It is warm, 25 degrees celsius, when we leave Rotterdam on the Hull ferry at wednesday 10th May 2006. We look forward to going back to Scotland and specially Islay, but first we stay in Rhu house, Tarbert Kintyre, for two nights. The journey to Kintyre is magnificent. We travel through Teesdale Northumberland, which is lovely with picturesque villages and remote valleys. That was quite a contrast to the busy roads through Glasgow but we manage to be in Tarbert on time and enjoy the hospitality at Rhu House. On Friday we did Arran with the little ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza and then it is finally Saturday. We have breakfast with people from North Wales, a lovely elderly couple who stay on Islay as well when we are there. The weather is still great and looks promising for the coming week.
Saturday 13th May
At 13.00 the ferry leaves from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, my favourite ferry if you ask me. I like to arrive travelling through the sound of Islay, passing MacArthurs head and the desolate north coast of Islay. The little beaches look inviting and quiet and on some of them I spot seals. As the sound of Islay narrows it is time for Dunlossit House just before the ferry arrives at Port Askaig. The people on board are excited and look forward to Islay as much as we do. I cant wait to arrive and I spot the Lifeboat at Port Askaig. We are back and it feels wonderful. We are almost the first to leave the ferry and after 5 miles we arrive at Lyndon cottage just before Ballygrant. Nigel, the cottage owner, left us a bottle of wine and we are impressed, not by the wine but the perfection of the cottage. Everything we need - and even more - is there: two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a wonderful living room and a spacious modern kitchen. We look at each other and decide that we shall never ever leave here. Yeah, wishful thinking..
After the unpacking we go to Bowmore for some necessary shopping and decide to take a shortcut. We travel to Mulindry from Ballygrant to drive the Glen Road which offer us wonderful views at the mountains Beinn Dubh and Sgorr nam Faoileann. As we travel on, we spot deer and turn right at Cluanach and head for Bridgend. After having take some pictures of the Campbell monument and the Paps of Jura, now behind us, we head for Bowmore. It is late on this Saturday and a lot of things are sold out. So we decide to get what is there and come back tomorrow. For now we go back to the cottage for our dinner.
When we have finished our dinner we decide to enjoy the good weather and visit the beautiful village of Port Charlotte for an evening walk. After that we go to Machir Bay and have a sunset walk almost as far as Kilchiaran. But we decide to go back when darkness is setting in.
Sunday 14th May
When we wake up the weather has changed dramatically. It is now cold, clouded and it rains a little and this will gradually become worse during the day. We go for a little walk in the Bridgend woods behind the Woollen Mill. Then we take a little detour to the Scarrabus farm where we meet the farmer. He rents Scarrabus farm, is happy there and we envy his way of life in this wonderful part of the world. After our lunch we decide to go back to the Glen Road and drive it all the way down to Port Ellen. Rain or no rain, the Glen Road is magic, remote and full of life. The variety of cows is overwhelming and we find them in all shades from beige to black. We decide to visit Kintra Farm and have a walk on the Big strand. By now it is raining hard with a strong wind and we decide to go back to the cottage, relax, make a fire and stay at home for the rest of the day.
Monday 15th May
Today is the big day of our first Islay Birding tour. Click here for the full report. The birding tour is a huge success and when we arrived home at 4 we decided to go back to Bowmore for some further shopping. On our way back we want to make a quick stop at the quilt show at Columba Center. We ended up in an interesting conversation about Gaelic and world politics with one of the ladies there and arrived home at 7. And who says Islay life is quiet. We actually had to hurry with our dinner to arrive just in time for the Islay welcome evening at the Bunnahabhain Distillery. A representative of the Local tourist authority welcomes us, almost 30 visitors, and introduces a young lad who plays the bagpipes. The sound is impressive in this little room and after three songs a young lass shows us how Scottish dancing is done and we are impressed. It's not easy for them to 'perform' in front of this mixed bunch of foreigners but they both do well. After this traditional part, we saw a slideshow presented and commented by Fiona, an RSPB representative, about Islay wildlife. After our birding trip today, this felt somewhat overdone but we enjoyed it anyway. After the slideshow, we were offered a dram and joined a raffle to cover the costs of this evening. We enjoyed the Islay welcome evening and leave at 9.30 pm. What a day, and already Monday. Time flies when ..
