My first return to Islay after 22 long months

Islay on Video

Back in March 2020 when I wrote Sadly no Islay visit for me for the foreseeable future I didn’t expect that it would be 22 long months. While Islay was open for visitors in summer 2020 it didn’t feel right for me to travel at that time. Then the winter 2020/2021 lockdowns arrived. Early 2021 finally brought some hope with the vaccine programme rollout gathering pace, as I had decided I would only travel once I was fully vaccinated. I received my second dose in May 2021 (although I only found that out in May, I hadn’t expected expected it until June, making it too late to book for June). July and August I avoided (as usual) as I need to give priority to my colleagues with children (someone has to hold the fort in the office). But two weeks ago, in early September, I finally boarded the MV Finlaggan for my first crossing to Islay since November 2019.

It was emotional. Very emotional. Especially stepping out on to Kilchoman beach, my spiritual home, again the morning after my arrival. Several people have told me they’ve never seen me so happy as in some of the pictures I’ve shared. And they’re probably right. Even when I can’t explain why. Sometimes people ask me why I love Islay so much and why I keep returning after well over 20 years. And all I can say is that there’s something that clicks for me. That’s the best explanation I can give.

I don’t know if they show some of the magic, but I recorded a series of “YouTube shorts” (short 15 seconds clips best watched in portrait mode on a mobile device, but you can also watch them on a desktop/laptop) from some of my adventures during my second week on Islay:

YouTube playlist of Armin’s Islay #shorts

While I didn’t get out as much as I had hoped and didn’t meet as many people as I would have liked for a variety of reasons (weather not being that great especially in the second week, a very annoying blister on my left heel which made longer walks difficult at times, a lingering reluctance to go into busy enclosed spaces like pubs/restaurants and more) I did get to see a few new things and had some interactions I treasured:

One day I drove from Conisby to Uiskentuie beach for a walk. When I left Conisby my car alerted me that it was low on screen wash, so when I arrived I opened the bonnet and topped up the screen wash (might as well get it done while it’s fresh in my mind). Walking past another car parked a bit further down the beach the driver asked me if had a problem with my car and needed help. I reassured him that everything was fine and explained the background. While somebody elsewhere might have asked as well to me this felt very much like an Islay thing to do, people caring about others.

Also at Uiskentuie during my first walk there I passed a woman walking her dog and we had a brief chat about how long the beach was. A few days later (I think it might have been my last walk at Uiskentuie) I met her again and we walked together for a bit, having a nice chat about ferries, walking and more. We didn’t exchange names, so I don’t know who she was, but I really enjoyed our walk and chat. While something like this might happen elsewhere it felt like an Islay thing to me. Hopefully we can catch up on another beach walk at some point.

In regards to new things, I walked the new Loch Indaal path between Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte on a beautiful morning. I’ll write about it in a dedicated post, but I think it’s brilliant, a fantastic addition to Islay’s infrastructure and experience. Thank you and well done to everyone involved in making it happen.

I was welcomed online by several of my neighbours during my stay at Conisby, which I really appreciated. Apologies I didn’t come over, I’m still nervous visiting people in their homes at this point. Hopefully there will be another opportunity once the pandemic has settled further.

There were a few more moments, but I think what I’ve captured here covers the most important parts of this visit as well as touches on some of the reasons why I like Islay so much.

My next visit is already booked and assuming everything goes to plan I’ll be back soon, much much sooner than the very long time until this visit. I will do my utmost to meet the people I missed on this visit, most of you will know who. I’ll be in touch.

A video visit to Islay’s Singing Sands with BKR

Islay on Video

Where to start? BKR has filmed and published a good number of short Islay videos recently, some of which I’m planning to share here over the coming weeks, maybe even months. I’ve now decided to start with a beach video with a twist, as we not only get to see the beach, but also a glimpse of what is happening in the water just off it:

Singing Sands Adventure – Islay, Scotland

I hope you enjoyed this little walk and beach visit. I like his way of presenting, the enthusiasm he shows while talking about the places he discovers. As I said, I’m planning to share more videos by him, possibly a visit to a distillery or discovering an abandoned house.

A sailing visit to Islay videos

Islay on Video

Two videos I found today, both having at least some Islay in them. They are from a series of videos of Sailing Free Spirit around the UK. The first video covers various places and events on the west coast of Scotland including the Isle of Mull and many Dolphins following the boat, ending with their arrival on Islay:

SFS UK2020 ep10 – Oban to Port Ellen – The one with the Dolphins

The second video covers their stay on Islay and their departure and arrival to Northern Ireland:

SFS UK2020 ep11 – Islay to Ardglass

I hope you enjoyed the videos, I really enjoyed the Dolphins and found it quite interesting to hear about all the factors you have to consider for your journeys.

