Islay at the Birdfair 2017

Islay EventsSame as last year (and the year before. And the year before. And the year before. etc) Islay is represented at the Birdfair in Rutland. There’s one difference this year though, this year the Islay stand is a double stand. Much easier to find and more space to sample some of the liquid offerings from Islay and Jura while discussing the bird- and other wildlife. Here are two impressions of the stand:

As you can see there’s whisky and gin from all the distilleries as well as beer from Islay Ales. There’s also some generous helpings of Walker’s shortbread I’m told (I think it might be what’s visible just right of the table under the ‘visit The Oa’ poster). So if you’re at the Birdfair head over to Marquee 7 Stand 14/15 to meet the Islay crew, have a chat and enjoy a sample.

Updates from the Great Islay Swim

Islay NewsBack in May I wrote about Swimming around Islay (for science and charity), Justin Fornal and Chad Anderson planning to swim around Islay this summer. Well, the Great Islay Swim is now well under way and you can find various updates online:

From Laphroaig John Campbell gives them his support:

Several blogs and distillery websites write about them:

Taking a rest at the end of a swim:

Our badass ass swimmers relaxing in a lagoon in front of a cave below the american monument at the end of the second day of swimming.

A post shared by Christopher Beauchamp (@christopherbeauchamp) on

Islay Sea-Adventures has a few posts with video and pictures:

And I’m sure there’s more out there. If you have or spot any further pictures, videos or reports from the swim please post them in the comments so that everyone can see them.

New Explore Islay and Jura video

Islay on VideoWant to watch what’s there to see and do on Islay and Jura? Mark Beaumont and Explore Islay and Jura are ready to show you with their latest video, very nicely done and edited:

And if that’s not enough for you I can’t resist a shameless plug for my own Whirlwind Tour of Islay (trying to get to over 1,000 views ;-))

A belated look back at the Islay walking week 2017

Islay EventsIn 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:

Picture of a red phone box next to a road, a distillery in the background
The red phone box at the end of the South Islay Distillery Path, Ardbeg distillery on the right

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.

Picture of walkers walking along steep cliffs on a hazy day
Walkers on the Oa in April 2017

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.

Picture of walkers on a rocky shore with raised beaches on a cloudy day
Walkers on the north coast of Islay in April 2017

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).

Picture of walkers approaching a small lighthouse at a sound between two islands
Walkers approaching Carragh an t-Sruith lighthouse on Jura in April 2017

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.

Watching an Islay ferry from the air

Islay on VideoA 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.

Swimming around Islay (for science and charity)

Islay NewsBack 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.

(via John Lenker on Twitter)

Walk Islay 2017 is coming up

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).

Picture of a group of walkers in a dramatic coastal landscape with steep cliffs
Walkers on the Oa in the south of Islay, the Mull of Oa with the American Monument in the distance

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.

It will be good to be back.

The palm trees on Islay and Jura … that aren’t

Islay FunA 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):

Picture of a Cordyline Australis in a walled garden
Cordyline Australis in the Islay Community Garden in 2007

Update:

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!

Picture of a walled garden
The same view with a much reduced cabbage tree in Feb 2017 – picture credit Steve Bavin

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:

Picture of Cordyline Australis near a shore in a coastal village
Cordyline Australis in Craighouse on Jura

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?

Video of the new Isle of Jura golf course (currently under construction)

Jura ExcursionsI 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.