It was the first time for us to visit and experience Scotland in the winter. We spent the first week on the Scottish mainland where we visited beautiful places and met good friends. After spending time with friends at Dunfermline Abbey, revisited Belladrum Estate near Inverness where we got married almost five years ago, checked out on Arra Fletcher and Barbara in Lochaline Morvern, seen the north part of the Isle of Mull and spent a couple of days in the Highlands at Dalmally it was finally time for Islay...
Saturday 28 February
It was 28 February and we arrived late in the morning at Kennacraig. It was very quiet and we were in fact the first ones in line. Although it was overcast the weather was unusually mild with almost ten degrees, a lot warmer than the weeks before which brought the 'big freeze and snow' to Britain. When the ferry left we found ourselves almost alone on the panoramic deck and I think no more than 20 people in total were present on the ferry. What a difference from our previous trips. The sea was calm and smooth and so was the crossing. When we arrived at three it took us only a couple of minutes to get to our accommodation at Persabus where we were welcomed by Rosemary. After unpacking the car and getting settled, which took us only thirty minutes, we immediately left and had a lovely walk at Loch Indaal. Time to breath in the fresh Islay air and get reacquainted with the island.
Arriving on Islay so soon after the last time in October, made us feel we never actually left the island which is a wonderful feeling. The first thing we noticed was the spreading of the geese. We didn't see very much of them at Bridgend but on a lot of other places all over the island. In some places the daffodils were out and we saw the ground in Bridgend woods covered in snowdrops, awesome! When we got back to Persabus it was dinner time and later in the evening it started to rain...
Sunday 1 March
And what a cracking day it was... Around eight in the morning when we woke up there were clouds although the sun tried hard to show itself, and later after breakfast when we left around ten the sun was shining and the skies were blue with the typical shower clouds here and there, but mostly it was sunny. What a joy! On our way to Sanaigmore we stopped several times to admire the stunning views and cloudscapes and even managed to capture a full double rainbow. I mentioned the geese already yesterday and also today we noticed many groups of geese all over the island. This was the start of a very promising day.
When we arrived at Sanaigmore we visited Petra's Outback Gallery first and had a chat with her and admired the beautiful art which is very nicely displayed in a beautiful gallery. What a great new addition for Islay! We decided to have a walk first at Sanaigmore Bay while the sun was still shining and again we were extremely lucky with the weather. The skies were dark blue and I (finally) managed to take enough pictures of Sanaigmore Bay in the sunshine, something I hadn't been able doing before. After our almost two hour walk we went back to the gallery for an excellent double espresso and tea. Petra Pearce has managed to create a truly beautiful gallery in a stunning location which is well worth a visit!
After our Sanaigmore trip we decided to head back to Saligo and photograph the Ballinaby standing stone. When you enter the gate at Saligo keep on walking on the track heading right. The standing stone is signposted, is located on a hill and takes around twenty minutes to reach. The views from the hill towards Islay and the Atlantic Ocean are fabulous. The stone itself is very tall and is about the same height as the one near Port Ellen, I'm not sure which one is taller though, I have a feeling it's the one at Port Ellen. We headed back for the beach over the dunes and enjoyed a storm arriving at Saligo while the waves crashed on the rocks. Magnificent!
After shopping at Jimmy's we had coffee at home, Persabus that is, and later on I made a trip to Bunnahabhain to enjoy the brilliant clear skies and beautiful light conditions. I have learned to never miss an opportunity to take pictures when the sun is out or the light is good. Things can change faster than you think and in fact, while I write this report, another shower arrived. This time however it's dark, we are comfortable and warm in our cottage and look back on a fantastic day on Islay.
Monday 2 March
We wake up with pouring rain, it's grey and cold and the wind is howling round the cottage during breakfast. Well what can you expect, it's early March so no complaints from us. We decided to go to Bowmore, after we had a chat to Scott and Katherine Urquhart from Sornbank. Manuela planned to do some shopping and I had to see Gordon from islay.co.uk to further work out our partnership, but more about that later. At noon I had a very pleasant meeting with Rev. Steve Fulcher, Marsali Thomson and Duncan McAuslan, such lovely people. The meeting was about a new website for the three linked churches, the two churches on the Rhinns and Kilmeny church. It ended up that I will be building them a website in the next weeks and I'm very much looking forward to that. It's good to give something back to the island and they were really happy about it, and so was I. In the meantime the website is ready under the name www.islay-north-churches.org
Monday afternoon and it became a bit dryer so we decided to head to Port Ellen, basically to walk about a bit, check on the progress of the hotel and to have a look at Port Ellen Maltings. As soon as we parked the car the sun came out and pretty much stayed as long as we were in Port Ellen. Sometimes you just get lucky! There wasn't much to see at PE Maltings, the two silo's that went down haven't been replaced yet. Work on the hotel is still in progress although I have a feeling they are running behind because there is so much work yet to be done on the outside, and it was very noisy as well. I think the people in the area will be immensely happy when the new hotel opens its doors. Some time later when we arrived back in the car a storm arrived over the Oa and we sat in our car watching the rain and waves picking up at Kilnaughton Bay. On our way home we stopped at the Islay Airport for a coffee and scone and later we picked up brian and his wife Mairy to visit Jeremy Hastings and his wife Tink and kids. Dave T was there as well. Outside it was cold but inside it was warm, cosy and comfortable. We had a magnificent evening with excellent food and great friends, what more can you wish for?
