Monday, July 14, 2014

and in the end...

In the early hours, I'm half awake, tossing a little to get comfortable. As always, I glance outside to see what the sky is doing now, knowing full well that in an hour, it may be entirely different.

Wisps of a sunrise over the waters of the bay.


It's somehow comforting to see the stillness of water -- a silent lullaby that lets me fall right back to sleep.

Again I am nearly the last one down for breakfast. Ah, the bay window table is free for me. A beautiful ending to my stay here.


But my flight isn't until evening. And cross your fingers that I'll be on it -- it's pouring right now and the small aircraft cannot land here in low clouds -- it is entirely a visual landing. I read about the year the plane mistook lights below for the landing strip. Turns out they were lights at a distillery. The pilot managed to avoid bringing the building down and all passengers miraculously survived, but the pilot did not. Since then, during poor visibility, flights simply do not come in.  I do a mental calculation if I would still make my overseas connection on Wednesday if I missed my flight out tonight. The answer is less than promising and so I push the whole matter aside and take on a "we'll see, life wont end" attitude.

At 10,  I have an appointment at the Bowmore Distillery. Perhaps you'll remember  -- my day with Eddie MacAffer was to culminate in a hand fill of a bottle for me to take home, but the hand fill was postponed due to labeling issues. Today is the day to finish, in effect, my meeting with the Master Distiller.

Andrew, my Guest House host comes along. Hand fills are rare and special events: a cask is selected for a limited bottling and the bottling is done by the buyer, straight from the barrel. Unfiltered if you wish. (Andrew says -- absolutely unfiltered! I want every last bit of that barrel flavor!)

Today's hand fill is from a Bordeaux wine barrel. Perhaps 250 bottles (that's how much the barrel holds) will be hand filled over the next few weeks. That's it. My Guest House host collects one from each of the hand fills and like many collectors, he picks up a second for drinking. These are whiskys identified for their superb color and taste.

It's pouring rain as we set out toward the distillery. Andrew remarks that it's appropriate that it should be thus. Islay whisky is not for hot and sunny climates. It is a brooding drink, potent and warming, perfect for the foul weather that sometimes hits the island.

Andrew takes over camera work as I am taught how to do a hand fill.



I cork it, label it and finally register it in their log book.


Eddie is here now, having been called in for the event from the peat bog where he was cutting grasses to allow the peat cutting to proceed.
In such nasty weather? I ask.
He shrugs. You do it no matter what.

I ask him and Andrew to pose for a shot. These two have been so instrumental in making my stay on Islay rich with memories!


Eddie signs my bottle, making it quite impossible for me to ever give it up, open it, do anything with it at all except keep it proudly somewhere in the recesses of the farmette.


We say our warm goodbyes -- but not for good. Next year, I'll show you things we didn't have time for during this visit, Eddie says.

I'll see you then!

I walk back to the Guest House now and I face the absolutely miserable task of packing my wee suitcase. If anything breaks, I'll be crushed. Cushioning bottles works well if you have plenty of clothing and lots of space. I have neither. This suitcase has to withstand four flights, two bus rides and three train trips. I do the best I can.

Right. Done for now. One last look at the spot in my room where I spent many an hour, looking out on the waters of varying hues.


Okay. Chores. There are chores to be done. When the rains pause, I set out to the post office. Ah, the rush of Monday shoppers! I am one of them. (The post office is on a hill; the photo is looking down toward the bay.)


Then I have a meandering browse at the book/souvenir/cafe shop all in one. And finally one last return to the Bowmore Guest House, there, perched on a hill -- with my corner room windows staring right back at me now.


The rain lets up a little, but not enough for me to go for a walk. Besides, I'm done. Bags packed, waiting by the door. Despite the fact that I don't leave until evening, this day doesn't feel like an island day anymore. It feels like a travel day.

My hosts Andrew and Alison have a flurry of last minute guest issues thrown at them just before I'm to leave. Nonetheless Andrew gives me a ride to the airport. This is the way they are. They don't work at being your friend. It comes naturally.


And the aircraft landed on the island despite the rain and so my passage to the mainland tonight is assured.


Having booked this flight at the end of January, I had my choice of seats and so I am up front, by the window. As we take off from this at once renowned and at the same time deeply private island in the northern seas, I think -- I came as a curious onlooker, I'm leaving as an Islay friend. Maybe it isn't (yet) a deep or complicated friendship, but I know I'm not just passing through.

As we fly the short half hour to Glasgow, I ask the flight attendant sitting right before me how many of these various Scottish island flights she does in one day.
Four or six, depending.
And how many of them are in the rain? About half?
Unfortunately more than that! 

In fact, it's raining when we land in Glasgow. I haven't far to go -- I'm staying in Paisley, a small town just by the airport. The guest house (the Ashtree House Hotel) was the only one in my price range not torn apart by the crowd at TripAdvisor (though it had its detractors). What is it about Glasgow (and its surroundings) that it cannot produce a smile among those who make their way here? (The Ashtree is perfectly fine and the woman at the front desk knew that Wisconsin is America's cheese state -- how about that!)


I eat dinner at the Ashtree (included in the price of my room) and it, too, is perfectly fine in an old fashioned sort of way (north sea shrimp in mayo and ketchup, highland chicken in a cream sauce).

 And here's a relief: first of all, the Internet throughout this entire UK trip has performed superbly for me and second of all -- so far, none of the whisky bottles exploded in my wee suitcase.