Islay Travel Report 2007 - The Third (festival) Week

the Cottage at KeillsThis was supposed to be the day we had planned to return home but due to my back problems and the fact we couldn't travel because of that it turned out to be an extra bonus week. And what a week it was. Unfortunately we couldn't stay at the Persabus Farm that week but Arra knew a friend who has a cottage in Keills which happened to be vacant until Thursday so we moved house. Keills is a little village close to Port Askaig and, according to the locals, an original Islay village. Most people who live there originate from Islay and there are only a few holiday cottages. Interesting detail of Keills are the ruins of an old chapel and grave yard and some carved grave slabs.

Saturday 26 May
Our cottage for the next five days was opposite Keills farm and had wonderful views, a good mattress and was comfortable. Well done Arra! Earlier I wrote about this being a bonus week and we had the intention to leave Islay just before the festival started and now we could see Islay during the festival and in the days before the ferries were loaded with new visitors and on the roads you could see more cars then usual. We however had a relaxing day, made a little tour over the island and in the evening we parked the car at the head of Loch Indaal and enjoyed the views while reading a book.

the site of the new Port Charlotte Distillery

Sunday 27 May
After a lazy Sunday morning and ditto breakfast we headed for Port Charlotte where we arrived at 11. This was a big day for Port Charlotte and the guys from Bruichladdich, not only because Bruichladdich had their open day but also because of the official ceremony of cutting the first turf at the site where the new Port Charlotte Distillery will be built. Lots of people arrived, a parking space was hard to find, and there was a pleasant atmosphere. The weather was brilliant, as always on Bruichladdich Open Day, and they say that Jim McEwan makes a special prayer with the man higher up to get some decent weather for his event. So far he was lucky!

Lady Caroline McTaggartAt exactly 12 o'clock, after the arrival of the Edmonton Pipe Band, Sir John McTaggart from the Bruichladdich Distillery started his speech and later Lady Caroline McTaggart performed the official part of the ceremony by cutting the first turf for the new Port Charlotte distillery and the flag for the new distillery was raised. The audience were served a dram and toasted to the new distillery which is a good thing for Islay and specially for Port Charlotte. It will provide extra jobs and more visitors will be drawn to Islay's most beautiful village. After the ceremony everybody hurried to get to the Bruichladdich Distillery for their Open Day, this day is the second busiest event on Islay. The first one is the Islay Show in August. Hundreds of people were waiting outside to get in and after a donation of five pounds we could finally enter the 'holy ground'. Here we met Christine Logan and her mother, 94 years young and remarkably fit, Jeremy Hastings and Brian Palmer, just before the Islay Pipe Band marched in and played together with the Edmonton Pipe Band. An absolutely brilliant performance, this was the first time I heard them play and it was fantastic! More performances followed and the atmosphere was great, we would have loved to stay longer but my back was giving me problems and we had to return home. After some rest and a good dinner we made a nice tour over the island from Port Charlotte to Portnahaven over the Rhinns passing Kilchiaran Bay and back to the head of Loch Indaal where we parked the car. The weather was still lovely, the Bruichladdich Distillery was back to normal and the island was peaceful again. It was a very special day!

Islay Pipe Band at Bruichladdich Distillery Open Day 2007

Monday 28 May
Another lovely day with sunshine although there was a bit more wind. We woke up early and joined the festivities at Caol Ila distillery where we had an early morning tour. Lot's of people had the same idea and it was very busy. Our tour guide was from the Lagavulin Distillery but she knew exactly what was going on at Caol Ila and she did a good job. We met Brian during the tour, he was making pictures for the Ileach, and came here by bike from Bowmore, which is quite a ride. Only moments later Arra arrived at Caol Ila, he arranged for us to join a trip with Islay Sea Safari around the Oa, but with 30 miles per hour over rough seas my back wouldn't become any better and we had to turn down his offer, which was rather sad but hey, we will be back!

