Sunday, July 06, 2014

to Scotland

When I first imagined this trip back in January, I had been reading an essay by someone who had traveled recently to the Hebrides -- an archipelago of islands off the western coast of Scotland. [To explain: there are the Inner Hebrides -- 35 inhabited islands in all, but with fewer than 20,000 people living on them, the ones you'll recognize are Skye and possibly Islay; and then there the Outer Hebrides -- which I've not been to, but most people have heard of Harris and possibly Lewis. There, only 15 are inhabited.] The author extolled the virtues of the light on the islands. Yes, I remembered my own rapture when visiting Skye some five years back, when Ed and I crisscrossed Scotland together.

Time to go back, I thought. But to a different island. Islay was an obvious candidate. It's surely not crowded (Population: 3,200). It's fairly easy to get to (a small commuter flight takes you there from Glasgow). It has a rather mild Gulf Stream climate. It has eight working whiskey distilleries. Now, I know little about Scotch whiskey (or whisky as they write it) and am not likely to ever choose it back home, but traditions are fascinating no matter where they take you and so Islay became the island to put on my shortest of short lists of places to visit, come summer.

The day dawned bright in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had my last filling breakfast (which has really become brunch for me, as the thought of sitting to a lunch after such a copious breakfast is daunting)...


[In a brief exchange of travel reports with another guest, I learn that yesterday was at least initially very wet and crowded on the Holy Island. But lest I gloat about choosing to put myself among the millions who turned out in Yorkshire to celebrate the victorious ride of the Tour de France, I have to insert here that, though the skies remained clear, the English mood dampened considerably as the homegrown Cavendish -- a hopeful for the jersey -- suffered a terrible crash just moments before crossing the finish line. The press all had front page photos of the horrified faces of the young royals and the PM who once again had to swallow hard as an Englishman failed to deliver the much desired sporting victory. Me, I want to say -- it's in the race, people! It's all in the race!]

And now a last look at my very favorite set of blocks in Berwick-upon-Tweed -- which happen to be just outside the Granary Guest House door...


...and then I yet again accepted the gracious offer from my wonderful (and this is no hyperbole) hosts of a lift to the rail station. Dave says -- we'll probably never see her again. I think about that for a bit. It is a one sided thing, this stop at a guest house, where you get a glimpse into another set of lives. The guest decides if she or he will ever pass this way again. True, I leave behind an even more detailed glimpse into my comings and goings with a link to Ocean, but it's not only the news friends seek -- it's the exchange. And the vast majority of people come and go and that fleeting shared space is indeed very fleeting. 

We say our goodbyes, however final or not final they may be and I face the train schedule posted at the station screen. I do hope the train to Edinburgh will not be late.

It is late.

I look around me. Passengers wait patiently.


(this one is actually for the later train to Glasgow)

The clock moves alarmingly forward, past the time of scheduled departure.

Well, I have some flex. In Edinburgh, where I do not bother to step outside the station, I catch the speedy 11:30 to Glasgow. On time. Bus to airport? Arrives instantly. Glasgow airport checkin line -- short. Security, despite dire warnings in the press that the UK is gearing for heightened alert and detailed screenings -- moves quickly. I'm at the gate, with time to watch the first Wimbledon serve before they call my flight.

The plane to the island is a small twin prop. I watch it spinning as we mount over the western coast of Scotland.


The young woman pilot is teaching her officer flying procedures. But, the skies are partly cloudy, the flight is short (30 minutes) -- I have no complaints.

We land at one of those island airports that has a short runway and a tiny waiting room. Two flights come in each day.

I've arrived in Islay. And by the way, it's pronounced eye-lah. I have had it said in every which way, but the locals are adamant -- eye-lah.

No buses run the island on Sunday and so I take the cab to the next village up from the airport -- Bowmore. That's where I'm based for the next 8 days. A long time to be in the middle of nowhere. To be in a place where nothing is going on. Where there are no great sights, no dramatic walks that take your breath away. No real shopping to be done, no gardens, parks. Only one good restaurant in the area and it is so good that it is expensive. Not likely to be my daily fare.

So why here? For the light? Well maybe, but really for the calm. For the cab driver who spins tall tales on the way to my guest house. For the red faced old man on the street who tells me where the grocery store is and then asks where in the States I live (my accent says it all) and when I say north of Chicago, he asks -- Illinois? and when I say no, Wisconsin, he asks in a barely understandable to me brogue -- oh, Madison? When I show surprise, he answers -- I should have been in American studies in school...

I'm staying at the Bowmore House...


...a bed and breakfast recently taken on by Andrew and Alison (and their two delightful little girls). It's not a complicated place, but it's so full of heart and immaculate care and my room has the best views coming at me from two exposures.

Andrew was, of course, responsible for sending me to Pooley Bridge and Berwick-upon-Tweed, so I owe him big from the get-go. He also coached me through countless steps of booking his place, flight connections and all the other small details which usually are no problem, except when you're traveling to an island that stands alone, stuck between Ireland and Soctland, not having the benefit of obvious access to it.

Alright. Enough text. A few photos for you from the first walk through the village:

the mountains are from the next island down -- Jura

The Bowmore distillery

beyond the village


And now it's evening and I definitely am ready for dinner. At the Lochside Hotel (where I'm told I can get a pub-like supper),  I ask about the herring starter. Don't know, says the young man serving the tables. Don't much care for seafood myself. The black pudding (meaning blood pudding) I would recommend.

I'll take the herring. 


...Followed by Islay scallops.
The main course comes with boiled potatoes and carrots and cabbage and squash. In copious amounts.
It's satisfying. All of it. The kind of meal that calls for a nap afterwards. Or, in the alternative -- for a moment in your room, leaning back in a comfortable chair, looking out at the bay waters and the vast sky that changes rapidly before you. There wont be a full presentation of a sunset tonight. It's 9:30 at the moment and the clouds are rolling around at the horizon. How about a pre-sunset from both my windows? Yes, so lovely. And of course, there is the island light. Unique and beautiful.

view to the south

view to the west