Tuesday 16th May
Our 2nd anniversary and of course a special day. We leave the cottage at 11 and drive slowly over the Glen Road again towards Port Ellen. In Port Ellen we head towards Ardtalla and stop at the Lagavulin Distillery to visit Dunyvaig Castle. There is a little track on your right just after Lagavulin Hall that brings you closer to Dunyvaig Castle. Then we drive on to make a firm walk at Ardtalla farm to Proaig. The weather isn't too bad, some rain, some sun but breezy. When we arrive at Ardtalla and walk up the track we soon notice that it is very very wet. Even with our special shoes we have problems staying dry and after the rain is getting more and more serious we decide to return to the car. We only walked a few miles and it feels good to sit in the car and drive back to Claggain Bay where we have lunch.
After our lunch we go to the Ardbeg distillery and enjoy a very interesting tour. They work with 9 people in the distillery. Three in the warehouse and six to operate the distillery and that 6 ½ days a week 24hrs. Which means three people on one shift! That way they produce 160 barrels a week. With each barrel they fill 250 bottles and so they produce a staggering 40.000 bottles of whisky each week. In fact they produce so many whisky that they ship their barrels now to Edinburgh for maturing because all the warehouses are full on Islay. Interesting fact at Ardbeg is the mill to crush the barley into grist. This mill is 120 years old, no spareparts available, and runs 14 times a week. With every run it crushes 4,5 tons of Barley in 1 hour and 10 minutes. Ardbeg distillery get their Barley from Port Ellen Maltings. 60 tons of very peaty barley each week. The phenol level is 54ppm (parts per million) which are the highest levels on Islay.
The weather changed and became friendly as we left the Ardbeg Distillery and we picked up scones at Port Ellen. We had our Coffee and Scones in the cottage and made it finally to the Persabus Pottery. We promised Arra Fletcher last year to bring him a few cases of Dutch Grolsch beer and it was time to make him happy. After a coffee we left, promised to be back soon and headed for the Harbour Inn. It was after all our anniversary. We had a beautiful table overlooking Loch Indaal and by now it was raining cats and dogs. We were sitting dry and warm and enjoyed the tropical downpour. We both had a starter, the Islay steak with Haggis and enjoyed an Islay Ale with it. I have had some steaks in my life but this was the best I ever had. The taste is magnificent and the Haggis complimented the steak perfectly. The staff at the Harbour Inn is very friendly and we had a wonderful evening. The Harbour Inn isn't cheap, we paid almost 70 pounds for this luxurious meal, but the quality and ambiance make up for that. And hey, it was our anniversary right?
Wednesday 17th May
The day starts dry and sunny, perfect for our planned visit to the Oa and American Monument. We stop at the Cragabus Cairn for some pictures and drive to the Oa nature reserve. At the end of the road is a little carpark where we park and take our backpacks. Time for some walking after the huge meal from yesterday evening. The track leads us up the hill directly to the monument and we are impressed by the size and location. The monument is built on high cliffs, 400 ft above the sea and here there is a strong continuous wind blowing. It is hard to hold the camera to make pictures but I succeed. After visiting the monument we follow the circular route along the high cliffs and enjoy this breathtaking scenery. We pass Upper Killeyan farm and head back for the car park. The weather is getting worse and it looks like rain again. We decide to travel back and visit Islay House Square. We were already told that a new shop had opened and we were pleasantly surprised by the Blue Lupins. Its actually a very versatile shop with home decorations, walled garden, little garden centre and they serve tea/coffee. There are little corners in the shop with sofa's and it all feels very warm and comfortable.
