Future travel to Islay via Jura? (updated)

Islay NewsSomething that I’ve heard mentioned before seems to be back on the agenda again: Replacing the big ferries directly from the mainland to Islay with smaller ferries from the mainland to Jura, drive down Jura and then take the second ferry from Jura over the Sound of Islay to Port Askaig. In an article New plans for the future of Scotland’s ferry fleet would see more smaller vessels in the Herald we find:

Under the new proposal, Mull and Jura could play vital roles acting as these “land bridges”, slash journey times and increase service frequency to Islay and the Outer Hebrides.

[..]

Likewise, Islay passengers would get a ferry from Keills on the mainland and travel to Lagg on Jura, before crossing to Islay. One other advantage is that carbon emissions would be greatly reduced without the need for hybrid fuel ferries.

Pedersen added: “Both are much shorter than the current Kennacraig to Port Askaig/Port Ellen service on Islay and would allow up to ten daily crossings and the option of direct bus services between the islands and Glasgow.”

I’m not entirely convinced. To start with I don’t see the single track roads leading to Keills on the mainland and on Jura from Lagg to Feolin Ferry coping with all the additional traffic. They would need to be widened, strengthened and regularly maintained, which I suspect will cost many many millions and take many years if not decades to achieve (if possible at all). I suspect the residents of Craighouse won’t be too happy suddenly having a main A-road going right through their village. Similarly the residents along the Crinan Canal and Tavvallich (I assume the mainland part of the route would go along there). Complete new ferry terminals where currently no infrastructure exists at all would have to be developed and built, also the one at Feolin Ferry would need expansion. While admittedly smaller than the current large Kennacraig to Islay ferry I would think a Keills to Lagg ferry still would need to be of a reasonable size to cope with the volumes and the conditions in the Sound of Jura. The current ferry over the Sound of Islay would probably need an upgrade as well to cope with the volumes required.

That’s not to say the idea isn’t possible, I just feel it will be much more difficult than it seems at first glance. What do you think, will this happen, should this happen?

(Link via kenny swan on Twitter)

Update:

As mentioned in the intro, this idea isn’t new. What I hadn’t realised is that it goes back to the 1960 (yes, I know, strictly speaking it goes back way further than that, as the overland route via Jura was the original route to Islay before steamers etc came into play). Neil King has more on his blog in West Tarbert Pier – Part 1:

The Government was presented with two alternative proposals for Islay. [..] The other was the radically different so-called “Overland Route” which involved using Jura as a stepping stone to Islay via new, shorter car ferry routes from Keills in Argyll to Lagg in Jura and from Feolin on Jura to Port Askaig. (This had, in fact, been the original route to Islay until the development of steamship services in the second quarter of the 19th century replaced it with the route to WTP.)

[..]

In February 1968, the Government rejected the Overland Route on grounds of cost. As well as new ferries, it would have involved upgrading more than 30 miles (50km) of single track roads to Keills and on Jura at an overall cost of £3.2m. Instead, the Government preferred to spend £1.1m on a new ro-ro car ferry to operate from a new pier at Escart Bay, about a mile down the loch from WTP. This would serve Port Askaig, Colonsay and Port Ellen. Jura would be served by a new ferry across the Sound of Islay to Feolin instead of the traditional call at Craighouse en route to Port Askaig and Gigha would have its own independent ferry. This option could also be delivered much more quickly than the Overland Route and within the predicted remaining life of the Lochiel.

(update via IanM on Twitter)

A (fictional) Islay crime wave

Islay LinksIt seems Islay is becoming a hotbed of crime. Luckily only fictional, not in the real world. There are two books right now I’m aware of putting Islay on the crime fiction map. One has recently been published and is on my to read list, the other one is scheduled to be published in spring 2019.

Price: Check on Amazon

The first book is Machir Bay by Alasdair Wham. I think I came across it via a news report, but I’m not entirely sure. Not all bookshops have it, but on Islay you can buy it from The Celtic House and online at Amazon. As I said I haven’t got round to read it yet, but I’ll report back once I have. The reviews are very positive, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

The second book I came across via a tweet by the author:

You can find more on Allan’s page for the book, including a teaser excerpt. He mentioned he’s hoping to have a launch event on Islay, so watch out for that.

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

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.

Islayschki Vodka to be launched

Islay NewsWhisky and gin are already well established on Islay and Jura, there are also plans to distil rum on Islay. Not to forget Islay Ales being brewed in Bridgend. Now efforts are underway to add another spirit to this portfolio, vodka to be precise:

Label for Islayschki Vodka

Following Roman Abramovich’s Islay visit a few years ago there will now also be Islay vodka, to be called Islayschki Vodka. The vodka will be distilled in a new purpose-built distillery near Port Ellen. From what I understand the distillery will be a joint venture by a Russian conglomerate and a Scottish spirit merchant.

