Thursday was the drive to Islay. Kate had been going to come to Edinburgh and be given a lift over, but she decided to fly directly. This turned out to be a bad move, but more on that later. I didn't get out of the door until about noon, which although later than I'd meant didn't turn out badly. the drive up past Stirling (boo hiss) went fine. It was a lovely sunny day and the car was running well. The left turn off the dual carriageway went onto a smaller A-road heading into the Trossachs. The valley floor was flat (still the flood plain) and the hills rose suddenly from it to either side. Ahead I could see mountains, some of them still with snow patches on their shadier sides. After some gorgeously scenic country (and a sign to Port Menteith, on the only lake in Scotland) I pulled into Balloch and then turned north along Loch Lomond. Way back when we lived in Bishopbriggs we used to go to Loch Lomondside a lot, and not too infrequently later when we were in Ayr, especially when for a couple of summers my dad had a Silhouette 2 on the loch. It was lovely to see it again. It'd been quite a while.
I'd never taken the left turn at Tarbet before (do you know there are four Tarbets in Scotland, and four Tarberts? They're generally on isthmuses between two bodies of water, so presumably the name reflects this) and was surprised by exactly how soon I was on Loch Long. I hadn't realised the Loch and the sea were still so close. Regardless, the drive through Argyll went very well too, with the sunshine broken up by brief but enthusiastic showers. Rest And Be Thankful went past (I didn't see any bench), and then later Furnace. I was by the sea nearly all the way, through a string of villages and small towns, with much B&B, many fishing boats and seafood businesses and fish farms, and singing an old song my dad had on tape, from the anti-Polaris protests of the sixties and seventies. Tarbert (see?) is a nice wee place, and I stopped there about four for some chips and a wander. It's very picturesque, and has loads of yachts in the harbour. Kennacraig's a few miles west, on the west loch. It's a small island (as you'd guess from the name, I suppose) with a single-lane causeway out to it. It has a couple of jettys and slipways, a car park and a hut with the office in it. There was an hour or so until the next ferry, and I got put on standby - but they were confident I'd make it. I did, and after getting parked up and paying nasally for the privilege, I went up stairs and spent most of the crossing watching jellyfish go by and seabirds fly and swim past. There were several things that may have been divers by the way they looked in the water, and a gannet dive-bombing the little fishies. No basking sharks, unfortunately.
The ferry had a map display next to one of the lounges, which was quite swish. I was inside to have a bite and noticed looking at it that the Ardbeg distillery must be about in view . I went outside and seen there it was - the white buildings with "ARDBEG" in huge great letters. This was closely followed by "LAGAVULIN" and then "LAPHRAOIG", and after coming round a point, "PORT ELLEN" (only a malting these days). While the boat docked I admired the seals on the rocks, and then got the car off and drove the few miles to Bowmore. Past the airport, which I was to visit repeatedly later.
Jura's obviously very visible from the ferry, with its sawtooth ridge. Islay's much lower and flatter. There are hills, but most of it seems to be undramatic moorland. There's a lot of that in Scotland, obviously, so it's not terribly distinctive visually. Definite Hebridean lighting, though.
Bowmore's another pleasant-looking small town, with a round church (CoS, I think) at the top of the hill on the way in. "BOWMORE" was sitting to the left on the way down, and at the harbour the road turns right between terraced houses and shops. A few hundred yards along was the Bowmore House B&B (very comfortable), with a note waiting from Glen saying that he was in the Lochside Hotel. No sign of Kate. I unloaded adnd walked back into town, finding the Lochside pretty shortly. Glen, Claire and various others were there, but no Kate. And not really much way of contacting her, because she'd got a new phone and none of us had the number. Neither were their own phones working - reception in Bowmore isn't generally up to much, although I later found that going uphill along sidestreets improves matters considerably. I think the base station might be among the antennae visible above Port Ellen.
