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 ;-))

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.