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Published: August 16th 2011
Our cottage within the Bowmore Distilery walls
We left Inverness around 9:30 in the morning via a train destined for Glasgow. This time, we had a much better trip: our seats were reserved and we had a place for our luggage...so other than a family that needed to learn how to use their inside voices, the trip was more what we were used to when we had been to Scotland previously.
We arrived at Glasgow Queen Street Station shortly before 1 PM and our flight wasn't until 5, but since we had bulky bags, we decided to head straight to the airport (probably our most expensive taxi ride at 25GBP). Cor and I only had a baggage allowance of 20 kg for the flight to Islay and we knew that we were going to be over with all of the clothes shopping (and Cor already had a bottle of whisky) we had done. I clocked in at 22 kg and he had 21, but luckily the agent at the Flybe desk didn't make us pay for it...yay! So we milled about for a while and waited for our flight. Flybe (operated by Loganair in this case) has a really quick, 35 minute flight that goes twice per
um...it's that way to the visitor centre
day during the week (once on Saturdays) to Islay. It's a small plane, but we were barely in the air before we were landed and waiting for luggage (which takes them minutes to unload since the plane can only take about 30 people). We had booked a car from Islay Car Hire, which we had also done the last time that we were in Islay. Before, the guy came with his little boy to meet us at the airport, but now they have a kiosk there.
We hopped in the car and headed west for the 10ish minute drive to Bowmore. Last time, we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Port Ellen called the Oyster Catcher, but this time, we were staying in the Mashman's Cottage which is part of the Bowmore Distillery cottages. We were met by one of their employees (who said that we could park inside the gates, which made us feel dorkily cool) and she showed us around the cottage. The cottage is fantastic! It was only 90GBP per night and there is a kitchen, living room, guest bath and then bedroom and bathroom upstairs. I would definitely recommend these cottages to anyone who
In the visitor centre/shop of the distillery
was planning to come here (they have multiple cottages that can house various numbers of people, but not all are within the distillery walls).
We then texted my parents (who were staying at the nearby Harbour Inn since all of the cottages were booked when we went to make them a reservation), so that we could have supper together. A lot of places on Islay seem to close early or require a reservation, so we just opted for the pub attached to the Harbour Inn. Cor, my dad, and I all had the venison stew (which was good, but kind of missing something) and my mom had some kind of mozza, sundried tomato sandwich. Then we just hung out for the evening and the day was done (welcome, to the lazy portion of our trip).
There are two main reasons why we're here. This is where my family is originally from (they left in the 1850's) and whisky, of course! We loaded up in the vehicle to take a tour of Islay, with us making our first trip out towards Port Charlotte and Portnahaven. On our way, we stopped in at the Bruichladdich Distillery where Cor made sure
Hit it, Daddio...
My dad playing golf at the Machrie golf course
that he got himself a hand pour of the Valench cask strength (only 400 bottles available), some glasses, a polo shirt, and I got a bunny hug (hooded sweatshirt for all you non-Saskatchewanians). My dad started talking to the guy working at the distillery (who was nice enough to pour a few drams, including their Octomore, which is their gin that they recently started producing), and was telling him that we were here to look for the family farm (Ceannacroic). After some discussion, it was found that he lived near this farm, and his uncle actually owned the farm that was used in the description of the placement of the Currie family farm (600 metres south east of his uncle's farm)....that was lucky...whisky and tracing our ancestry in one stop.
We continued on and headed to the Croft Kitchen in Port Charlotte for lunch. Dad had fish & chips (fresh of course, I had a burger, mom had lasagne, and Corwin had sausage, beans, and chips). It was really good home cooking, and we had to roll ourselves out of the restaurant. We tried to head to the museum of Islay life (just down the road in Port Charlotte),
Ardbeg Distillery Cafe
The brie, bacon, and red onion chutney sandwich
but it was closed due to the fact that there was some kind or air show going on....?? So, we continued on, drove through Portnahaven and took in the countryside.
On the way back, we decided to stop in at Kilchoman Distillery because we had never tried it before. We had a coffee there, and dad picked up a couple of their releases (winter 2010, and spring 2011) even though all of their bottlings seemed to be very young (under a few years). We headed back to the cottage to give them a try. We decided that they were alright for something so unaged, but not really anyone's cup of tea.
Then, we relaxed for a bit and hit up the Indian place in Bowmore for supper called Taj Mahal. We had popodoms, vegetable pokoras, naan, rice, lamb vindaloo, aloo gobi, vegetable korma, and chicken dopiaza. Although not as good as some other places that we've had, it would give some of the Indian restaurants in regina a run for their money. And hi, we're on a semi-secluded island of 2,500 people - I was very impressed and would eat there again.
On Sunday morning, we had
at the Ardbeg Distillery Cafe
a tee time at the Machrie golf course, which is out by the airport between Port Ellen and Bowmore. It also has a hotel that is currently closed for renovations. When we got there, we found out that the price was even more expensive than on the website - 60 GBP for 18 hole and we couldn't just play 9 which was all that we actually wanted to do. Luckily he threw in the clubs and buggy rental for my parents (my mom didn't golf, she just came along). This was an interesting and very difficult course (apparently, it's #20 in the top 100 toughest courses in Scotland...so said whatever Corwin was reading)....many times you weren't sure where the pin was (it was often over a hill), there were tons of natural hazards, and the rough was very long grass, so once your ball went into there, you were screwed. Often, you would hit straight, but some how, it would still end up in the grass. We lost a total of 6 sleeves of balls (I only lost 2 balls, but then again, I only played 9 holes). When we came back, the guy at the clubhouse found out that
Outside the visitor centre
it was our first time golfing it....he said that you aren't playing, that you're having an adventure. It is a gorgeous course though, with some if the holes being right by the ocean.