We find the Islay Quilters closed, so no meeting with Rae today but we will try again Thursday. We decide to visit Islay Ales instead and end up tasting some of their fine ales. We decide to buy a few ales and come back later for Saligo Ale, my favourite, which are not on stock. After picking up scones at the Bowmore bakery we head back home, light up a fire and relax for the rest of the day.
Thursday 18th May
Another fine day, little bit of clouds but dry. Time to discover the North West part of Islay and particularly Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain Distilleries. The drive to Caol Ila is very short from our cottage and we enjoy the view of the little village before we reach the distillery. We decide to only make pictures and not to make a tour this time. Our next distillery is Bunnahabhain and we enjoy the views over the sound of islay immensely. The Rhuvaal Lighthouse is clearly visible from the road and we make a stop at Loch Ardnahoe. Bunnahabhain distillery doesn't look as crisp and clean as the other distilleries but has a certain charm lying in this beautiful and remote bay of Islay. We enjoy the morning sun, the silence, the views from the pier and the water. The water is crystal clear and it must be nice to dive here if water temperatures permit. Islay constantly surprises us and it gets better every time we visit. Here we decide for the second time not to do the tour. The weather is great and too good to go inside. Instead of a tour we head for Loch Gruinart to do the woodland walk near the RSPB visitor centre. An easy sheltered walk and we enjoy the bluebells, the birds, the views and the ravens nesting in the trees. From here we head back to Loch Gorm and go to the new Kilchoman Distillery. I thought I had read somewhere that they do tours every half hour. The road to the Kilchoman distillery is no more than a track and when we arrive we see the Kiln that had been on fire. Everything is very small scale except for the shop which is quite big. After informing about the tours we find out that there are tours at 11 am and 3 pm. It is now 1 pm and we don't want to wait for two hours and have a little snack instead. The menu is limited and when we leave the distillery we don't have very good feeling and are a bit disappointed. There is more shop than distillery and the atmosphere isn't there, maybe because it is a farm distillery but we decide not to come back for a tour.
From Kilchoman it is a little drive to Machir bay and we have a walk on the beach. When a shower arrives we head back and visit the Kilchoman church and cross. The church is a ruin but the cross is another fine example of a 15th century cross. It reminds me of Kilnave cross near Loch Gruinart. In the meanwhile the rain is pooring down but we decide to visit the military graveyard near Kilchoman. A graveyard for soldiers from the 1st and 2nd worldwar. Here the bodies from some of the lost crew from the Tuscania and Ontaria are buried together with some unknown soldiers. A sad place to be in this pooring rain and we arrive back at the car soaking wet. It's only water isn't it and immediately it stops and the sun is back again.
Before we go to Port Ellen we stop at Islay House Square to see Rae, third attempt this time but again she is not in. Isolde is in and we buy a few beautiful cushions and of course raffle tickets for this years quilt.
We continue to Port Ellen and have a look at the handcraft market at Columba Hall. There are about 9 stands where local people sell homemade goodies. Postcards, jewellery, cutlery, pictures and other hand made stuff. We are the only ones there and feel a bit looked at. It would be better if it was a bit more crowded but to be honest, who really knows it is actually here? The sign in front of the hall is not very clear. I think here is a task for the local tourist authority. Why not make a weekly little leaflet with things to do on Islay and leave it in every rented accommodation. That way people know what is going on and the welcome evening, handcraft market and other events will certainly be visited more than now.
We head back home for a warm fire and dinner. The weather is still lovely and we decide to have an after dinner walk at Saligo Bay. The sun is setting and the light here is magnificent. Saligo bay is a beauty and we are the only ones here. We enjoy a cup of tea from our flask and a little cigar. Not a bad place to see the sun setting in the Atlantic. When it's almost dark we go home and enjoy the dozens of rabbits in the field.
