Having a chat about Islay with an AI assistant (ChatGPT)

Islay Fun

There has been quite a lot of talk about ChatGPT recently, like this BBC report and of course in the tech press. Some people have tested it in various ways, like a driving instructor asking it to create YouTube video scripts for him. I wanted to have a play as well and headed over to the OpenAI blog post to learn more and then created an account for the ChatGPT research preview. Of course I also had to have a chat about Islay with it to see how much it knows about it, although we didn’t get off to a good start:

Armin: Hi ChatGPT, let’s have a chat

AI Assistant: Hello! My name is Assistant, not ChatGPT. I am a large language model trained by OpenAI to assist with a variety of tasks, including answering questions and providing information on a wide range of topics. How can I help you today?

Armin: OK, Assistant, have you ever heard of Islay?

AI Assistant: Yes, I am familiar with Islay. Islay is an island located in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. It is known for its whisky production and natural beauty, with a rugged coastline and many beautiful beaches. The island is home to several whisky distilleries, including Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg, which are known for producing high-quality single malt whiskies. Islay is also a popular destination for birdwatching, with a large variety of bird species living on the island.

Armin: Thank you. How can you get to Islay?

AI Assistant: There are a few different ways to get to Islay:

  1. By air: There are regular flights from Glasgow to Islay, which take about 40 minutes. The airport is located in the town of Glenegedale, which is about a 20-minute drive from the island’s capital, Bowmore.
  2. By ferry: There are regular ferry services from the Scottish mainland to Islay. The main ferry terminal is in the town of Port Ellen, which is located in the south of the island. Ferries depart from the port of Kennacraig on the mainland, which is about a 2-hour drive from Glasgow. The journey by ferry takes about 3 hours.
  3. By car: If you prefer to drive, you can take a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Islay with your car. The ferry departs from the port of Kennacraig and takes about 3 hours. Alternatively, you can drive to the island via the bridge at Tarbert, which connects Islay to the Kintyre Peninsula on the mainland.

No matter how you choose to travel to Islay, be sure to plan your trip in advance and allow plenty of time to enjoy all that the island has to offer.

Armin: That sounds good. Tell me more about the whisky distilleries on Islay

AI Assistant: Islay is home to several whisky distilleries, each with its own unique character and flavor profile. Here are a few of the most well-known distilleries on the island:

  1. Lagavulin: Located in the south of the island, Lagavulin is known for producing a rich and full-bodied single malt whisky with a smoky flavor. The distillery was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest on the island.
  2. Laphroaig: Located in the south of the island, Laphroaig is known for producing a peaty single malt whisky with a distinct iodine flavor. The distillery was founded in 1815 and is one of the oldest on the island.
  3. Ardbeg: Located in the south of the island, Ardbeg is known for producing a peaty single malt whisky with a smoky flavor. The distillery was founded in 1815 and is one of the oldest on the island.
  4. Bruichladdich: Located on the northwest coast of the island, Bruichladdich is known for producing a range of single malt whiskies with different flavor profiles, including unpeated, lightly peated, and heavily peated expressions. The distillery was founded in 1881.
  5. Bowmore: Located in the center of the island, Bowmore is known for producing a balanced single malt whisky with a peaty flavor. The distillery was founded in 1779 and is one of the oldest on the island.

Visitors to Islay can tour many of these distilleries and learn more about the whisky-making process. Many of the distilleries also offer tastings and have visitor centers where you can purchase bottles of whisky to take home.

Armin: Thank you. What about wildlife and birdwatching on Islay?

AI Assistant: Islay is home to a diverse range of wildlife and is a popular destination for birdwatching. The island is located on the Atlantic Flyway, a major migration route for birds, and is home to a large variety of bird species. Some of the birds that can be seen on Islay include:

  1. Seabirds: Islay is home to many seabirds, including gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, and guillemots. These birds can be seen along the coast and on offshore islands.
  2. Waders: Islay is home to many wading birds, including curlews, oystercatchers, and redshanks. These birds can be seen along the coast and on the island’s wetlands.
  3. Geese: Islay is home to large numbers of geese, including greylag geese, barnacle geese, and Canada geese. These birds can be seen in fields and on the island’s wetlands.
  4. Eagles: Islay is home to golden eagles and white-tailed eagles, which can be seen in the island’s forests and on the coast.
  5. Songbirds: Islay is home to many songbirds, including blackbirds, robins, and wrens. These birds can be seen in gardens and woodlands throughout the island.