Not much is known about the taste profile yet, but I understand it will be a fusion of continental freshness and Islay’s maritime salty influences. While it is mainly to be enjoyed neat it can also be used in cocktails and mixed with other drinks.

Will you try the new Islayschki Vodka?

Sadly no Islay walking week 2018 for me

Islay EventsEarlier today I posted the first picture on my Islay photo blog for almost three weeks. The reason for that is that almost three weeks ago I badly injured my right leg and spent the first two weeks almost entirely in bed as I was unable to walk. Last weekend I started to take my first tentative steps again, well, let’s call it some very bad limping.

While there has been improvement over the last week I’m still limping and expect it will take at least another week or two until I can walk normally again, let alone drive. Going on long and strenuous walks will probably take me several more weeks if not months. With this year’s Islay walking week only a week away now it became painfully (pun intended) clear to me over a week ago that I would not be able to participate.

I’m very disappointed that I will not be able to join this year’s walks and meet old and new friends. It is also frustrating as to my knowledge I am the only person who has completed at least one walk on every single Islay walking week since they started 15 years ago. Obviously this run will now come to an end. I wish those able to go fantastic walks, great weather and a wonderful week. Depending on how my recovery goes I’m hoping to be back on Islay in June or later during the summer.

PS: I’m still very pleased with the speech recognition software I installed some time ago. As I’m still having to elevate my leg as much as possible to reduce the swelling it is very helpful to be able to just lean back, put my leg up and dictate this blog entry.

Islay High School wins award at FilmG 2018

Islay NewsRemember a few weeks ago I mentioned voting for the Islay entries at FilmG 2018? Unfortunately neither of the Islay entries won the people’s choice award but at least one prize returns to Islay again. Yes, you read that right, returns to Islay again. Same as last year Islay High has won the Gaelic Award for Learners:

Congratulations! Will they get to keep the prize if they win it again next year?

Highlights of yesterday’s awards ceremony will be broadcast on BBC Alba at 21:00 on Sunday 11/Feb/2018 (and I believe be available on the iPlayer afterwards).

Start preparing for the Walk Islay walking week 2018

Islay EventsIf I counted correctly the 16th Islay walking week will be taking place in just over two months. Starting on the 8th of April 2018 there will be 6 days of walks on Islay, Jura and Colonsay. The detailed programme will be published soon, as of writing this you can find an overview of the planned walks on the Walk Islay page.

Picture of a group of walkers near a loch (lake), a large flock of geese flying above
Walking on the Oa during an Islay walking week a few years ago

Some of the walks which caught my eye:

  • Walk 2 – Beinn Dubh and Sgorr nam Faoileann – the rarely visited eastern peaks of Islay
  • Walk 5 – Across the sea to Colonsay for a circular walk to the Arandora Star memorial and Pig’s Paradise
  • Walk 8 – Across the Sound to Jura and over the hills to Craighouse with a ride back!

Which walks caught your eye and will make you reach for your walking boots?

Cottage and ferry are booked, I’m looking forward to be back on Islay walking in the beautiful landscape. Hoping to meet many old and new friends during the walks and elsewhere!

Please vote for Islay’s FilmG entries

Islay NewsEarlier this year I asked you to vote for Islay High at FilmG 2017. Almost a year has passed and now it’s time to vote for FilmG 2018 (GD/EN). However, if you read the title of this post carefully you’ll have noticed a subtle but important difference. I’m not just asking you to vote for Islay High’s entry, I’m asking you to vote for Islay’s entries. Plural. For this year there are two entries from Islay:

Let’s start with the newcomer: Bowmore Primary School has entered for the first time with a wonderful story of the Bowmore crimebusters apprehending a cake thief:

To vote for it you need to go to either the CÈIC NA FÌRINN (GD) or the CÈIC NA FÌRINN (EN) page (depending on your language skills) and click on the yellow voting button. You can also read more about their entry.

Moving on to the older ones at Islay High and their entry for this year. They have a strange and spooky tale of a jealous wife:

To vote for them you’ll have to visit the A’ BHEAN EUDACH (GD) or A’ BHEAN EUDACH (EN) page (again depending on your language skills) and use the yellow voting button. Again there’s a synopsis of the film you can read as well.

The awards ceremony will be broadcast on BBC Alba on Sunday 11/Feb/2018, so get voting soon to help Islay being well represented at the event.