Tuesday 3 March
A whole different story today. It started off with a lot of rain, it was very cold and there was a wee cover of snow on the Paps, at least the parts that were free from the clouds. Since the rain persisted we decided to pay Margaret Rozga from Kilmeny Country House a surprise visit and spent most of the morning there. Kilmeny is a beautiful house with a great host, five rooms and just as many VisitScotland stars. Our main topic was the new ferry not being able to dock in Port Ellen. Carl did a great job printing this in the Ileach. When we left Kilmeny we drove to Bridgend for some shopping and noticed Christine Logan's Silver Bullet before Bridgend Hotel. We couldn't resist and went in the hotel to see her, which was great. Although she had a client she still found the time for a wee chat and promised to meet again later in the week.
Time for lunch now and we parked the car on the north side of Loch Indaal where we enjoyed our home-made sandwiches before we 'set sail' to the wild-west (Kilchiaran Bay, the Rhinns and Portnahaven). The swell was quite good and we enjoyed the show the Atlantic was presenting us. There was also lot's of wildlife on and near the road to Portnahaven; Curlews, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Buzzards, Kestrel and seals at Portnahaven. After a good walk, in somewhat drier weather, around Port Wemyss and Portnahaven we went to An Tigh Seinsse for coffee and tea and enjoyed the warmth of this lovely little pub and the open fire. More walking and off to Port Charlotte but not before we met Lucy Dawson who runs two beautiful accommodations at Easter Ellister.
Ok, we were on our way to Port Charlotte. We passed the site for the new Port Charlotte distillery and guess what? No sign of any progress, which was a surprise to me. I heard that the planning permission was given already in October last year so I wonder when they will actually start with the works. Off to Debbies now to get our first 'Great Coffee' and a chocolate muffin. It is still dry but no sign of any sunshine today, in fact the clouds are becoming darker by the minute and when we arrived home it started to rain again. Ach well, it's dark now and we hope for more sunshine tomorrow. Despite the rain and cold we had a lovely day, met wonderful people and have seen lots of wildlife, not bad...
Wednesday 4 March
A cold northerly wind lifts the curtains from our bedroom windows early in the morning and reveals snow on the Paps of Jura. Not much, but it's snow and the sky looks grey with blue patches here and there. Looks like the start of a promising day. Happy as a kid I take a shower and walk outside before breakfast to take pictures. The clouds are disappearing and after breakfast the sky is blue, there is almost no wind and the sun feels warm. What a start of the day. We decided to drive to Port Askaig to get some nice pictures of the Paps and, much to our surprise, notice a new ferry for Jura. When we walk around the harbour we suddenly see Mags from Manchester and her friend. They are going to Jura and we decided to join them, something we didn't regret.
On the new ferry we found out that the regular Jura ferry had lost a propeller, hence the relief ferry. This is a different sort of ro-ro ferry. Drive on backwards and roll off forward at the destination. When we arrived at Feolin we saw a huge snow shower hanging above Islay and the sound. The light was dramatic while the sun still reflected on the water, what a magnificent show. After seeing many deer we arrived in Craighouse and decided to travel on, leaving the snow storm behind us and follow the bright spells in stead. We made the right decision and arrive at the Paps with beautiful sunshine and one huge shower behind us while another one is in front of us. The cloud formations are stunning while the showers move slowly over the Sound of Jura. The mountains in Knapdale and Arran are also covered in snow, what a splendid views. Close to Inverlussa it starts to snow and it's great, we enjoy the lovely soft snowflakes.
It's noon and we head for Craighouse after stopping several times to admire the stunning views. We went for a walk in Craighouse, took some more pictures and returned to the ferry. It's busy, ten vehicles waiting, we are number two. After taking pictures of the snow on Jura it's now time to take some Islay snow pictures and we succeed. The weather is still beautiful and we have learned to never trust the weather forecast again. So many times they have been wrong and usually predict worse weather than it turned out to be. Again, no complaints here!!
Later in the afternoon we noticed a huge snow shower over the Rhinns and decided to 'go for it'. The light was spectacular. Time for coffee at Debbies and we met her mother there. After a wee chat and a great coffee it's back home for some rest, a change of clothes and back again to Bruichladdich for our first dinner at an-Taigh Osda. When we arrive Paul and Joan Grahame, the owners, welcome us and offer us a drink. We feel home instantly and make a selection in the menu. We both had a wonderful soup for starters, Manuela had a trio of salmon, I had a steak as main course followed by sticky treacle toffee pudding and an espresso. The food was incredible, one of our best dinners ever and we must compliment Paul and Joan with their superb restaurant. After dinner we get the full tour of the hotel and we admire the rooms which are styled to perfection. What a great addition for Islay, just perfect!
