Travel: Wind swept adventures on Islay

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Smokey whisky and beautiful landscapes await at this Scottish Island

Travelling around Islay

The weather is not kind to us, gale force winds whip across the Island, with the occasional dash of hail thrown in for good measure.  But every now now then the scudding clouds part, and for a few minutes, the sky turns blue, the fields green and the island is transformed into a glittering isle.

Laphroaig Distillery

A trip to the Whisky coast of the South of the Island, is the perfect way of getting out of the foul weather. The thought of sheltering from the wind in a warm distillery and imbibing a few drams building increases the appeal.  There is plenty of choice of distillery, for Islay is home to over eight of them, and three of the biggest, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavuilin are all right next to each other.  We settle on Laphroaig, in part because it as the first whisky I ever drank that I actually liked.  This particular distillery is a good choice for a tour – not only does it have a very picturesque setting, it is also relatively rare in that it malts and smokes around 20% of it’s own barley, giving a a fuller appreciation of the whole soup to nuts process (or raw barley to casked spirit in this case).

Mull of Oa

The afternoon, we brave the weather and embark on or first walk, to the Mull of Oa. On a fine day this would have no doubt been a beautiful stroll to the coastline, through bucolic scenes of grazing highland cattle and swooping sea birds.  Not so today, a ferocious wind whips across the top of the cliff, giving us an unwanted face scrub from horizontal hail and sleet, as we battle our way into the oncoming hurricane.  It’s almost too much for my dear Mother who becomes increasingly convinced we’re about to be blown right off the cliff.  Once or twice I begin to believe her.  We persevere, taking occasional refuge in gullies and dips, to shelter from the barrage.  But we make it to the American Monument, a stone memorial tower, standing resolute against the exposed surroundings, dedicated to the memory of several hundred American sailors who perished in two separate incidents towards the end of the First World War.  Relatively warm, wrapped up in our multiple layers of modern outdoor clothing, protecting us against the raw elements, makes the thought of all those lives lost in the uncompromising brutal force of the Northern Irish Sea more poignant.


Retreating to the sanctuary of the car, we make our way over the West side of the Island, and the coastal road that leads through to Port Charlotte, and then onto Portnahaven. Rugged and remote, the scenery is made even more dramatic by the battering ram of wind and occasional icy blast of rain and hail.  We pass fields full of geese, busy feeding themselves in the last weeks of their winter stopover.  Soon they will fly to their summer breeding areas, and leave the fields to the Scottish cattle and sheep.   Reaching the small village Port Nortnahaven, is a dramatic sight in this weather.  Rows of sturdy housing crouch defiantly on the harbour sea cliffs. Across the harbour, stands Orsay lighthouse, resolutely keeping watch over the sea, now whipped up into small peaks by the onshore winds.  After some picture taking, we head back, and find refuge in that most welcoming of shelters, a Scottish pub, in this case the Port Charlotte hotel, where an open fire, good food and plenty of local whisky on offer, provide a comfortable venue to look back over our Islay adventure.

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