There are several birdwatching sites on Islay, including the RSPB’s (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve at The Oa, which is located in the southwest of the island. The reserve is home to many different bird species and is a great place to see birds in their natural habitat. Visitors to Islay can also join guided birdwatching tours, which are led by experienced local guides who can help you spot different species and learn more about the island’s birdlife.

Armin: Interesting. What about beaches on Islay?

AI Assistant: Islay is home to several beautiful beaches, which are popular with visitors and locals alike. Here are a few of the most well-known beaches on the island:

  1. Machir Bay: Located on the west coast of the island, Machir Bay is a wide, sandy beach with clear, blue water. It is popular with surfers and is a great spot for swimming and sunbathing.
  2. Saligo Bay: Located on the west coast of the island, Saligo Bay is a long, sandy beach with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a popular spot for walking and picnicking, and is a great place to watch the sunset.
  3. Port Ellen: Located in the south of the island, Port Ellen is a small, sheltered beach with golden sands. It is a popular spot for swimming and is a great place to relax on a sunny day.
  4. Kintra: Located on the southwest coast of the island, Kintra is a beautiful, secluded beach with white sands and crystal-clear water. It is a great spot for swimming and sunbathing, and is a popular destination for surfers.
  5. Finlaggan: Located on the north coast of the island, Finlaggan is a secluded beach with white sands and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It is a great spot for walking and picnicking, and is a popular destination for birdwatchers.

No matter which beach you visit on Islay, be sure to follow local safety guidelines and take care when swimming in the sea. The beaches on Islay are generally safe and well-maintained, but it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to ensure your safety.

Armin: Those sound nice. What about history, any historical sites?

AI Assistant: Yes, Islay has a rich history and is home to many interesting historical sites. Here are a few of the most well-known historical sites on the island:

  1. Finlaggan Castle: Located on the north coast of the island, Finlaggan Castle was once the seat of power for the Lords of the Isles, a medieval Gaelic kingdom that controlled the western seaboard of Scotland. The castle is located on a small island in a loch, and can be reached by a causeway.
  2. Kilnave Cross: Located on the south coast of the island, Kilnave Cross is a historic stone cross that dates back to the early Christian period. The cross is believed to mark the site of an early Christian monastery and is a popular destination for visitors interested in the island’s history and culture.
  3. Bowmore Round Church: Located in the center of the island, the Bowmore Round Church is a unique building that dates back to the 18th century. The church is circular in shape and has a distinctive dome-shaped roof, and is a popular destination for visitors interested in architecture and history.
  4. Dunyvaig Castle: Located on the south coast of the island, Dunyvaig Castle is a ruined castle that dates back to the 14th century. The castle was once the seat of the Lord of Islay, and was an important defensive structure in medieval times.
  5. Port Ellen Distillery: Located in the south of the island, the Port Ellen Distillery is a historic whisky distillery that dates back to the 19th century. The distillery is now closed, but the buildings have been preserved and can be visited by tourists.

There are many other historical sites on Islay, including churches, standing stones, and ancient burial cairns. Visitors to the island can learn more about the island’s history by visiting these sites and exploring the island’s rich cultural heritage.

Armin: Now I’m getting hungry, where can I go to eat on Islay?

AI Assistant: Islay is home to many excellent restaurants and cafes, offering a range of cuisine to suit all tastes. Here are a few of the most well-known dining options on the island:

