Islay at the British Birdfair 2018

Islay EventsIt’s that time of year again. It’s August, not long after the Islay Show (some people say the end of summer), the British Birdfair in Rutland is on. And just like last year and many years before there will be an Islay stand. From the 17th to the 19th of August 2018 the Islay team will be ready for visitors and their questions at the stand. With some Islay refreshments of course.

Where is the stand? In Marquee 7 on Stand 14/15. Here’s their description:

The islands of Islay and Jura lie off the west coast of Scotland and form part of the Southern Hebrides. Accessible only by plane or ferry these beautiful islands provide a haven for birds and wildlife all year round. Autumn and winter are spectacular times to visit when Islay’s population of just 3000 people are joined by 40,0000 Barnacle Geese and 5,000 Greenland White Fronted Geese. Their October arrival heralds a true birding spectacular and one not to be missed. Throughout the year both islands are home to golden and white-tailed sea eagles, hen harriers and chough – all of which can easily be sighted during a week long stay. Corncrakes can be heard in our late spring and summer evenings along with the unworldly sounds of drumming snipe. Islay and Jura are famous throughout the world for their whisky. Home to 9 and soon be to 10 whisky distilleries. Our stand at the Birdfair celebrates this great island produce with tastings throughout the three days. Just follow your nose and you’ll find us at Marquee 7 Stand 14/15. Visit us and plan your next island escape!

I believe visitors to the stand can win a week on Islay, but it’s even better than that, there is also an online competition. Visit the Islay and Jura marketing group website for more:

Win a wildlife holiday for 4 to the Isle of Islay

Flying to Islay as a wheelchair user

Islay on VideoIt’s been a while since I last posted here, I blame the heatwave in the UK which cost me a lot of energy (I don’t deal very well with hot weather). Still need to write up a quick summary from my Islay visit in June, but before I do that I’d like to share a video from another recent Islay visitor:

Doug Paulley (Doug on Twitter) flew to Islay in July (his first flight since becoming a wheelchair user if I understood it correctly) and decided to document his experiences as a wheelchair user as a help to others. A very interesting and informative video.

In addition Doug has also created a playlist of the views from the flight, for those who’d like to view what you can see from the window. And on Twitter he shared a video of a travel companion going for a swim at Bunnahabhain.

New video: June evening in Lossit Bay, Islay

Islay on VideoI spent a wonderful late afternoon and evening on a beautiful sunny June day in Lossit Bay on the west coast of Islay. Filming video, taking pictures and just generally looking around. Here’s a first taster of it, a one take one minute clip of walking along the beach and then turning around for a glimpse of the approaching sunset:

There’s plenty more to come, both pictures and video.

Islay Pipe Band at the British Championships 2018 in Paisley

Islay MusicThe Islay Pipe Band is busy with the competition season at the moment. Yesterday they performed at the first competition for the season, the British Championships in Paisley, achieving a very respectable 8th place (out of 14) in Grade 2. Here’s a video of their performance:

They were only one point behind the 7th place, but 4 points ahead of the joint 9th/10th place. Hopefully a successful season ahead of them.

A wonderful Islay dram, Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18

Islay Whisky News & LinksThought I’ll make you (well, some of you) jealous tonight. Enjoying a wonderful dram (or two, or three) of this wonderful Islay single malt and single cask whisky tonight, a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18:

Picture of a bottle and a dram of the Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18
A lovely Islay dram, the Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18

There’s only one problem with it: The bottle will be empty far far too quickly.

How not to discover Islay (and how to do it better)

Islay LinksYesterday I came across what I thought was a rather strange article about Islay. Having spent two weeks on Jura Alexander from South Africa thought he could visit and get to know five (yes, 5) Islay distilleries in two (yes, 2) hours. It wasn’t very successful for him, as he writes in A whisky without peat is like soup without salt, but Islay visit is bland.

Assuming I read it correctly he crammed driving from Port Askaig to Bowmore, visiting Bowmore distillery, driving on to the south coast, visiting Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, driving all the way back to Caol Ila, visiting Caol Ila and then driving back to Port Askaig into two hours. 2 hours. I estimate driving from Port Askaig to Ardbeg via Bowmore takes approx 45 minutes. Returning via the High Road should be slightly faster, may be 40 minutes. That’s a total of almost 1.5 hours. Which leaves just over half an hour for five distilleries. Or in other words about 6-7 minutes for each distillery. Where it seems he expected they just drop everything for him as soon as he arrived without any warning or preparation (otherwise he would have known that Ardbeg gets rather busy at lunchtime).

Seriously?

Do you turn up at Johannesburg’s busy top restaurants without a reservation and then expect them to serve you a five course menu over 15 minutes and enjoy that experience?

Here are my (personal, others might differ) suggestions on how to discover Islay: Spend a little time on preparation, plenty of websites and travel guides out there to learn about Islay. Allow yourself a few days to immerse yourself in the island, I’d say at least two full days excluding arrival and departure. Restrict yourself to may be 2-3 distilleries. That’s plenty enough. Get out of the car, walk around a bit, experience the peace and quiet directly, not through the windows of a car. Feel, view, hear and smell the wild and rugged landscape. Spend an hour or two walking along one of Islay’s beautiful beaches. Go out to one of the pubs/bars in the evening, especially if there’s live music on. Good chance you meet a distillery worker there. Visit some other places like Finlaggan or the Woollen Mill, get a feel for the rich history. And most importantly, don’t rush it, you’re on Islay time.

Rough Guides I think do it much better in their video, they take their time to really discover Islay, the multiple facets and what it is about:

Of course there are many more reasons to visit and discover Islay, but these five are already pretty good.

