Bishops Visit – Islay – the Land of the Peated Whisky

Part of the inner Hebrides, Islay is famous for its scotch and has 9 distilleries to prove it. To the north is Jura which has given its name to its only whisky distillery. Both islands are only accessible by ferry out of Kennacraig, one and a half hours from Cairnow.

We depart at 7.00am in pitch black travelling back through Inverrary and turning south down through the Argyll country. We see the sun rising behind the hills in front of us and then beside us promising a fine day. The trip proved to be generally straight forward but rain started to dog us again around West Tarbert just before Kennacraig. This rain turned into sleet then small rice size hail, when we arrived at the departure point (that’s all there is to Kennacraig). Boarding was straight forward. The vessel MS Finlaggen is about 3 times the size of the Straddie Flyer and finished like a cruise ship – very nice.


The cruise took about 2 hours and was very relaxing. The wind was running about 25 knots but the vessel stood firm in the water. As we arrived at Islay, I bounded upstairs to the summer observation deck and in a biting wind took shots of the entrance to Port Ellen, our home on Islay.


I had arranged appointments at two distilleries Bunnahabhain and Bruichladich. Brunahabain and Bruichladich (locally called “Laddie”) were both founded in 1881 but are at opposite ends of the island and very different in their approach to distilling.

Brunnhabhain is in the north of the island above Port Askaig the jumping off point for Jura. There are two main roads (I use that term loosely for one of the roads) going north and on the way we went to the ancestral isle of the Lords of the Isle – the Donald clan. There is very little left and the visitors centre was closed for winter but we got some random snaps for you to look at.


We then went on to Port Askaig to see what was there and we were disappointed that like Kennacraig it is just a jumping off point only with a hotel and shop. We had to fuel up which was interesting – you fill up then walk back down the hill to the shop to pay for the fuel. Then it was on to Bunnahabhain. Here on the narrowest of sealed roads following the strait between Jura and Islay winding along the edge of the hills was the prettiest scenery on the island. Then for no apparent reason a group of large industrial sheds so out of place in these hills appeared. It is the distillery and it sits directly on a sea wall looking north out into the strait.



We met Beth who gave us the tour. Also on the tour were two blokes form Kedron in Brisbane – hows that! The tour was interesting, similar to Oban but this time we got photos.


We finished around 3.30pm and again the weather turned, this time back to the sleet and hail so we hightailed it to our second distillery. We drove across the island to the east, arriving around 4.00pm too late for our tour. Not to miss the opportunity we partook of a tasting of the world’s peatiest malt whisky 200 parts per million. Bruichladich is positioned on a bay facing south and to get there we had to drive through sheep spanning both sides of the road. Careful or there will be mutton on the menu.

We then raced the sun to Port Ellen arriving in a dead heat – total darkness. The Islay Hotel was modern in an old exterior and just too hot in side to be comfortable. Nevertheless we had a good nights sleep and rose early for a walk through the village. The morning was dark but the sky promised to be clear or so we thought. We set off along the front  bracing against the cold wind that was starting to pick up. Few people were moving so our walk seemed somewhat ethereal – a strange village and just us moving about. We were gone just half an hour and by the time we got back to the hotel the wharf had come to life. The ferry leaves at 9.45 and you must line up at 9.15am. Our hotel is so close to the terminal that we literally drove down at 9.10 and lined up.

On board the ferry I spent my time catching up on my blogging and Kerry and Nerida continued their knitting whilst Doug slept. Then we drove to Perth on the other side of the country and Doug slept.


Bishops Visit – Cairnow, Inveraray and the Stagecoach Inn

We left Oban at 4.30pm to travel to Cairnow on Loch Fynes but the weather had turned against us and the sun was now hidden behind a bruised sky. Our next hotel was over 90 minutes away and the conditions for driving got worse the more we travelled. The west coast is deeply indented with fjord type waterways called Firths and sometimes called Lochs (I don’t know why, it is too technical I am told). So I went to Wikipedia to find out and it says:

“Firth is a Lowland Scots word for a large sea bay or sometimes a strait whereas a Loch is an Irish and Scottish gaelic word for a lake or sea inlet.”

