In April I went to Islay for the Islay walking week and more. For various reasons I haven’t got round to write about the week so far, better get my act together now. As hoped it turned out a great week, even the weather largely held up.
Not having been on Islay for a year due to my heart operation I only went on three walks this time, freeing up some time for other activities. One was taking pictures of the remaining red phone boxes on Islay before they disappear. Here’s one of them at Ardbeg:
But back to the walking: As mentioned I went on to three walks, the opening walk on the Oa, the long walk out to Bholsa and the excursion to Jura. I had considered going to Colonsay and Oronsay, but having been so many times already I changed my mind and in the event the ferry was cancelled that day anyway.
The walk on the Oa was beautiful, the weather turned out better than expected and the Sun came out for the most important part of the walk along the steep cliffs (a very heavy rain shower arrived just as we got back to the road and were arranging transport back to the cars, couldn’t have timed it much better). While it was hazy for most of the time the views were impressive. It even cleared up for a short time and we could see over to Ireland.
The walk to Bholsa in the far north of Islay was educational, as it was led by geologist and book author David Webster. He explained how the landscape had formed, where the rock formations came from and much more. Some of the rocks are of volcanic origin, were once 1,800°C hot and located in what’s Iceland today (hope I remembered that correctly).
The last day took us over the Sound of Islay to Jura for a walk north along the shore. From Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse we looked over to the construction site of the future Ardnahoe distillery. Unfortunately some quite heavy rain set in soon after we left the lighthouse after lunch, ruining some of the best photo opportunities. I’ll have to revisit this during my next visit. Luckily the rain stopped and by the time we returned to Port Askaig the Sun had come out and we could sit out in the garden for an after walk drink and look back at a great week.
On my non-walking days I was busy with a variety of other activities, including catching up with friends, visiting Bruichladdich and Laphroaig distilleries, visiting Islay Ales brewery, trying out the new Peatzeria pizzeria, walking on the beach in Machir Bay as well as Saligo Bay and birdwatching at Gruinart.
In summary, a great week! Looking forward to both my next Islay visit in June as well as the Islay walking week 2018.
A nice single topic Islay video tonight: Watching the MV Hebridean Isles departing from Port Askaig to cruise down the Sound of Islay towards the mainland. Filmed with a drone for some great views of the ferry and the Sound:
I’m pretty sure any Calmac ferries fan will love this video.
Back in 2008 Becky walked (in stages) all the way around the coast of Islay. Today I came across a similar challenge two men are planning, although slightly wetter. About a decade ago the Islay Masters Swimming club swam across Loch Indaal from Bowmore to Bruichladdich (or was it the other way around? Not entirely sure), crossed the Sound of Islay and even tackled the famous Corryvreckan. Justin Fornal and Chad Anderson are planning an even bigger, more ambitious swim:
The Great Islay Swim. In a week in July 2017 they plan to swim all around Islay. Starting from Ardbeg they will swim clockwise around Islay in seven days. Swimming between 4-8 hours a day and covering around 15-20 kilometres per day. Pulling a whisky cask they are planning to fill with whisky from all the distilleries (similar to the Islay Pillage a number of years ago), which will later be bottled and sold. And they’re fundraising for the RNLI.
I’m getting a bit nervous now. Soon I’ll be leaving for my first Islay visit in a year, the longest gap between visits for over a decade. The reason for the long gap was the heart surgery I had in October 2016, the run-up to it as well as the following (and to an extent still ongoing) recovery. This visit is of course for the Walk Islay walking week, a goal I’ve been building up to over the last few months. When I started with a rehabilitation class in December I had a review with the nurse and she asked me about fitness goals I had. My first one was to start with some light jogging in January (which I did and have since increased), the second one was participation in the walking week (now coming up).
The Walk Islay event started in April 2003, kind of a chance encounter for me as I only found out about it while I was on Islay for a long Easter weekend. I joined one of the walks (walking north from Saligo Bay, a walk I’ve since repeated several times, on my own, with my late mother as well as most recently with my sister) and very much enjoyed it. So I returned the following year for the full week (taking my mother with me as well). Since then I’ve participated in every single walking week, as far as I know by now I’m the only person who has completed at least one walk in every single walking week. Which was obviously further motivation to return this year in order not to break the chain.
I don’t know yet how many of the walks I will participate in this week, some of it I’ll decide on short notice depending on weather and how I feel. Starting point will be the walk on the Oa on Sunday, a walk I’m planning to complete. After that I might take a break on Monday, depends on how tired I’ll be. I’d like to go on to the walk to Bholsa on Tuesday, I’ll probably make that dependent on how the weather looks. Wednesday is Colonsay day, after not having been for a while I’m currently thinking of going. Thursday would be Beinn Bheigier, normally I’d go, this year I’m probably only going to go if the weather is fantastic. Not sure yet if I’ll have enough energy to go on a bad day. Friday is Jura day, I’m planning to join that walk fitness permitting.
