Islay at the British Birdfair 2018

Islay EventsIt’s that time of year again. It’s August, not long after the Islay Show (some people say the end of summer), the British Birdfair in Rutland is on. And just like last year and many years before there will be an Islay stand. From the 17th to the 19th of August 2018 the Islay team will be ready for visitors and their questions at the stand. With some Islay refreshments of course.

Where is the stand? In Marquee 7 on Stand 14/15. Here’s their description:

The islands of Islay and Jura lie off the west coast of Scotland and form part of the Southern Hebrides. Accessible only by plane or ferry these beautiful islands provide a haven for birds and wildlife all year round. Autumn and winter are spectacular times to visit when Islay’s population of just 3000 people are joined by 40,0000 Barnacle Geese and 5,000 Greenland White Fronted Geese. Their October arrival heralds a true birding spectacular and one not to be missed. Throughout the year both islands are home to golden and white-tailed sea eagles, hen harriers and chough – all of which can easily be sighted during a week long stay. Corncrakes can be heard in our late spring and summer evenings along with the unworldly sounds of drumming snipe. Islay and Jura are famous throughout the world for their whisky. Home to 9 and soon be to 10 whisky distilleries. Our stand at the Birdfair celebrates this great island produce with tastings throughout the three days. Just follow your nose and you’ll find us at Marquee 7 Stand 14/15. Visit us and plan your next island escape!

I believe visitors to the stand can win a week on Islay, but it’s even better than that, there is also an online competition. Visit the Islay and Jura marketing group website for more:

Win a wildlife holiday for 4 to the Isle of Islay

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.

Interesting read about Orwell writing 1984 at Barnhill on Jura

Jura ExcursionsA quick excursion to Islay’s neighbour Jura today. James Shaw visited Barnhill where George Orwell wrote his famous book ‘1984’. He writes about his visit and Orwell on Jura in The Scottish island where George Orwell created 1984 on the BBC website.

I walked past Barnhill on the way to see the Corryvreckan whirlpool on a stunning day in April 2015, a fascinating but very remote location:

Picture of an farmhouse in a remote location on an island
A view of Barnhill on the Isle of Jura, taken from the track to the north of the island. The mainland visible in the background.

In case you need a refresher of the book:

Two nice nature videos from Islay’s neighbour Jura

Jura ExcursionsTaking you to Islay’s neighbour Jura today for not one but two videos, showing some of Jura’s beautiful remote nature, wildlife and landscape. The first one is a longer video taking us on a walk to Cruib Bothy, showing what they saw during the walk and the stay at the bothy:

The second one is a bit shorter and takes us on a drone flight over Ruantallain Estate. Some brilliant views and scenery:

I hope you enjoyed the two videos, Jura is definitely worth an excursion from Islay.

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.

Start preparing for the Walk Islay walking week 2018

Islay EventsIf I counted correctly the 16th Islay walking week will be taking place in just over two months. Starting on the 8th of April 2018 there will be 6 days of walks on Islay, Jura and Colonsay. The detailed programme will be published soon, as of writing this you can find an overview of the planned walks on the Walk Islay page.

Picture of a group of walkers near a loch (lake), a large flock of geese flying above
Walking on the Oa during an Islay walking week a few years ago

Some of the walks which caught my eye:

  • Walk 2 – Beinn Dubh and Sgorr nam Faoileann – the rarely visited eastern peaks of Islay
  • Walk 5 – Across the sea to Colonsay for a circular walk to the Arandora Star memorial and Pig’s Paradise
  • Walk 8 – Across the Sound to Jura and over the hills to Craighouse with a ride back!

Which walks caught your eye and will make you reach for your walking boots?

Cottage and ferry are booked, I’m looking forward to be back on Islay walking in the beautiful landscape. Hoping to meet many old and new friends during the walks and elsewhere!

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:

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 ;-))