Do you have anything to add, any further thoughts on how to best discover Islay? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

Dan visits the wild north west of Islay

Islay on VideoTime for a nice Islay video again. Today Dan Bell takes us out to the far north west of Islay. I think he pitched his tent just south of Mala Bholsa, I believe I recognise some of the caves and arches as well as the waterfall. But now over to the video:

PS: I’m not so sure about some of his hacks though. Freezer bags to ‘waterproof’ your boots?

Interesting read about Orwell writing 1984 at Barnhill on Jura

Jura ExcursionsA quick excursion to Islay’s neighbour Jura today. James Shaw visited Barnhill where George Orwell wrote his famous book ‘1984’. He writes about his visit and Orwell on Jura in The Scottish island where George Orwell created 1984 on the BBC website.

I walked past Barnhill on the way to see the Corryvreckan whirlpool on a stunning day in April 2015, a fascinating but very remote location:

Picture of an farmhouse in a remote location on an island
A view of Barnhill on the Isle of Jura, taken from the track to the north of the island. The mainland visible in the background.

In case you need a refresher of the book:

The Great Islay Whisky Bubble?

Islay Whisky News & LinksIt’s been rumoured for a while, now it’s official: Yet another whisky distillery is being planned to be built on Islay. Assuming it obtains all the necessary permissions it will be built just outside of Port Ellen. Including this latest project there will be 12 distilleries on Islay in operation, under construction or are planned (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that list isn’t the last word. Port Charlotte seems to be gone off the radar, but never say never):

  1. Ardbeg
  2. Lagavulin
  3. Laphroaig
  4. To be named new distillery by Elixir Distillers outside of Port Ellen, rumoured to be ‘Farkin Distillery’
  5. Port Ellen (to be rebuilt and reopened by Diageo)
  6. Bowmore
  7. Gartbreck (planned)
  8. Bruichladdich
  9. Kilchoman
  10. Caol Ila
  11. Ardnahoe (under construction)
  12. Bunnahabhain

That’s a lot of distilleries.

Many say that’s good. More Islay whisky to enjoy and there’s still growing demand around the world. More jobs. More distilleries to visit. More visitors to Islay. Islay becoming an ‘industrial powerhouse’.

I’m not so convinced.

To start with there’s the problem of the infrastructure. Same as everywhere else in the UK (I live in the south east of England and it’s bad even here, potholes even on major roads not repaired for ages) the roads on Islay are crumbling, at least in part because of the heavy distillery lorries for which they were never designed pounding them. I don’t see that improving any time soon, the council simply hasn’t got the money with the ongoing austerity and funding cuts. Then the ferry situation (remember that a lot of the whisky is ferried off the island in tankers for maturation or bottling, and if matured and bottled on Islay the bottles have to be ‘imported’ and the filled bottles transported off), again I don’t see that improving any time soon. Even if new ferries are funded for Calmac it will take many years until they are all fully in service, not to forget that the ones in service will be aging and starting to break down as well.

But more importantly: I see a monoculture. I see a potential bubble.

In my eyes more distilleries mean more dependency on whisky (and gin). More distilleries don’t make Islay an industrial powerhouse, it makes Islay a powerhouse for just one thing, whisky. And if whisky (and in particular peaty whisky) ever runs into trouble it will hit Islay badly.

I remember my first visits to Islay 20 years ago. Ardbeg was only just reopening. Bruichladdich was still closed, I remember driving past the locked gates. I remember reading about workers being laid off when Bruichladdich closed. Port Ellen had been closed over a decade ago. Sure, at the moment whisky and in particular Islay whisky is booming, sales and demand are soaring. But fashions change, consumer preferences change, who is to say that Islay single malts won’t fall out of favour at some point sooner or later? I remember the dot com bubble. I remember the housing bubble. I remember reading the only way is up. Until the bubbles burst.

And I’m concerned that Islay could be badly hit then, as it doesn’t have an awful lot else to fall back on. It’s not an ‘industrial powerhouse’ where people can move to alternatives. I have to openly admit I don’t know how this could be achieved, but I feel it would be better for Islay to diversify, to have other options. May be renewable energy is an option that could be pursued. There was a lot of hype about tidal energy the last few years, but that seems to have gone rather quiet unless I have missed something. May be the roll out of fibre broadband internet could be restarted (from what I’ve heard it seems to have faltered?), opening up opportunities for people to properly ‘telecommute’ from Islay?

Those are just my thoughts when hearing of yet another distillery on Islay. I’m sure many will disagree, I think some might think along similar lines as me. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Two interesting Islay whisky links

Islay Whisky News & LinksI need to share more links and web findings of Islay things I come across again. After all that’s what blogging originally was all about. So today I give you two interesting Islay whisky related links:

If I’m honest I’m not very impressed with a lot of the articles about Islay in the travel sections of many newspapers. Apart from a few exceptions they are usually written by someone who flew in for 2-3 days, did a distillery tour or two and had a few nice meals. But as I said, there are exceptions. Liza Weisstuch knows what she’s writing about. She’s been to Islay many times, I met her back in June 2011 (when she was on Islay for some real whisky experience at Bruichladdich) during one of her visits. And now she’s a got a big feature in the New York Times, online and if I understand it correctly on the cover of the travel section in the print edition next weekend. It’s called The Whisky Chronicles.

I’m not sure I can fully grasp the point of the second link for today. In my mind Islay is about slowing down, taking your time to enjoy. However, in July there will be a rather extreme whisky distillery tour on Islay and Jura:

A new ‘extreme’ whisky tour will take participants by foot, bicycle and kayak to visit 10 island distilleries over 60 miles, in just three days.

Apparently you won’t get much time to actually tour the distilleries or enjoy the samples (although you can collect the miniatures to saviour later). But if you’re still interested you can read more in WORLD’S ‘MOST EXTREME’ WHISKY TOUR LAUNCHES.