  1. The Harbour Inn: Located in the village of Port Ellen, The Harbour Inn is a popular restaurant that serves traditional Scottish food and locally-produced seafood. The restaurant has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere and offers both indoor and outdoor seating.
  2. The Bowmore Hotel: Located in the center of the island, The Bowmore Hotel is a historic inn that serves a range of food, including traditional Scottish dishes and locally-sourced seafood. The hotel also has a bar and a whisky shop, and is a popular destination for visitors to the island.
  3. The Ardview Bistro: Located in the village of Port Charlotte, The Ardview Bistro is a casual restaurant that serves a range of food, including sandwiches, soups, and salads. The bistro has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere and is a great place to relax and enjoy a meal.
  4. The Islay Hotel: Located in the village of Port Ellen, The Islay Hotel is a popular hotel and restaurant that serves a range of food, including traditional Scottish dishes and locally-sourced seafood. The hotel has a bar and a whisky shop, and is a popular destination for visitors to the island.
  5. The Kildalton Hotel: Located in the south of the island, The Kildalton Hotel is a popular restaurant that serves a range of food, including traditional Scottish dishes and locally-sourced seafood. The hotel has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere and is a great place to relax and enjoy a meal.

No matter where you decide to eat on Islay, you’ll be sure to find a wide range of delicious food to choose from. Whether you’re looking for traditional Scottish cuisine or something more international, you’ll find something to suit your taste on the island.

Armin: It’s coming to the end of the day, where are good places to sleep on Islay?

AI Assistant: Islay has a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. Here are a few of the most well-known places to stay on the island:

  1. Hotels: Islay has several hotels, ranging from small, family-run inns to larger, more modern properties. Hotels on the island offer a range of amenities, including en-suite rooms, bars, and restaurants.
  2. B&Bs: There are many bed and breakfast (B&B) options on Islay, ranging from small, family-run guesthouses to larger properties with multiple rooms. B&Bs on the island offer a more personal and homely experience, and are a great way to get to know the local community.
  3. Self-catering cottages: Islay has a wide range of self-catering cottages, which offer the freedom and flexibility of your own space. Cottages on the island range from small, cozy properties to larger houses, and are a great option for families or groups of friends.
  4. Campsites: Islay has several campsites, which offer a range of facilities, including pitches for tents and caravans, and sometimes cabins or yurts. Campsites on the island are a great option for budget travelers or those looking for a more outdoor experience.

No matter where you choose to stay on Islay, you’ll be sure to find a comfortable and welcoming place to rest after a day of exploring the island.

Armin: Thank you for all this information about Islay, Assistant

AI Assistant: You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help. Islay is a beautiful and fascinating place, with a rich history and culture, beautiful natural surroundings, and many interesting things to see and do. I hope this information has been helpful and that it inspires you to visit the island and explore all that it has to offer. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m here to help!

OpenAI / ChatGPT

So what’s my verdict?

Well……..

Mixed. I’m impressed by how human like and confident it answers. While a bit bland and repetitive most of it sounded well written. But I’m also concerned by the various mistakes in the answers. Some are easily spotted, some not so easy and could in worst case arguably even be dangerous. Of course same as with any information you find on the internet you should check, but a lot of people don’t do that and in some cases it might be difficult to check.

Let’s take a look at some of the mistakes and issues:

Starting with the potentially dangerous advice: It confidently states that Machir Bay (Kilchoman beach) is a “great spot for swimming”. That’s not something I’d say. There are dangerous undercurrents (there’s even a sign at the track leading to it warning about them) and I know swimmers have gotten into trouble here. Sure, some people have gone swimming here and were fine, but I wouldn’t call it a great spot for swimming.

Then the various weird and wonderful and plain wrong points:

  • “Alternatively, you can drive to the island via the bridge at Tarbert, which connects Islay to the Kintyre Peninsula on the mainland.” Huh? What? I think that’s news to pretty much everyone, probably even to many people who have never been to Islay.
  • On the birdwatching answer I’ve got mixed feelings. Islay being home to Puffins to my knowledge will be news to most people. Maybe I’ve been unlucky, but the only Puffin I’ve ever seen on Islay was dead (I’ve seen live Puffins in Shetland). For the geese I’m not sure if saying Islay is the home for them is entirely right, despite them wintering on Islay. I also would have focused on their huge numbers and the amazing sight of them much more. In regards to raptors, Eagles get a mention, but no mention of the plenty Hen Harriers? Also no mention of the Choughs?
  • Answering on the history question it mentions the Kilnave Cross in the south. That sounds rather odd. Kilnave is more north-west, also it’s much less interesting and much less known than the Kildalton Cross which is much better and actually in the south of Islay. Also Port Ellen distillery having been preserved and being open for visits is a bit of a stretch (it’s currently being rebuilt and will be open at some point, but that is something rather different).
  • Looking at the answer for places to eat I’m a bit baffled. The Ardview Bistro? Sure, there’s the Ardview Inn, but I wouldn’t call that a bistro, it’s a pub. But much more weird, the Kildalton Hotel in the south of the island? Maybe I’m missing something, but I’ve never heard of a Kildalton Hotel. Yet no mention of the Peatzeria, the Port Charlotte Hotel and a variety of other places known for their restaurants.