Thanks for all the walks and birds, Ian

Islay News

Many of you will know that Ian Brooke passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in June, leaving a big void for many. You can read a wonderful tribute to Ian on the Islay Birds blog. I’ve known Ian for almost 20 years and he’s had some big influences on my life. These are my personal memories of Ian and how he influenced my life:

Picture of Ian Brooke showing and explaining the WalkIslay cards
Ian explaining the WalkIslay cards

Back in 2003 Ian started the WalkIslay Islay walking week where every April daily guided walks by local people around the island were set up. Because of how Easter (and my birthday) fell that year I happened to be on Islay for a long weekend and joined for one of the walks. I enjoyed it so much that I returned the following year for the full week, joined by my mother. And as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been on every WalkIslay week since with the exception of 2018 where a bad leg injury stopped me from going (and 2020 as well as 2021 were cancelled due to Covid 19). Through the walking week I got to know a large number of people and made many friends. I got to see many parts of Islay I probably wouldn’t have seen without it. I learned various things about Islay’s history, nature and geology I might not have learned otherwise. Not to mention all the wonderful memories and pictures of beautiful walks and events during the walks. All because of Ian’s idea and drive to set up the walking week, his drive to find walk leaders and his enthusiasm to make it work. Not to mention the great Islay Walks booklet he helped creating. All something that gives me inspiration for walks on Islay to this day.

Picture of Ian Brooke walking along a loch at low tide
Ian walking along Loch Gruinart

The other big influence is birds (and other wildlife). As everyone knows Ian was an avid birdwatcher. Over the many years I’ve known Ian (and through him many of the other birders) this led to me developing an interest in wildlife and birdwatching. While I’m still very very amateurish (and will always be) I now spot birds I wouldn’t have seen a decade ago during my daily walks, I at times actively go out to watch and photograph birds, something I wouldn’t have thought of doing 15 years ago. Not something that Ian actively pushed, just something he planted in me through his enthusiasm. Closely related to this is the well known Islay Birds blog he started in 2007. As some may know I’ve been blogging in some way for about 20 years, with this blog going since May 2006, something Ian knew and read. He picked my brain, I gave him some pointers and ideas, and soon after the Islay Birds blog appeared. A regular update of the birds spotted on Islay (and elsewhere) as well as some regular weather and rainfall updates in Ian’s personal style. Something I’ve had in my feedreader ever since and read regularly. Something I remember soothing my nerves when I had booked an October visit slightly earlier than usual. The week before I was due to leave for Islay I was checking for the arrival of the Barnacle Geese, one of the main reasons for an October visit. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, nothing. But the winds have changed. Thursday, they have arrived! Phew……. It was also very nice to see my own reports mentioned on the blog by Ian, being from Islay or even from West Berkshire.

Of course I also have fond memories of the many many cups of teas and biscuits enjoyed at Ian’s and Margaret’s kitchen table. The meals we’ve enjoyed together. The phone calls. The emails. The times I’ve helped Ian with some IT problems when I could. The stays at Kilchoman Cottages which they ran for many years until they retired. The help they gave me at various times. The hours spent in Ian’s own birdwatching hide at Kilchoman, chatting, looking out for birds or viewing footage from his CCTV camera.

Those are my personal memories of Ian and my little thank you to him. When I see a rare or unusual bird I still think, “Oh, I need to send that to Ian” and probably will for a long time. The Islay Birds blog will be continued in his memory, so in a way I will still be sending it to him.

Thank you, Ian.

Scottish Strawberries and Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky

Islay Whisky News & Links

From what I’ve heard it’s been a lovely sunny day on Islay today while it’s been mostly cloudy with quite a lot of rain in West Berkshire where I am. Still, I managed to get in a 10 miles exercise walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds. As a reward I’m treating myself to an Islay and Scotland treat tonight:

Picture of some Scottish strawberries and a glass and bottle of Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky
Scottish Strawberries and Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky

One of my Islay standards, the good old trusted Laphroaig 10 yo. Together with some Scottish strawberries (from Angus if I remember correctly). What’s your treat tonight?

