Saturday, June 27, 2015

last Islay day

At breakfast (for a change, I revert back to my home favorites: porridge and fruit)...


... I ask Andrew -- so, what's the weather like here in the summer? It's drizzly and misty now and though the maps promise a dryer afternoon, I'm skeptical.
Andrew turns to one of the guests -- you're a Scotsman, you tell me -- what's a good weather month here?
The man laughs. You know they say in Scotland you can have four season in just one day.


Oddly, I haven't minded the weather at all. Sure, I cut back on hiking when it rains, but I've never felt cold. It could be the warmth of the Bowmore Guest House (in all ways). Or the whisky.

The Scotsman continues -- you show me a place that has guaranteed sunshine all seven days of the week and that's the place I don't want to be!
I think about that. In March, I'm drawn to sunshine. Now -- I'm less certain.

Still, it's not hiking weather and so I pick up an umbrella from the hallway and set out for a walk around Bowmore and because the drizzle is coming at me from all sides, I open the blue door of the Celtic gift shop/bookstore/cafe and go inside to browse. Books first. For a young one.


I read a bunch of them on the spot. Lucy and Tom, Katie Morag -- I'm surprised to see these titles. They're British books I had read to my girls when they were just about to go to school. Snowdrop is too young for them for now, but Slinki Malinki looks good for maybe winter reading!

I spend a while in the store. It's rather big -- on two floors and though I'm not in the buying mode, I think about how so many items here evoke the island - from whisky soaps to woolen scarves (and woolen everything else) and thistled mugs and sheep on plates. It's pleasurable just to look and to think yet again what it means to be from Scotland and especially from the Hebrides. Islay has a total population of 3200. That sounds small to me, but in fact, only the Isle of Skye (at 10,000) is more crowded and Skye is very easy island to get to: it's linked to the mainland by a bridge.

Islay is one of the islands where a good number still speak Scottish Gaelic fluently (about 25%). When they speak English, it can be so heavily accented that I feel like the foreigner who can't quite grasp what is being said. I've asked more than once -- could you repeat that please?

Because it never really gets very warm here, you tend to think of the island as having a tough and cold winter, but that really isn't so. The summer high is about 60F. The winter high is about 45F. There is no hard frost here. And so I look at the very warm sweaters in the store and I wonder if people feel colder than we do in Wisconsin because they never quite warm up in the summer time. For being so far north, it is a very mild climate (blame it on the Gulf Stream: central Scotland is considerably worse off).


As I leave the little shop, I make the decision to drive to Portnahaven. It's really just a small little hamlet, but it's exceptionally pretty, I think. It's located at the western most tip of the snaky N road of Islay and though it's only about 18 miles from Bowmore, the last handful are along a single track road, so the going can be slow. And even on the wider stretch of the road, you do have to share the road with these guys.

(on the way there)

(on the way back)

I take a few lazy person's photos: through the windshield, between the swipe of the wipers as they brush away the raindrops.


I'm wondering if Prince Charles managed to land his plane without issue.

But by the time I leave my car in Portnahaven, the rain has stopped. Well that's a nice surprise! I can take a walk along the shore a bit. I've done it before, but it bears repeating.



I head up a little path that Alison had once described to me. Oftentimes you can hear the groans of seals on the rocks jutting out at sea, but today I see only a handful of the seals and they're quiet.

What I do find and in great quantities is the typically elusive wild orchid.


It's so small, so very delicate and yet so beautiful! Okay, one more Islay photo on a timed release. Right at the meadow's edge, before it drops down to the sea.



And then, as I turn back to retrace my steps, this wonderful thing happens -- in the words of my Islay pilot on the flight here - the skies have opened up!


I didn't bargain for a sunny day!


If there is one thing you can count on here it's that the weather will surprise you. Within that modest range, there is a lot of variation! (As many weather patterns as there are cow varieties out in the Islay fields.)


It's time to return to Bowmore. Pack my bags, make sure the details of travel are in order. Tomorrow I fly out early and pick up a train to Edinburgh, where I'll stay for three days, to come home to the farmette on Tuesday.

But the island doesn't let me hide inside the Guest House for long. I look outside. Still sunny.


Come out, come out! 
Well okay. One last walk, just behind the Bowmore Distillery and up that shore path.


The wind is brisk, the air has just a touch of the sea. The skies stay light and gently blue.


I turn back to town and stop at Taste -- not for dinner, but for an afternoon tea, with a scone and clotted cream.


Later, much later, I look outside at the skies again. Cloudy. Then not cloudy. Then mostly not cloudy. It is like a performance and you never know what the next act will be.


Andrew booked me a table at the Harbour Inn for dinner. This is Bowmore's special restaurant and I've never been here for an evening before. It's usually quite busy, but the Scottish ferries are on a 24 hour strike and many weekend visitors have cancelled their bookings at the various inns and restaurants around the island. So I decided to splurge on this, my last night here. (It's in the price range of a Glasgow restaurant, as opposed to an Islay pub.)

It goes without saying that I eat well. Very well. Islay scallos and crab, followed by sea bass with North Sea mussels.


Perhaps my most delightful moment comes toward the end. The older sisters (Mary of Yorkshire and Cathy of Wales) and their husbands come to dine here just as I'm finishing off. There is something about some people that just exudes warmth. (My hosts Andrew and Alison are the finest example of this.) It just is within the fabric of who they are. These sisters are that way and of course, we compared notes on our day.
You passed us in that snappy red car! -- one says laughingly.
No, I'm usually the one pulling to the side so that I am passed. I like to go at my own pace and take the occasional photo. Besides, I'm driving a gray car!

We talk in this way for a while, and then regret the fact that because of my early departure tomorrow, we will not run into each other again. Then one mentions -- almost by chance, in the least entrepreneurial fashion you could imagine - you know, both of us run b&b's.

Now, you have to know that I've talked about my trips to the UK and how I've not been to Wales and only know Yorkshire a little. They did not push their rooms then. But in the shyest of ways, they mention their own small businesses (both are on working farms) now. Cathy's is here and Mary's is here.

My thinking on this is this: anyone who loves a stay at the Bowmore Guest House is a friend of mine.


I would not be surprised if you would be reading a post from Wales or Yorkshire one day.

I blame Islay. It's a place of great magic.



  1. The pictures where the skies "opened up" are stunning. What a place of beauty.

  2. What a wonder filled last day. And new destinations to explore.


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