I’m sure my Eagle-eyed readers will spot many more strange things (feel free to point them out in the comments).

My conclusion? AI is making huge strides and can probably soon write bland travel articles without much help from human editors. But when it comes to real knowledge and understanding as well as writing engaging articles I feel humans don’t have to worry yet for some time.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments (or let an AI bot write them for you?).

First NFID (Non-Fungible Islay Distillery) to release NFW (Non-Fungible Whisky)

Islay Whisky News & Links

Exciting and exclusive news for Islay whisky lovers and in particular whisky collectors today: In addition to actual bottles from the established distilleries you can soon start collecting virtual NFW bottles from Islay’s first NFID! The future of whisky collecting has arrived….

The brand new distillery is called AFIW™ Distillery (Not sure what AFIW™ stands for and how it is pronounced, I believe the name might be of Gaelic origin?) and will be completely located in the Cloud, meaning no impact on Islay’s creaking roads and other infrastructure.

Picture of a bay with clouds above, a whisky still, two casks and four bottles in the clouds
“Artist’s impression” of a whisky distillery in the Cloud

So how will it all work?

Launched today you can either buy a limited NFW cask or a limited NFW bottle future. The first NFW casks will be calculated today using the extremely secure 512 byte P.E.A.T. (Petaflop Excentric Algorithmic Triangulation) method also used in AlbaCoin. The casks will then be aged for a minimum of 3 years (usually longer, 10 years or more) using the innovative new Blockaging technology.

Each cask is of course unique and the information is recorded in the Blockchain. Once the cask has aged for the time specified in the Blockaging (pronounced block-aging) token it can be bottled into individual virtual bottles, again each bottle is numbered and recorded in the Blockchain. The value of a cask (NFWC) and/or bottle (NFWB) will of course depend on their rarity. There will be some varieties where only one single cask will be generated (and subsequently a limited number of bottles). These will of course be more valuable than varieties with multiple casks and therefore more bottles.

Each bottling will have dedicated NFW bottle token virtual artwork, so that you’ve got something to look at while reading the virtual tasting notes. Meaning you can taste your rare and expensive collection virtually, unlike your real collectors bottles which are locked away in a safe.

This all sounds very fascinating, finally the future has arrived for the avid Islay whisky collector! Experts are predicting a brisk trade with significant value gains for both NFWCs and NFWBs.

Will you be investing in NFW from AFIW™ Distillery, the first NFID?

Some interesting Islay links (March 2022 edition)

Islay Links

It’s about time I go through some of my bookmarks and notes from the last couple of weeks (or even months) and share some of the articles and more about or at least mentioning Islay. Hopefully you’ll find something of interest to read and possibly share:

To start with travel writer Peter Irvine shares his favourite spots on Scotland’s loveliest islands, which of course includes Islay and Jura. They are spots 6-9, the Paps of Jura, Geese at Gruinart, Carraig Fhada Lighthouse and the Machrie Hotel.

Not Islay specific (although Islay is of course mentioned, Irvine also calls for islanders to get more control over impact of tourism.

I walked it last year (and still owe you a post about it), the Sustrans website has a lovely article about the new Loch Indaal path between Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte.

Scott Begbie writes about Marvellous malts and pure moments on the magical island of Islay in the Press and Journal. Whisky, beaches, food and sunsets get a mention.

Uproxx (which seems to be a music, film and lifestyle website) writes about a whisky-centric trip to Scotland with a few stops on Islay. The Islay stops are Bowmore Hotel Lucci’s Whisky Bar and Kilchoman distillery. Also an honourable mention for Ardbeg and Lagavulin distilleries. Not to forget plenty Islay pictures.