After making fools of ourselves on the golf course (actually, it wasn't that bad, some holes we played well, and others we did terribly on), we headed up to Ardbeg Distillery because I heard that they have a good lunch there. My parents each had lentil soup, and shared a brie, bacon, and red onion chutney sandwIch. Cor and I also shared that sandwich and a maltman's platter (cheese, chutney, oatcakes etc. ). The portions were huge and reasonably priced. I had to remind myself that we were on Islay, people here are doing a great job with the food here....many small bistros back home could get some pointers. The food was fast and delicious, probably one of the best lunches that we've had the entire trip. We poked around the shop for a bit, but because the staff was busy with lunch, it didn't seem like there would be much chance for a dram and a chat, so we moved on to our next distillery...
I love that the walkie talkie is in a plastic container.
...Lagavulin. Here we were able to try a few. We had their 12 yo, 1994 distillers edition, and a cask strength (probably the favourite) as well as an opportunity to try Caol Ile 12 which is currently closed for renovations (so I guess we won't be able to visit every distillery this trip).
Finally, we stopped by Laphroig distillery....I picked up a cheap polo shirt and some cheese (yes, cheese) and we also tried the 18 yo, quarter cask, and a cask strength which dad bought a bottle of. We were also able to sign up for friends of Laphroig. Normally you have to buy a bottle and sign up with the UPC and you can get your lifetime lease on one square foot of Islay. Apparently they said that it would take 2 weeks to get our plot information, but we actually got our email for it the next day (so maybe we'll head out on Thursday to find them).
Later in the evening, we went over to the Harbour Inn for dinner. I was still stuffed from Ardbeg, so I had their soup and a starter of breast of pigeon with salad. My mom had
um...how far do we have to walk once the road ends to get to the end of the island?
the steak, dad had the lamb, and Cor had the pork. Everything was really good (MUCH better than on the pub side) and I can see why they are a Michelin recommended restaurant as everything (including the service) was excellent.
Tuesday morning, we had breakfast at the Cottage Restaurant in Bowmore and headed to Port Askaig in order to take the ferry to Jura (a nearby island with a population of only about 200). It was 24 GBP for four people and the vehicle (return), and only took about 5 minutes to get across the Sound of Islay. We stopped in the island's biggest town, Craighouse, and took a peek in the visitor centre of the Jura Distillery. None of us had ever had Jura whisky before, so we tried their 16 yo (except for mom who had Superstition). My dad bought a 35cl of the 16 year for a gift and I bought a couple of glasses, but Cor was holding out for the hope of a hand pour from Bunnahabhain or Bowmore Distilleries. We were going to have lunch, but the pub didn't start serving until 12:30, so we decided to start our drive up the island
My Islay Ales steak pie....yum!
(the road only goes up half way and then you have to walk the rest. Jura is a beautiful island, but honestly, I could see myself living on Islay, but I would categorize Jura as just a nice place to visit because it seems very remote (George Orwell seemingly thought it was a great place to write because of this). We were trying to arrange a boat tour to the Corryvreckan whirlpool (it's a whirlpool off the coast between Jura and the neighbouring island to the north of Scarba), but it didn't work out. With my parents along, it didn't seem like we would be up to the almost 6 hour/7 mile hike to the tip of Jura to see it (or the 3 mile hike to Barnhill that was George Orwell's house). I think when we come back I would plan to stay in Jura over night so that there isn't a rush to catch the ferry back to Islay so that we could do this, so for now we settled for the almost hour drive to the end of the public road. We did see some interesting things along the way including lumber camps and a place on
Sticky Toffee Pudding
At the Bridgend Hotel - may not have won the prize of best ever, but it was certainly delicious!
a bay where you could call down to the house with a walkie talkie to have tea on the beach.
After we reached the end of the road, we came back to Craighouse and stopped at Antler's Bistro for a quick lunch. This was another place that surprised me with how good their food was. My dad and I had the roasted red pepper & tomato soup (I, of course, threw in a scone for good measure, but it would have been better if they had double thick cream to go on it as well...hee hee), Cor had a bacon and tomato toasted sandwich and my mom had a brie and current toasted sandwich. Very yummy and a great place to stop...although they do only serve hot food until 4PM.
We returned to Islay (on a bit more of a rocky ferry ride....I also noticed that they don't tie to anything when they dock since they are a small ferry, they just cruise up to the edge and stay there while everyone unloads), and relaxed for a couple of hours. We decided to try and find the old family farm with the directions given to us from the guy at Bruichladdich....we had no problems, so it was kind of cool to see the farm (plus some modernizations) with the house and 18 acres that the Currie family had left over 150 years ago in order to move to Canada.
For dinner we headed to the Bridgend Hotel, which was only a short way from the farm (as it is close to Bowmore). We had another great meal experience (except for maybe the bread at the table being a bit hard). I had Islay Ales (a local brewery) steak pie, mom had a vegetarian meal of couscous and veggies, dad had Cajun calamari and Corwin had a venison burger (you will see venison on almost every menu here in one form or another). Of course, dad finished it off with a sticky toffee pudding (as he is trying to find the best), and this was was delicious. Although he claimed that it wasn't sweet enough (although nothing is to him), it was complimented by Mackey's toffee and apple ice cream, which I think made it.
That's it for now! Tomorrow...more Islay and distilleries!
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