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.

Lagavulin jubilee to support Islay history and heritage projects

Islay Whisky News & LinksThe BBC reports of an initiative by Lagavulin distillery to support two local projects as part of their 200 year anniversary celebrations. The two projects are a long standing one and a fairly new but very important one: Finlaggan and Islay Heritage. There will also be further local initiatives receiving support:

The Lagavulin 200 Legacy is set to make further contributions to the local swimming pool, cyber cafe and arts and festival organisations, as well as a new partnership with the RSPB to restore and conserve peatlands on the island.

Funds will be raised through sales of special single cask charity bottling.

New Islay video: A Whirlwind Tour of Islay

Announcing the relaunch of the blog this morning I hinted there might be a second ‘Christmas present’ coming up. Having only finished editing it late in the evening on Christmas Evening I still had to upload it this morning. But it all worked out and I can proudly present my latest Islay video. It’s a bit different from the videos I’ve made previously. To start with it has music. Then it’s monochrome. And it’s quite fast paced. A bit of an experiment, I’m very curious to see what people think. Here it is:

In 4.5 minutes I’m taking you on a quick journey around Islay, taking in as much as possible in such a short period. Admittedly some of the selections were influenced by the availability of footage, in other areas I had to make difficult choices what to show and what to omit. Here is a list of the places you can see in chronological order:

  1. Port Ellen buoy
  2. Port Ellen lighthouse
  3. Port Ellen warehouse
  4. Port Ellen houses with passing Islay Coaches
  5. Port Ellen Maltings
  6. Port Ellen pier/marina and village
  7. Laphroaig approach from loch
  8. Laphroaig smoking pagoda
  9. Laphroaig stills
  10. Dunyvaig castle and Lagavulin
  11. Lagavulin distillery
  12. Bowmore distillery approach from sea
  13. Bowmore Main Street
  14. Round Church
  15. Barnacle Geese in front of Port Charlotte
  16. Barnacle Geese at top of Loch Indaal with Paps of Jura
  17. Bruichladdich approach from sea
  18. Bruichladdich over distillery
  19. Bruichladdich spirit safe (making Port Charlotte spirit)
  20. Past Loch Indaal lighthouse to Port Charlotte
  21. Port Charlotte pier from above
  22. Port Charlotte Main Street towards Port Charlotte Hotel
  23. Loch Indaal lighthouse with breaking waves
  24. Waves breaking over Port Charlotte pier
  25. Saltire flying in Portnahaven
  26. Rhinns of Islay lighthouse and fishing boat
  27. Seal in Portnahaven
  28. Waves breaking near Port Wemyss
  29. Single track road towards Kilchoman
  30. Approaching Kilchoman Church
  31. Ruin of Kilchoman church from the air
  32. View of Machir Bay
  33. Beach view in Machir Bay
  34. Otter in Machir Bay
  35. At the wreck in Machir Bay
  36. Above the wreck in Machir Bay
  37. Breaking waves in Saligo Bay
  38. Waves blown back by wind in Saligo Bay
  39. View towards Sleeping Giant / Opera House Rocks in Saligo Bay
  40. Saligo Bay from the air
  41. Barnacle Geese feeding at Gruinart
  42. Barnacle Geese lifting off at Gruinart
  43. Barnacle Geese over the Gruinart marshes
  44. Barnacle Geese over grazing cows
  45. Approach to Finlaggan from the air
  46. View of the house ruin at Finlaggan from the air
  47. MV Hebridean Isles arriving in Port Askaig
  48. Passing McArthur’s Head lighthouse

I still think that’s quite impressive for 4.5 minutes, also a sign of how much Islay has to offer. It might be too fast and hectic for some, but then it might be exciting and fresh for others. I’m normally not a big fan of music for videos (certainly for my videos) and prefer more natural sounds, but here it felt appropriate so I used some. To avoid any rights issues (not to mention that the lyrics I feel often don’t really fit) I didn’t use any big hit(s) known to many but used some free music offered by Google. No lyrics, so no risk of conflict there either. The style of music will probably not be to everyone’s taste, I like the speed and energy in it.

Now it’s over to you, I hope you enjoy and like the whirlwind tour of Islay. Let me know what you think.