Thursday 5 March
More or less the same start as Wednesday but there was more snow on the hills. We made an early start and since the sun was shining in between the dark shower clouds we headed for Bridgend to capture the white carpet of snowdrops, which grow only in certain places, mostly near the bridge at Bridgend. Back to Keills and Ballygrant for pictures of the snow covered mountains on Jura and then off to see Mark and Helga from Islay Studios at their new studio in Bridgend where we also met Jim and Lesly Lutomski and my biggest fan? on Islay who works at the Bridgend Hotel (send me an email please if you read this!)
Since the weather is still great we head for Loch Gruinart and stopped at Lagstoban where I walked up a wee hill and took a beautiful panorama image. On our way to Loch Gruinart we see many geese and are welcomed by beautiful bright blue and clear skies. We made a lovely but cold, actually freezing, walk towards Killinallan point and enjoyed the stunning views and the brilliant light. New showers arrive and the clouds and light are constantly changing, you can't really get enough of this. When the sky is getting really dark we decide to go back and visit the quilters at Islay House Square. And for the 7th time in a row Rae isn't working today, we somehow always miss here but there comes a time, at least we have our raffle tickets! Time now for a visit at Islay Ales where we meet up with Paul and Norma. We are always surprised how many people you get to know on Islay after visiting the island more often, it must be the friendly nature of the Ilich!
Friday 6 March
The last full day on Islay. We decided to take it easy although we have a lot of plans, let's see what happened! Donald and Rosemary were leaving for Glasgow today so we said goodbye to them first before we went to Bowmore where we found out that the cash machine on The Square is broken down (for the second day in a row), and as a result the other one on Shore Street is empty and needs a refill. Next stop Glenegedale where we met Rachel and Alasdair Whyte and had a look at their new and newly to be built self catering accommodations which are the two beautiful houses next to Glenegedale. Very impressive and styled to perfection. These two excellent accommodations will come available in the next weeks so stay tuned!
We head for Port Ellen for petrol and to find a cash machine and guess what? The bank is closed! It's not easy if you want to spend your money on the island!! We stop at Ardbeg and wandered around the distillery grounds in search of some really nice images. Specially the views from the pier back to Warehouse nr 1 can be great, as you can see for yourself.
Off to Claggain Bay where we basically relax, walk, relax some more and finally fell asleep in the car. It's so relaxing to park your car there and listen to the sound of the waves, or is it an age thing? Who knows! While we were sleeping it started to rain and the visibility has dropped to less than a mile. Excellent weather for a distillery tour and we go to Laphroaig. It's the first time that I visited the distillery since the new visitor centre a.k.a. the Friends of Laphroaig Lounge opened and it's beautiful. Nice seats and sofa's to relax, meet other friends and enjoy their fabulous whisky. I never said holidaying on Islay was easy?. Vicky offers us a dram, a 15yr old Laphroaig and we sit down in one of the sofa's. The tour is supposed to start at 15.30 so we have another twenty minutes for ourselves. More people arrive and we wait for the tour to start for a family who come all the way from the mainland with the afternoon ferry to visit Laphroaig, stay on Islay for one night, and go back with the morning ferry. Incredible isn't it?
Vicky is doing the tour and I'm very impressed with her. I have done quite a lot of distillery tours on Islay and the mainland but today is one of the best so far. Thanks a lot Vicky for a fantastic tour. After the tour it's time to receive our certificates and dram, and we head for home, satisfied and glad we did the Laphroaig tour. Back home we find a nice surprise waiting for us. Christine Logan gave us Scallops which we like very much and prepared for our evening meal. We decided to share the large portion with our neighbour, whisky guy Rob, who will remain on Islay for another two months. Is he lucky or what? Another day has passed and we feel a bit sad with the prospect of leaving Islay tomorrow. We will have to make the best of our last day and we are lucky to have booked the afternoon ferry!
Saturday 7 March
There is nothing you can do about the sad feeling you have on your last day, specially when you know it will take a wee bit longer before we come back again, but we do have a very good and joyful reason. Since it's raining we decide to spend time indoor and do what we wanted to do from the day we arrived, and that is to visit Susan Campbell near Kilchoman. It's always a pleasure to spend time with Susan, she knows so much about the island and she is a very pleasant person to be with. Time flies while we chat, drink coffee and enjoy our conversation and we had to say goodbye sooner than we wanted to. On our way back we parked the car at Loch Indaal to admire the views and birds, mainly oystercatchers and geese, while we ate our sandwich. It's after one o'clock, we still had to pack and decided to call it a day. With sadness in our heart we drive back to Persabus, pack our stuff and drive to Port Askaig not knowing when we will be back, but back we will and if all goes well with our wee webmaster to be!
It was a great week, too bad it was just one week. I have said it before and with the risk of repeating myself, one week isn't enough. So many things we didn't do, so many people we didn't see but still a fantastic week. Now we know that Islay is great anytime, also in the winter!