Anyway, I eventually called my parents from the hotel payphone and Kate was there, having missed her flight up because of a small rail accident blocking the line (no-one hurt, I assume). With nothing more to be done, I got gradually mashed with Glen and Dave Nelson on Islay Ales (Black Rock, I think it was called. Rather nice, but I kept mistakenly calling it darkstones) and Jura whisky. The hotel, and the pub round the corner, didn't have the usual array of spirits behind the bar, but rather shelves of bottles from each of the local distillery. The hotel even had a whisky menu, with prices going up to about a ton a shot before reaching No Fixed Price (If You Have To Ask . . .). I was tempted by the Port Ellen, but at a tenner a go it was something I'd have to be keener on to indulge in. The view from the hotel across the loch towards Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich (presumably featuring a building with large black letters on it?) was lovely in the gloaming. A couple of herons flew in and stalked the shallows. I regretted not asking Finn which bit of the island she was from. I've no idea if she'd have said anything exciting about the place, though.
Sadly, the next day (Friday) was pretty dreich. I was up moderately early and got the suit on, and went out to the airport to meet Kate's rearranged flight. I hung around for half an hour after the due time, hearing droning overhead a couple of times when I went out, until one of the staff announced that the plane couldn't land and had gone back to Glasgow. The posters in the terminal were all about whisky. There were walkers and cyclists and even for some reasong golfers, but the place is a whisky mecca, and knows it. There was apparently a convention on that weekend, and folk had come from all over.
This was obviously a disappointment, but I had enough time to get there - just, I thought - so it was back through Bowmore and up to FInlaggan, which I had directions to. I saw a Time team from there a decade or more ago, where the intrepid investigators were sifting through a midden by an island in a loch that had once held (allegedly - the historically inclined will probably want to quibble with this) the seat of the Lords of the Isles. I was slightly nervous about getting there until I caught up with a Rolls Royce coasting sedately along the road. It let me past and I started worrying about missing the turnoff instead. I didn't, though, and after going a mile or so down a single-track road I reached a small stone ex-church, now a visitors' centre.
Doubtless this is usually a delightful place, but it was drizzling, on (mostly) and off (occasionally), with a very low layer of cloud. The piper was sheltering under the eaves and everyone else was inside. Glen looked great in a green suit. I said hello and lurked up the back next to Brian and Anne and their kids (more of them than I remember, and larger). I wasn't far ahead of Claire, so soon the RR turned up and the catstrangling started. She was also in green, looked very happy, and the registrar took them through a quite short and waffle-free ceremony (best sort - I rather enjoyed it) that was over within about five or ten minutes. The staff then handed out shortbread and drams of Finlaggan single malt (The SECRET malt - they don't say which of the island's distilleries it comes from, although the smart money's on it being a young Lagavulin), which I had to carry back wedged by the handbrake until we were back in Bowmore.
Lovely event and place. A shame about the weather.
After a few photos in a building in the north of Bowmore, it was back to the hotel for lunch. Very nice it was, too, and I spent the time chatting to Dave and to various members of Claire's family, all of whom were very interesting. No drama, no arguments. The sun came out eventually and I started calling the airport to see if there was anything incoming. Eventually about five I was told that the plane was about to Land and Kate was on it, so I went out and found her standing in the car park.
Kate managed to get a bite in the hotel despite it being fully-booked, and I finally had a pint. The rest of the evening was us sitting in the hotel bar chatting and drinking and listening to a ceilidh band. Some people danced, although there wasn't much room.
The morning was a bit hectic, as we had to be on the first ferry and get back to Port Ellen by about nine. Breakfast was very nice but rushed (the owners finally got to meet Kate) and we made it not too late. We were sharing the ferry with a whisky tanker - its flammable-liquid hazard diamond also bore the legend "alcoholic liquor". It was a nice trip back - dry and fairly clear. No interesting wildlife, though.
On leaving the ferry, there was a big traffic jam, as the queue for the ferry went back onto the causeway. We waited twenty minutes or so for vehicles to be loaded, and were passed by a small flatbed with some sort of metal buoy on the back, black and high-visibility orange with a sinker unit and various bolted-on panels. I was a bit curious as to its nature, but the words "BOMB DISPOSAL" on the back of the truck turned out to be a dead giveway.