To close someone from the Sunday Post tried the scones at the Craigard Kitchen at Ballygrant. They were very happy with them and will be back.

I’ll leave you with that for now, hopefully you found something interesting to read. More some other time.

Islay High School shortlisted at FilmG 2021, vote for People’s Choice

Islay News

For many years Islay High School / Àrd-sgoil Ìle has been participating in the annual FilmG (GD/EN) awards, 2021 is no different. Many years they were shortlisted, on several occasions they even won one of the awards. This year they submitted two entries, one in the Fluent category and one in the Learners category. The entry in the Learners category, “Easga Bhuidhe na Feidh” got shortlisted, this is their entry:

Easga Bhuidhe na Feidh | Ard Sgoil Ile

The entry in the Fluent category, “A’ Lorg” unfortunately didn’t make it on to the shortlist in their category, this is their entry:

A’ Lorg | Ard Sgoil Ile

However, both entries qualify for the People’s Choice award, you can vote for them by going to the respective entry (use the links above to go there directly) and then clicking on the heart above the VOTE HERE / BHÒT AN SEO text. You’ve got until Monday 24/Jan/2022 to submit your vote. So please hurry and get your vote in!

My Islay (and something else) look back at 2021

Islay Events

So there we are, New Year’s Eve 2021. Another year coming to an end. Might as well take a look back at the year, what it meant to me, Islay related and a few other areas. The year brought both good and bad things and events:

In particular the first half of the year was of course still dominated by the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic, even though the ramp up of the vaccination efforts brought some hope. My second dose came too late for me to book anything for the first half of the year (I had decided I wasn’t going to travel until my second dose had taken full effect). Still, I managed to continue with daily posts on my Islay pictures photoblog by digging into my archives and plundering some other resources (mainly pictures taken on my phone). Also the belated online Islay Sessions 2020 took place early in 2021.

Then the first bad news struck when Ian Brooke unexpectedly passed away in June. I still miss him, my daily visits to the Islay Birds blog are not the same without him (that’s not to diminish the sterling job the team continuing it in his memory is doing, it’s just different). Also missed seeing and catching up with him at his bird hide when I finally managed to return to Islay in September, at least I had a good catch up with Margaret.

At least September brought my first return to Islay after 22 months without a visit. As you can read in that post it was magical. Being back on the beaches was just brilliant. Rediscovering some old haunts and exploring a few new places was just what I needed. And I had booked my next visit even before I left for my September visit, returning for a week in October. This time I stayed at Ballitarsin Lodge, which was another new experience. Some fantastic views from up there, also a few morning walks along the Glen Road instead of a beach. I got to meet some old friends with their latest addition to the household (and some homemade Spaghetti Bolognese on great evening), followed by some brilliant October night skies (I still need to process the pictures from that…).

Then the end of the year arrived with some bad news, but also a lot of opportunity for 2022: Earlier this afternoon I shut down my work laptop for the last time as a Verizon employee. Or in other words, from next week I’m looking for opportunities for the next stage of my career. If you know of any good jobs in the Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) area or similar, positions as a Finance Business Partner or similar please get in touch. Remote work or in the Greater Reading / West Berkshire and around area. You can learn about my skills and experience on my LinkedIn profile. Onwards and upwards, and after I’ve settled into my next career step it will be time for another visit to Islay.

The Islay Sessions 2021 return home to Islay

Islay Music

The Islay Sessions 2020 had to be moved to an online event for the well known reason of the Covid pandemic and related restrictions. For 2021 the Sessions return to their home on Islay, they will take place over the weekend 26-28/Nov/2021 in the usual locations, mainly the Port Charlotte Hotel and Bruichladdich Hall. Here’s a promo video with some more details:

Islay Sessions Promo 2

Also see the artist’s line up video:

Islay Sessions 2021 Artist Line up

For more information and tickets visit the Fraser Shaw Trust website and the Islay Sessions / Fraser Shaw Trust Facebook pages.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend in person myself this year due to work commitments (the last 5 and first 2-3 working days of the month I need to be working and with the long journey to Islay from where I live it’s not feasible the way the Sessions fall). I understand there are efforts under way to also stream the Sessions online, so I hope to be able to attend at least virtually.

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.

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.

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.

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…