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?

Video of a stag swimming along the Islay coast

Islay on VideoSome Islay wildlife not in their usual setting on dry land, but in the water at the south coast of Islay. Deer are good swimmers, they swim across the Sound of Islay between Islay and Jura quite regularly (I think someone even told me that occasionally they even swim across the Gulf of Corryvreckan, but I’m not sure of that). This stag was spotted by Jean Connor swimming near Kildalton:

Nice video about the Museum of Islay Life

Islay on VideoWell, I had planned to share a short video from the Islay Sessions tonight, together with a mention that the artists in said video will soon be visiting the south of England. But then I spotted an error in the video, so it will have to wait for another day. Meaning I’m going to pull forward a video I had saved for another day, a very nice video about the Museum of Islay Life:

I hope you enjoyed the video and if you haven’t been yet (or even if you have been) it encouraged you to visit the museum (again).

Two Islay drone videos, Port Askaig and Portnahaven

Islay on VideoThought I’ll take you up in the air above Islay again today with two drone videos I’ve come across. The first one according to its title was more of a test, but as it has some very nice views of the snow capped hills of Jura (including the partly cloud covered Paps of Jura) I thought it was still worth sharing:

For the second video we travel across the island to the southern end of the Rhinns of Islay, to Portnahaven:

I hope you’ve enjoyed the videos from across Islay and Jura.

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).

Are you ready for the Islay Pipe Band 2018?

Islay MusicLinsay is, and she has prepared this warning for the competition, be ready for the Islay Pipe Band in 2018:

Looking forward to a successful 2018 season for the Islay Pipe Band!

Islay Sessions 2017 video #1: At the Port Charlotte Hotel

Islay MusicAlmost a month since the event and I finally managed to get my act together to edit my first longer video from the Islay Sessions 2017. I’ve decided to go slightly out of sequence and start with the later evening sessions in the bar of the Port Charlotte Hotel, where everyone gathered after Adam’s and Mark’s Concert in the Conservatory (which I’m aiming to edit next).

The musicians include Adam Sutherland, Marc Clement, Jenn and Laura-Beth, members of Tannara (and Megan MacDonald), Gráinne Nic Bhrádaigh, Emma Tomlinson as well as Ron and Mhairi from the Joy Dunlop Trio. I hope I haven’t missed/forgotten anyone…

But now it’s really time for the video, half an hour of beautiful tunes, laughter and joy:

I hope you’ll enjoy the tunes and the video transports a bit of the joy of the evening into your lounge, study or wherever you’re reading and watching this. More to come over the next few weeks.

Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook launched

Islay MusicSometimes a delayed ferry can be a good thing. I’m usually booked on the afternoon ferry when leaving after one of my Islay visits. This November visit Calmac called to inform me that due to delays in the dry dock (the MV Hebridean Isles was having her annual overhaul) the one ferry timetable would be running slightly longer and they had to move me to a ferry leaving in the evening. Initially I wasn’t too happy as it meant I would arrive at my hotel (which I had already booked and paid on one of those non-changeable, non-refundable deals) much later than planned, but then an unexpected benefit turned up:

As it turned out the long anticipated launch of the Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook took place the afternoon of the day I was leaving. Under normal circumstances I would have missed it, but because I was now on a later ferry I was able to attend.

The launch took place at the Islay House in Bridgend, a very nice venue for the event. After some mingling and chatting with various people in the foyer we were asked to move over into one of the rooms for the main launch event. Lynn MacDonald opened the proceedings, talking about how the project came to pass and more. Kenneth Thomson spoke about some of the songs and poems included in the collection and how he came across some of them. Finally a representative from Acair Books (unfortunately I’m not sure of her name) spoke about working on the project and the importance of recording the old Gaelic songs and poems. Then it was time for some of the songs. Various singers including Mòd Gold Medal winner 2017 Alasdair Currie sang a variety of songs, some with audience participation. After the music we enjoyed a few biscuits and cup of tea/coffee while talking about the event and buying our copies of the songbook. A very enjoyable afternoon!

The songbook itself is a lovingly collated and designed book, not only for singers and Gaelic speakers, but for everyone (including me who doesn’t know much Gaelic apart from a few words and is musically challenged). Each song receives two pages, on the left are the notes, on the right the words in both Gaelic as well as an English translation. Various beautiful black and white pictures of Islay are spread through the book. Lynn and Kenneth provide an introduction and foreword while at the end of the book we find author biographies. The songbook is ring bound, as someone explained to me that makes it easier to place it on a note stand when performing a song.

A collage of impressions of the Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook
Impressions from the Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook

You can buy the songbook at local outlets on Islay (I know C&E Roy stock it, there might be others) as well as online at the publisher Acair Books. For more information visit the Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook Facebook page or follow the Òrain Ìleach Islay Gaelic Songbook Twitter feed.

To finish here’s a video with some of the performances from the launch event at Islay House:

(Sorry for the shaky video, I had to handheld my mobile phone as I had run out of memory on my main video camera)

From the Islay Sessions 2017

Sadly that’s the Islay Sessions 2017 almost over. Off to the bar in a minute after a fantastic concert in the conservatory by Innes Watson (with the help of a few friends at the end):

This was filmed with the phone, I hope the quality is reasonable. I’m hoping to upload more video from a better camera later once I had the time to edit it.

The sessions were amazing, great artists delivering fantastic performances. More later.