Tour at Caol Ila Distillery

At 12 I had an appointment with Elizabeth the 'magic woman' who would check my back and showed me some exercises. After this good session, I felt a lot better than before, we headed back home for lunch. In the afternoon we visited Ballivicar Farm where I had to take pictures for their new website. The sun was still shining, what Jim McEwan can do I can do as well, and I spent an hour walking in and around the farm. Since we were in the area Manuela went shopping in the Heather Shop afterwards and I rested a bit in the car and watched the world go by. On our way back to Bowmore we went for a walk to the 'Big Strand'.

Big Strand Islay and Laggan Bay

There is a little track north of the Islay Airport, where an abandoned lorry is parked, that partly uses the old runways and takes you to a lovely and extremely quiet part of this eight mile stretch of unspoilt beach on Laggan Bay. Wonderful views towards the Oa, we couldn't see Soldiers Rock from here, and towards the Rhinns of Islay. Our evening trip, yes we do that as much as possible, took us to Loch Gorm and I had a feeling that we could enjoy a lovely sunset and proved to be right. We stopped on a passing place somewhere higher up where we overlooked Loch Gorm and the Atlantic Coast and watched the sun setting slowly into the see.

Sunset on Islay

Tuesday 29 May
Another bonus day and the sun apparently felt the same way although there were more clouds than before. We had a late breakfast and I wandered off to Arra for a chat which was pleasant as ever and he gave me a good laugh, what a character he is. By now the morning was gone, time can fly on Islay, and in the afternoon we had a little walk at Bridgend. A very relaxing day which ended at the Port Charlotte Hotel for a lovely dinner and a little walk on the sea side. We drove back to Bridgend and decided to take the Glen Road. We love these little drives later in the evening when the sun sets. There is so much to see and Islay shows itself every time with different light conditions which is ideal for some more photography.

Wednesday 30 May
When we woke up we were a bit sad since this was our last day on Islay for some time. Luckily the weather was gorgeous and therefore felt a bit better and we decided to make the best of this day. First stop was at Kilmeny House where we met Margaret Rozga. She runs an absolutely stunning Guest House and we were impressed by the perfectionist way she decorated the rooms. One big WOW. After a pleasant conversation we headed for Bowmore where we met Heather Bauld from Bowmore Distillery. She was busy with tours, it was Bowmore day today and we met some other whisky pilgrims from the Netherlands as well. Ton van den Heuvel and his wife Loes and also Eugene and Yvonne van der Meer who we met before at Persabus. The atmosphere was great, the smoke from the Bowmore Kilns drifted through main street and the sun was present to make it a perfect day. Manuela did some shopping while I chatted on a bit and we lunched on a bench outside Bowmore overlooking Loch Indaal and its wildlife.

Lunch at Loch Indaal

After our 'packed lunch' we headed for Bridgend to visit the Islay Brewery Open Day where we met Paul Hathaway. He can make a fine ale and he can sing too, which he showed later on. We had a look at the Islay quilters to see if Rae was Open day at Islay Alesthere and missed her again, but we did buy raffle tickets! We met Malcolm Ogilvie and his wife and Norma Munro who told me she would be on stage later on. She is in the process of making a new CD which will be out in September. Good news for her fans. We sat on a chair with an Islay Ale in the sunshine, the atmosphere was relaxed and we waited for Norma to do her thing. The weather was even better than Sunday, did Paul talk to the man above as well? Norma has such a good voice and we could only join the first part of her performance because we were in a hurry, yes that can happen too on Islay. We had to buy flowers for Rosemary's birthday, pack our bags and be ready at seven because we would have dinner at the Ballygrant Inn with Arra, which was very good, we all had game, and we enjoyed a great last evening on Islay.

Norma Munro at Islay Ales Open Day 2007

This was without a doubt our best trip to Islay yet, even with the back problems, and it proves that the longer you stay the better you are able to adept to this relaxed pace of life the islanders have. For us no Spain, Portugal or Turkey but Islay, every time, all the time!

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