To get to Cairnow we had to travel around Loch Fyne so we encountered rain mist and dense darkness with very few villages to give the driver a break from the darkness. However our arrival at the Stagecoach Inn was a pleasant surprise. Like our hotel at Wall this is an old style hotel full of character and charm.

The hotel started life as a stage coach inn in the 18th century and still looks as though a stage is due any minute. Inside it has a low beamed ceiling, fireplaces aglow, and a bar which when filled holds about 9 or 10 people. Warm and romantic!

Our room was in the hotel itself and was very comfortable (once the bar had closed and the noise of the tap pumps had ceased). The bishops had one of the modern Loch view rooms with a balcony overlooking the Loch. After dining in front of the fire we retired and forgot the tense drive to the Loch.

The next morning our plans had been to return to Oban for the day but the trip the previous night showed this would not be sensible. However on the way to Cairnow we had passed through Inverrary and it had seemed a beacon in the darkness. So after a full breakfast, we decided to see what we could see in Inverrary.


A short drive along the edge of Loch Fyne and we arrived at Inverrary. The signboards of the Scottish Tourist Authority announced that we could visit the jail and the ship museum. The sun had decided to join us so the day held a lot of promise. Parking the car we noticed all the parking ticket machines to be covered and signed “Free parking November to March”. the day was getting better.

Inverrary has grown up based on fishing upon the marine Loch Fyne but today it is sustained by tourism. It is uniformly white wash with black trim so it looks very attractive. In the centre of town is a roundabout on which sits a large square building. Whilst it looked like a council building it in fact is the local parish church for the Church of Scotland. We were to learn that the Church of Scotland had different ideas around thee layout of its churches.


From the roundabout we spotted the jail (interestingly not spelt correctly as goal). On entering the jail you are greeted by two guards men – silent types. Then you go up stars  and one of the locals is coming down the other way with his dog. He has been to court (the jail houses the court as well) to listen to the proceedings involving an arson of farm buildings by its owner. We pat the dog and pass on into the building where we have an encounter with a barrister waiting outside the court with a pleading client. Pathetic!


As we wind our way around to the courtroom there are storyboards on punishments meted out by the courts over the centuries. It a good thing that punishment has become more humane or so we think.


We enter the court room, the prisoner seated between two policemen looks nervous, the witness in the box testifying, the jury not looking persuaded, the crowd of on lookers, the bar table and the bench – all very realistic.  Then the verdict – guilty! The sentence – 20 years in Inverrary jail. Whew all very tense – lets move on.


Outside in the yard we find the exercise cells and two vagrants trying to sweet talk the warder. He knows their type and they are there for thirty days; there is no escape.


Beside the exercise cells is the cells prior to the Prison Reform Act of 1839. Overcrowded, no sanitation, no light, poor food, all types – women, children, murders, the insane, all in together. One of the cells is home to the Warder  – his conditions were hardly any better than the prisoners.


On the next floor is the reformed prison showing the changes brought about after the Act. “Unfortunately” says the Warder, “Scotland got it wrong – 2/3rds of prisoners reoffended to get back into the prison”

We stroll around to the newer block showing the changes later in the 19th century to bring things into balance. There is also a horse drawn Black Maria and the story of how it got its name – it appears there was a boarding house in the American colonies that was run by a negro woman called Maria and she was not prepared to cop any antics by her guests so she readily called the constabulary to come in the black paddy wagon and accost the trouble maker. The visits become so regular that the wagon was called the Black Maria.


This was one of the best presentations of a gruesome subject – informative, sometimes humorous but always clear on how it touched the lives of people in the community.

II could not wait to see the ships museum. I was anticipating the same standard of presentation but not to be. There are two ships tied up against the wharf. The entrance is fenced off and litter abounds; there is a clear sense of decay and abandonment. Its closed and derelict. We had to visit the Apocothary and they informed us that the museum had closed years ago. Sad that no one has thought to change the signage around town.


Rain starts to fall. We decide to talk a walk through the town back to the car while the Bishops go directly to the car. We meet about the same time with the rain now tumbling down quite heavily. We decide that the warm fire back at the hotel is the place to be.