Friday 19th May
Already the last full day on Islay, we try to forget that this is the last day and promise ourselves we will make the most of this day. The sun is shining, it is friendly outside but before any outside adventures take place we first go to the Islay Woollen Mill. Gordon is a bit nervous, he is alone at the Mill and a group of American tourists is about to arrive. But he takes his time to show us around which we appreciate a lot. Some of the machinery in here are the oldest in the UK but in perfect working order. We buy ourselves an Islay Bear to accompany us when we leave tomorrow and head for Islay House Square. We have to pick up our Saligo Ales and guess what, for the third time in three years we meet Norma Munroe. She is a very friendly lady and a great singer. Last year we bought her CD and now she is telling us there is another one on its way arriving Monday. Too late for us, but we hope the Bruichladdich shop will sell it online. Too bad Norma has no gigs in the Netherlands, would love to see her live but when the Islay Festival starts we will be back home. A lot of people ask us why we don't come to the festival but for us it is too hectic. We just like Islay they way it is, quiet with only a few people around at the 'attractions'. We already have enough hectic back home so we have to do without seeing Norma live.
The weather is still fine and we go for a walk at the Loch Indaal beach, near 'the spit'. A small piece of land that goes almost 100 metres into Loch Indaal at low tides. We walk as far as Uiskentuie and make pictures of the standing stone. After arriving at the car we decide to go to the Bruichladdich Distillery for having a look at the shop only. When we arrive Mary welcomes us and gets excited over the fact that we are from the Netherlands and that my name is Ron. It seems that another 'Ronald' from the Netherlands follows a master class at the distillery and Mary runs outside to get the other 'Ronald'. When Ronald arrives we meet for the first time and he is a very enthusiastic guy who wants to learn everything there is about whisky. After our first dram Ronald takes us on a private tour through the distillery. We have a great time, taste the real spirit, meet other distillery workers and arrive back in the shop one hour later. Here we have two more drams and then Mary decides we can also have a dram from the Cask in the shop. Bruichladdich 28 years old, complex, strong but magnificent. What a dram that was and my appreciation for Bruichladdich grows with the minute. People come and go in the shop, buying their own casks and it is really busy. This is typically Bruichladdich according to Ronald. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and with 4 drams a bit hazy as well, but that's just me. We say goodbye to Ronald, after he gives me his email address, and sit outside the distillery on the white stones and enjoy the atmosphere and the views over Loch Indaal intensely. Time for a contemplative fag and here we sit for almost 30 minutes, just enjoying Islay (and the drams).
It is now time for the Islay museum at Port Charlotte. A must for the Islay visitor and this was our second time. A lot of things have changed in the last year which makes it worth while to come back. When we leave the museum we go for coffee and scones to the Croft Kitchen just opposite of the museum. Wonderful really and sad we 'discovered' them so late in the week. They will see us more often next year!
After a second contemplative fag outside the 'croft kitchen' it is time to visit our friends at the Persabus Pottery for a last visit. Donald and Arra are already in the Pottery and it doesn't take long before we get our first dram, already the fifth that day and not the last. Later we go in the house where Rosemary is and we have a great time together. The fletchers are wonderful people and next year we will probably rent one of their cottages. At 7pm we leave for home. We cancel our last visit that day with a dutch guy, we are hungry and after 7 drams the driving is getting more and more difficult. Luckily enough police checks are seldom in this part of the world. We spend the evening with a fine dinner and a bottle of wine and think back of the wonderful week we had. Islay and its people are amazing and the more you visit Islay the better it gets. So next year? Islay again but now for two weeks. One just isn't enough!
Saturday 20th May
We wake up early, pack our bags and make our final trip over the Island towards Port Ellen. We are sad to leave but we have so many wonderful memories in our heart. Now all we have to do is wait for 49 weeks before the ferry leaves from Rotterdam. Goodbye everyone! Till next year!!