Islay & Jura Peatland Projects

Islay News

Islay is well known for its peat bogs and peatland, among other reasons mainly through its peaty whisky. But that’s not what this post is about, on the contrary, it’s about the preservation of the endangered peatlands. Islay is a key part in the CANN project (Collaborative Action for the Natura Network), which focuses on conserving peatlands and wetlands across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

On Islay this covers two sites, the Rinns of Islay and Eilean na Muice Duibhe (also known as Duich Moss). Various activities are under way, including the treatment and removal of invasive rhododendron, you can read a bit about that in A Film Diary from Angharad Ward on Islay. Not only that, you can also watch some of what was filmed:

The CANN Project Short Film – Combatting Rhodi on Islay

For more background and context also watch The CANN Story – April 2021, which gives an overview of all the projects in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

To spread the word and increase awareness the Islay & Jura Community Peatland Project was launched, which includes the Peatland Passport. This project will be run by the INHT until 2022, if you’re in Port Charlotte make sure to drop in at the INHT and pick up your passport (also available in various other places on Islay). If you are on Facebook you can also join the excellent Islay and Jura Community Peatland Project Facebook group, which has a huge variety of interesting posts with information, videos, online events and more.

New Islay video: Dog enjoying a run out on Kilchoman beach

Islay on Video

It’s been a while since I uploaded my last Islay video, my last uploads were actually in December 2019. High time I get into it again, editing videos (even if some of the footage is a bit older), uploading them to YouTube and sharing them with you. To get me going something simple and short, yet also beautiful with the joy and freedom it shows (at least for me, hopefully also for you), a dog enjoying a good run out on Kilchoman beach on the west coast of Islay:

Dog enjoying a run out on Kilchoman beach, Isle of Islay

The footage is actually a bit older (as mentioned above), it’s from an overcast and blustery April late afternoon / early evening in 2014 and was filmed on a mobile phone. Still, I thought it is very enjoyable and worth sharing. I hope you’ve enjoyed being out on the beach with the dog for half a minute.

Islay Easter dram 2021 (and some dark chocolate and cocoa truffles)

Islay Fun

Happy Easter 2021 (even if it’s a bit late). Had a nice afternoon walk in the sun in West Berkshire earlier, spotting around 30 Mute Swans in a field as well as several Red Kite along my route, which was a mixture of well known (to me) paths and a new path I hadn’t been on before. Now, about 45 minutes after sunset and with the last light of the gloaming slowly fading away, it’s time for a well deserved Islay Easter dram and some chocolate:

Picture of a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte MRC: 01 2010 with a Lindt dark chocolate Easter egg and cocoa truffles
Islay Easter dram (and some dark chocolate and cocoa truffles)

I picked the Bruichladdich distillery Port Charlotte MRC: 01 2010, one of my favourite Islay single malts. The “standard” Port Charlotte 10yo is one of my regular go to Islay whiskies, this one I think is the even better (and unfortunately pricier) version for special days.

For the chocolate I’m treating myself to a Lindt Lindor dark chocolate 70% minimum Easter egg with some dark chocolate truffles. While on a chocolate per ££££ basis these Easter eggs are a bit of a rip off compared to regular chocolate bars there is something strangely satisfying about breaking up a chocolate Easter egg and eating the crumbled chocolate, so it’s something I’m treating myself to once (or twice, Christmas is similar) a year.

I hope you’re having a nice Easter with whisky, chocolate and Easter walks in the sunshine. What’s your treat this Easter?

Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift to film music video on Islay

Islay News

Details are still a bit sketchy, but news reach me this morning that mega popstars Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift are going to film the music video for an as yet unreleased duet on Islay. From what I understand they recorded the song (a love ballad) two years ago and have now decided to release it. Of course the song needs a video, and this is where Islay comes in…

The two superstars wanted something a bit different from the usual polished boredom of a pop video. On a Zoom call with Craig Ferguson (while now an American citizen he of course was born and grew up in Scotland) they got talking about it and Craig suggested they might want to take a look at Islay.

They seem to have taken to his suggestion and are now planning to travel to Islay once Coronavirus restrictions are lifted and they and their crews can safely visit the island and film the video.

Likely locations include Soldier’s Rock, Kilchoman beach, Sanaigmore Bay, Finlaggan, Bowmore (in particular with the Round Church in the background), but there’s also talk of an excursion to Jura for views of the Paps of Jura and the Corryvreckan whirlpool.

I’ll keep you updated as this story develops…

Some traditional music from Islay with Shane and friends

Islay Music

While I preparing my venison burger on my Fyne Venison Weekend I thought it would be nice to listen to some Islay music. Luckily the YouTube recommendation algorithm (and that I’m subscribed to him) suggested a nice video from Shane MacKinnon he uploaded today. Here he is with Donnie and Niall at the Islay Hotel in 2019:

Traditional Music at the Islay Hotel Oct 2019

And there’s more, as here he is with Kyle and Ciara at the Port Charlotte Hotel a little bit earlier in 2019:

Tunes in the Port Charlotte Hotel – Islay. 22/07/19

For even more take a look at Shane’s YouTube music channel and while you’re there subscribe to it.