D&J Scotland Whisky Tour 2009 travel blog

Our coach at The Argyll Hotel, Inveraray

Morning in Inveraray on Loch Fyne

Preparing to Drive onto the Ferry to Islay

Approaching Islay

Doug Throwing Peat on the Fire at Bowmore Distillery

Turning the Malting Barley at Bowmore Distillery

Copper Stills at Bowmore Distillery

After Dinner at Bridgend Hotel

I woke up at 4:30 am, and was surprised to find the sun already up, but I had forgotten that we are farther north than we are at home, and also near summer solstice, hence the long daylight hours.

I sure felt much better after a good sleep, and we showered and packed up our stuff. Then we went down to breakfast in the dining room for 6:30 pm. It was a hot and cold buffet with cereals, fruit, breads and jam, with eggs, sausage, beans (yuck again) for those who had a little room left in their tummies.

Back up to the room afterwards to pack up the rest of our stuff to take down to the coach. It was another beautiful sunny day out, although the midges were coming out too. We could see the mist coming across the loch, which was as still as glass.

After packing up the bus, we started off through the Mull of Kintyre to Tarbert to catch the Caladonian McBraye ferry to the isle of Islay (pronounced “eye-lah”).

It was a lovely drive, through forest and alongside lochs, and the purple of the rhododendron and the bright yellow of the gorse and irises was a beautiful contrast against the green. Morag was giving us a brief history of the country of Scotland, but I was enjoying the scenery and decided to listen to classical music on my mp3 player. It matched the majesty and beauty of the countryside through which we were passing.

We finally got to West Tarbert, where we were to catch the ferry to Islay. On our drive, we kept getting passed by motorcycles, and I guess they were headed to the same place, because they were there for the ferry, too, all in black leather. I saw that they all had either Swiss or German license plates.

The ferry pulled up to the pier, while the front portion of the bow swiveled up. (It reminded me of footage I had seen of humpback whales opening their huge mouths to feed on krill.) After the ramp lowered, the vehicles offloaded, including some trucks. Funny, it doesn’t look that big, but it’s amazing how many vehicles can fit inside.

We got back on the coach and then drove onto the ferry. No one is allowed to stay in their vehicles while the ferry is moving, so everyone went upstairs to the coffee shop at the bow of the boat. There was also a full-serve restaurant and a lounge. It was all quite comfortable.

Our journey was a little over two hours, and most of the time I sat in the coffee lounge with a cappuccino and wrote this journal. Doug got up and moved around a bit more. Nearer the end of the journey, I went up on deck with everyone else and watched the ferry approach Islay. We could see the large whitewashed distilleries of Ardbeg, Lagavullin and Laphroig on the coast, and also the malting factory at Port Ellen, where all of the malting is done for the Islay distilleries.

We pulled into port and offloaded, and then began our drive to Bowmore, about 45 minutes from Port Ellen. Most if Islay looks pretty windswept, but there are so many sheep and a fair amount of cattle. Almost all of the buildings are sturdy stone houses painted white, with clay chimney pots. Driving along the coastline was pretty, and there are some decent sand beaches and many species of birds.

We pulled into Bowmore, a small town on the harbour. The little village is dominated by the distillery and the round church at the top of the main street.

We are all staying at the distillery cottages, which must have been former residences of the distillery owners/employees. They are just before the distillery itself, across from a town square and the tourist information office. We are all divided up among the cottages, called “The Old Bakery” (six bedrooms), “Mashman’s Cottage” (one bedroom), “Stillman’s Cottage” (two bedrooms), “Maltman’s Cottage” (three bedrooms), “Garden Cottage (two bedrooms), and ours, “Distillery House” (four bedrooms), which is on the corner. Ours is very pretty inside, with hardwood floors, wood trim and lots of windows. Downstairs is the kitchen and dining room with lounge, a bathroom, and a twin bedroom. Upstairs is the other three bedrooms, and ours is at the end of the hall, a corner room that overlooks the streets. It is small and cozy with lots of light, and very comfortable.

We had time to settle in for a bit, and then we went for lunch. Paula recommended the Lochside Inn, just down the road. When we got there, we sat in a conservatory overlooking the beach. A few other tables were occupied, including some with our tour mates. We wanted to order fish, which some people were eating (and they were huge portions; no one will go hungry in Scotland), but they were just out. So, we ordered a pint of local Islay ale and had some macaroni and cheese with chips and salad, which was very good. While we were eating, one of the other tables of diners got up and went outside to the patio, and we realized that they were a wedding party, only because the woman was carrying a bouquet of flowers. Everyone was dressed very casually, which is why we didn’t know it was a wedding party!

Afterwards, most of the other people went to the distillery to have a tour, but I ended up putting around and going to the shops to pick up some stuff. They were to have stocked our kitchen with supplies for breakfast, which we were to make on our own, but they hadn’t yet, so I picked up some cereal and milk. When I came back, I had a nap for an hour, which was just right. That pretty much took care of the last of the jetlag I had.

At 6:30 pm, we drove a short distance away to the Bridgend Hotel, a pretty stone building set amongst mature trees and across the road from a lawn bowling/French bouls green. We had dinner at the hotel in a large dining room set up with large tables. I had another type of Islay Ale, and a nice dinner of shrimp cocktail, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and a scrumptious sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Conversation was lively, and it was a very nice meal.

We came back to our cottage and everyone visited for a little bit in the lounge area, but we excused ourselves around 9:30 pm and headed to bed. It had been a great day, and so far the weather has been great! Not at all what I was expecting for Scotland weather on the west coast in spring. I am glad for that!

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