Of course I also need to visit some of the beaches, drop in at some of the distilleries and hopefully meet as many old and new friends as possible. If you’re around please get in touch and I’ll see what I can do. If you’re thinking of joining one of the walks check the the Walk Islay walking week website, all the details are there.
A few years ago (well, let’s call it a decade ago) I wrote a post about what I believed to be palm trees on Islay and Jura. Except … they aren’t palm trees. Someone corrected me in the comments, but sadly those comments have since been lost. Recently I came across a post discussing these trees, so I thought it’s worth revisiting the topic so that I have something to refer to when it comes up again.
As mentioned in the previous post the trees in question can be found in a variety of locations on both Islay and Jura, including around Port Ellen, in Bruichladdich and also in the community garden in Bridgend (at least back in 2007, when this picture was taken):
I must have had a hunch when I wrote this post and mentioned that the picture was from 2007. Sadly the tree has since been damaged in a storm, hopefully it will grow back to its former size. Many thanks to Steve Bavin of Islay Ales for the update!
End of update, original text continues below:
On Jura some of the best known ones can be spotted near the Jura Hotel garden, outside of the Jura distillery:
So what are these trees really if they are not palm trees? Well, we can read from some people from New Zealand (who should know them, as that’s where these trees are from), when visiting Jura in 2016 they taught the distillery staff about them. The tree is called Cordyline Australis, or cabbage tree. In the UK it is apparently also known as Torbay Palm and Torquay Palm, although that still doesn’t make it a palm tree. Among other things it doesn’t fare well in hot tropical climates, an area where you would expect palm trees to thrive.
So now you know, may be it will be helpful in a pub quiz one day?
I must admit I’ve got mixed feelings watching this video. Over the years I’ve visited the now closed Jura House Gardens many times. I’ve walked along the shore at Ardfin at least twice. With the new private golf course (at least that’s my understanding, it’s a private course with no or only very limited public access) this is all history. At the same time the views in this video look spectacular:
So those privileged few who play golf and get a chance to play this course will certainly have a fantastic time. The ‘common’ people as well as people who prefer a rugged more natural landscape will almost certainly lose out.
There are many businesses on Islay, old and new. Some of them have an internet presence and some of those I’m going to present/save for later reference here (please note these are only ones I’ve recently come across and am aware of. If yours is missing by all means get in touch for a future entry with further links):
Earlier today I noticed a new follower on Twitter, named @IslayPlot. The description reads ‘Private owner of several residential development sites on Islay’ and it links to a website Islay Plots (which as of writing this has one plot near Port Ellen listed). That’s all I know at this point.
Islay is of course mainly known for its whisky (and to a lesser extent real ale as well as gin) when it comes to beverages, but there is also Islay Wine. They are fruit wines using fruit like rhubarb and bramble and are made by Kenneth Carter and Helen Gilbert near Port Ellen.
This one isn’t technically on Islay, but Kate has been visiting Islay for many many years (and I’ve been reading her blog entries in particular when related to Islay for many many years). She designs knitting patterns (I hope I’m getting that right and use the right term) and one of her collections is called Inspired by Islay. See also her blog entry An Islay trio for more pictures (several taken on Islay).
Another one not on Islay, but on Islay’s neighbour Jura: Bruichladdich has been making gin for a while, now they are getting competition from Jura. Alicia MacInnes, Claire Fletcher and Georgina Kitching have started Lussa Gin in July. I don’t drink gin so can’t say anything further about it.
That’s all for now, more to come as I come across them (or as you let me know of them)
Something a bit scary today. I’m not sure how I came across these in the David Ramsey Historical map collection a while ago, but essentially it looks like there was at least some material covering Islay for plans by the German Wehrmacht to invade Britain during WWII (known as Operation Sea Lion, which would have mainly focused on England, but they also seem to have prepared information about Scotland). The material seems to be from 1940 and 1941, i.e. still during the early years of the war. A search for Islay initially turns up three results:
They were filmed 10 years apart, but both are a bit older, showing Islay 33 and 43 years ago respectively. The first one seems to be some old TV footage filmed in 1983, showing Port Charlotte and a few other places on Islay in a short clip:
Going back a further decade to 1973 we can watch some fascinating old footage with some long gone history, starting with the MV Arran ferry (not to be confused with the MV Isle of Arran, which was much later) leaving from the old West Loch Tarbert pier:
The rest of the film shows a variety of familiar places, some in a way now gone: The Oa with the American Monument I believe before it became an RSPB reserve (not sure which year that happened?). Port Askaig long before it was redeveloped to what it is today. Ardbeg distillery with smoking pagodas. A brief glimpse of what I think is Western Ferries’ MV Sound of Jura. An excursion to Jura with of course plenty of deer.
The filmer seems to have also had some interest in birdwatching. I think there were a number of Whooper Swans (the quality of the footage isn’t great, making it difficult to see) and there’s some footage of the Barnacle Geese as well.