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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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?
Just enjoying a wee dram of Laphroaig Cask Strength (Batch 009) Islay single malt after a few Scottish real ales (from Drygate, Harviestoun and Fyne Ales. Unfortunately Islay Ales don’t ship to the mainland at the moment) earlier. So there’s nothing better than watching a nice video from an Islay visit with plenty distillery tours in December 2019:
I hope you’ll enjoy the video as well, maybe with a wee dram or two?
If it hadn’t been for the Coronavirus I would have been out and about this weekend, warming up for the Islay walking week in a week’s time. But obviously neither of that is happening or will happen. So I thought I should have at least some treat. During my last shopping trip I decided to raid the Easter egg aisle even though the chocolate is vastly overpriced in comparison to a normal bar of the same chocolate. But I found something I thought a bit different. Yesterday evening I decided to let some of my Twitter followers pick which one of two Bruichladdich valinches I should open. Here’s the outcome, here’s what I enjoyed today:
The whisky is a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte heavily peated Islay single malt, SHC: 01, 2006. Cask 2134, first fill sherry. Distilled 4/Oct/2006, aged 11 years. My bottle is number 918 of 1,134.
The chocolate is a “single origin dark chocolate teardrop”. Or to be precise, “an intense dark chocolate decorated egg in a golden shimmer using Fino De Aroma cocoa beans sourced from Colombia”.
I’m not going to bore you with tasting notes, my taste buds aren’t developed enough to do much good there. But I can say the whisky tastes fantastic, nice and fiery (that’s as far as I go). The chocolate is nice as well, although I didn’t taste anything different with the golden shimmer (which if I interpret the ingredients list correctly isn’t real gold anyway, but Iron Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Sorry to disappoint you on that side).
Oh, and for those of you interested in the result of the poll, the SHC won with 17 votes out of 29. If I remember correctly it had an even higher lead earlier on, but the VOC pulled back a bit in the later stages (the poll was open for about 13-14 hours). I haven’t decided when yet, but there’s a good chance the VOC will also be opened at some point during or shortly after the lockdown.
I’m not entirely sure how long I’ve had this bottle, but as it was distilled in 2003 and according to the label aged for 14 years I must have filled and bought it some time in 2017. It is cask no 917, a bourbon barrel, distilled 15/Oct/2003. My bottle is no 221 of 323, bottled at 56.8%.
Three weeks ago I listened to a lot of very nice music during the Islay Sessions 2019 at the Port Charlotte Hotel and Bruichladdich Hall. After that the day job and a few other things got in the way, so I only now get a chance to look back at it. Those who follow me on Twitter might have seen the clips already (individually), but here’s a video with a few impressions I’ve pulled together (all recorded on my phone, so it’s not studio quality. But I think it’s good enough to give you an idea):
The Sessions took place over three days from 22-24/Nov/2019. The Friday kicked off the event with a concert by newly formed VOX in the conservatory of the Port Charlotte Hotel. They played a variety of songs, with Laura-Beth and Kim (as well as on occasion the audience) providing the vocals. After the concert most went to the Port Charlotte Hotel bar for the informal part of the evening. Members of Eabhal and VOX joined forces and played a variety. Later during the evening Grahame Allison (owner of the Port Charlotte Hotel) sang a Gaelic song he performs regularly, what made it even better was Kaitlin Ross (of Eabhal) and Kim Carnie at times joining in.
Saturday saw the main concert at Bruichladdich Hall. After an introduction by Greig Shaw (brother of the late Fraser Shaw, who started the Islay Sessions) the Charlie Stewart Duo warmed up the audience with a variety of tunes on fiddle and guitar. Once they finished their set they stayed on stage to support Kim Carnie who sang some beautiful songs in Gaelic and English for us. Again there was some audience participation after a crash course in Gaelic for some. After the break and the Islay Sessions raffle of CDs and whisky Eabhal took the stage, mainly playing songs from their debut album This Is How The Ladies Dance. Again some beautiful tunes including some with rousing pipes. I headed back to the cottage after the concert as I was tired, but I hear their was more music in the Port Charlotte Hotel bar until early in the morning.
Sunday evening I finally got to see and hear the concert I had been waiting for for a year (she had to cancel the previous year as she had lost her voice, but this year all went to plan): Claire Hastings gave a wonderful solo performance with guitar and ukulele and of course her wonderful voice. Among other songs Fairweather Beggar and I Missed The Boat got an outing as well as a new song she wasn’t even sure it was finished just yet.
I had a great weekend and straight after their sets bought two albums online (Eabhal and Kim Carnie’s In Her Company). Angus was of the same opinion, as he writes in the Oban Times, Thrills and spills at Islay Sessions. If everything goes to plan I’ll be back for the 2020 Islay Sessions, scheduled for 20-22/Nov/2020. May be see you there?
This weekend I’m going to see Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton (supported by Jenn Butterworth and others) at the south coast of England. Which inspired me to write another post about an artist I got to know through the Islay Sessions (which makes it a post for this blog). In case you’re wondering what the connection is: Brìghde has played together with Ross (not sure if she has played with Ali as well), here’s a nice recording:
But now to the real topic of this post, to Brìghde Chaimbeul‘s debut album, The Reeling. It was published in January 2019 to very positive reviews, for example in the Guardian. I’m not sure if she played any of it during the Islay Sessions in November 2018, but what I heard certainly motivated me to buy the album on release day. Here’s a (rather low quality, as it was recorded with a mobile phone) short snippet from her performance at the Islay Sessions in Bruichladdich Hall (my lack of musical skills don’t allow me to identify the tune):
Back to the album, it’s available on various download/streaming services (I bought it on Google Play as that’s what I use mostly) and you can buy a CD/LP from Rough Trade. If you’d like to get an impression before you buy you can hear some (or all if you have a Spotify account) here:
If that’s not enough, here’s a video with one of the songs from the album:
Isn’t that a beautiful rich tune? I’ve listened to the album many times now and will listen many times again. I’m not sure about any upcoming gigs by Brìghde, but I’m sure they’ll be mentioned on her social media accounts: Brìghde Chaimbeul on Facebook and Brìghde Chaimbeul on Twitter.
It’s Christmas eve, as good excuse as any to open a very nice bottle of Islay single malt whisky for Christmas. After the Gorag 02 a few months ago I decided to open another bottle of the cask exploration series, the Eolas An Deididh 07. Bottle #356 of 393:
It was aged for 9 years and finished in a Rivesaltes wine cask from the far south of France. 2 years younger than the Gorag 02. Very nice with some 85% dark chocolate after the venison burger I had this evening.