchoman churchyard. The church itself, last used some 25 years ago, is now becoming a ruin and is no longer accessible. There is however a very fine high cross with amazing carved patterns, worth a closer look, as well as some fine carved grave slabs. Not far from Kilchoman church towards Machir Bay is a graveyard for the American soldiers who lost their life when their ships, the Otranto and Tuscania, sunk in the First World War. Hundreds of soldiers died in these terrible tragedies. Halfway the grave yard and Kilchoman church, in the middle of a field, we found some sort of head stone with a cross on both the front and back surrounded with some rocks. We couldn't discover what it was exactly and why it was placed here and not on the Kilchoman church yard. The weather was becoming better now and we headed for Saligo Bay and later on to Sanaigmore Bay. This is a nice drive on deserted single track roads passing farm land, some deserted cottages and we had the opportunity to spot lots of wildlife.

Graveyard and Memorial for the casualties from the Otranto and Tuscania

Time to move on and we headed to Bruichladdich for a coffee at Debbies and do some shopping as well before we visited the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte. This is something we do every time we're on Islay. The displays are changed every year or so because there is no space in the museum to put the whole collection on display. And that keeps it interesting to come back every time to see the changed displays and items. This year I used the library for the first time, which is brilliant. The museum has a large collection of books on any topic and some of these books date back as far as 1600. I wish I had all these Islay books at home. When we drove back from Port Charlotte we stopped at Islay House lodge, a small white painted cottage on the left just before Sornbank. Only metres away from this cottage is the Bridgend Tower, a defence tower built in the 1700s to protect Islay House. The weather in the meanwhile was getting better by the minute and we decided to go home, have dinner on the terrace and enjoy the peace and quiet of the moment. Later on Arra joined us for some ice cold beers and we had a great evening.

Sunday 20 May
Highlanders on Jura with Islay in the background After a good night sleep we woke up and saw nothing but blue sky, so we decided to make this our 'Isle of Jura' day. And to make the most of the day we hurried to have breakfast, sort out our stuff, and get in the car to arrive at Port Askaig around 10.30. The guys from the Jura ferry just started their brake, so we waited for 15 minutes and enjoyed the wonderful views of the Paps in the distance. We arrived on Jura around eleven and stayed there until five. Jura is a wonderful island with only one single track road, 180 people and almost 5000 deer. More about our Jura whereabouts later.

Before dinner we visited Finlaggan and this was in fact the first time we had sunny weather so I took the opportunity to make a lot of pictures. After dinner we decided to make a walk to the Lily Loch. Just after the road to Caol Ila before you enter Port Askaig, is a little parking space on your right. Here starts a track towards Lily Loch. Since it was May most of the lilies had to come out yet but the walk itself is a pleasure. Just before the loch we turned left and passed Dunlossit Castle and finally ended up on the main road at the new cottage/lodge which is built there. Just before the main road is a very nice spot with great views of Port Askaig and the Paps of Jura. Later on we walked to Caol Ila and enjoyed the peaceful views of Caol Ila bay and noticed a beautiful cottage directly on the sea side and wondered who lived there. Later on we found out it was Christine Logan's mother and we met her and Christine at Bruichladdich Open day. Christine's mother is 94 and she just bought herself a new car Christine said. Amazing..


Monday 21 May
Soldiers Rock Another day with perfect blue skies, not a cloud in the air and warm temperatures. We decided to take a ‘Walk on the Wild side' and discover the Oa peninsula some more. I heard of the Soldiers Rock and the abandoned villages on the Oa and it was time to see them for myself. We started our walk from Kintra Farm where a track heads directly to the Oa. The track is easy to find and there are some information panels on the route that give information about the deserted townships and the wildlife on the Oa. Because of the beautiful weather we enjoyed this walk a lot and after one hour we arrived at Grasdale, another one of these deserted villages on the Oa with a lot of ruined buildings. From here you can walk a straight line towards a conical peak in the distance towards the sea and cross a burn where you enter the headland on your right. From here you have a good view of the Soldiers Rock, a huge sea stack which is practically invisible from other parts of the island. This was a good opportunity to take a lot of beautiful pictures and just when I was taking the last picture of Soldiers Rock and kneeled down something snapped in my back and I knew this was bad news.....

I couldn't stand up right anymore and panicked because I had a lot of pain. Walking now became a struggle and we were at a point which was not accessible for a car, so I couldn't call someone and ask to be picked up. I decided not to sit down and let things become worse but head for the car instead, knowing it was a difficult walk back over rough terrain which would take us at least two hours to complete. Since I had no choice we took off immediately and this was one of the hardest walks I ever did. I was now in constant pain and could only think of how to get to the car. Manuela was carrying my stuff and at one o'clock we finally made it to the car. I was exhausted but somehow glad I made it. We drove back to the Persabus cottage and later that day things deteriorated. In the evening I couldn't move at all anymore so we had to call a doctor. Rosemary and Arra were very kind and helped us out with so many things. Arra even mounted a plank under the matress for better stability for my back. At nine in the evening a doctor came and gave me a pain killing injection which made me sleep solid until the next morning.

Tuesday 22 May
Terrible pains in my back when I woke up and I wasn't able to move an inch and Manuela called Bowmore hospital. They sent an ambulance and I was taken to hospital for further examination and an X-ray to see if anything was severely damaged. Luckily they couldn't find serious injuries and I was sent home, but all I could do was lie in bed and rest with a lot of pain killers which made me dizzy and I slept until the following day.

The View from the Oa Peninsula towards the Big Strand

Wednesday 23 May
Still in agony with lots of pain but I was able to get out of bed and make some little steps to exercise my back. Manuela went shopping, visited brian and called with Liz Renfrew several times. Liz is a 'wonder woman' and a great physiotherapist and she said she'd come over this evening for therapy and tips. By then it was clear that I was in no condition to return home on Saturday but where to sleep during the busy festival week? In the afternoon Arra visited us and he knew a friend with a cottage in Keills which we could use until next Thursday, which was a gift from heaven, and we gladly accepted his offer. That gave us some relief and later in the evening Liz Renfrew came by to check me out and it was an eye opener for me. Liz actually discovered what was wrong, gave me therapy, showed me exercises and already I felt a lot better and was able to actually walk a little bit. While Liz was explaining the exercises to me an unexpected visitor showed up, it was Fiona McGregor who turned up with a nice gift and flowers. Fiona and her husband Peter are the owners of the The Corner House in Bowmore, a very nice self catering house.

Thursday 24 May
We made arrangements to postpone our journey home and things got a bit better already. Liz Renfrew called several times to see how I was doing and the weather was becoming horrible. It was windy, rainy and very grey and I was lying in bed resting with a very good book, McCarthy's Bar, from a journalist who travelled to Ireland. Not a bad way to spend a rainy day and recover from an injurie.

Bowmore Distillery

Friday 25 May
The exercises Liz showed me were helping me a lot and I was finally able to make little walks around the house and we even drove to Bowmore to meet up with Heather Bauld, a tour guide from Bowmore Distillery. She won a little competition on the blog and I gave her a present for that. We joined her very good tour and had a pleasant conversation afterwards in the new Bowmore visitor centre, which is five stars graded by VisitScotland. Because of my back problems we now had to stay longer on Islay, normally we would have left on Saturday 26 May, but now we were able to stay a bit longer and see something from the Islay festival. More about that in part three…..

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