Tuesday, August 16, 2016

isle of islay, continued

In my room at the Bowmore House, I have two windows: one toward the town, the other onto the waters of Loch Indaal, which isn't a lake at all but a bay that spills out into the Northern Atlantic Ocean. Bowmore is as close to the coast of Northern Ireland as it is to Scotland and indeed, if you wanted to sail with a load of whisky to a major city, you're far better off going south to Londonderry (in Northern Ireland) than west to Glasgow.

The views offer that kind of idle speculation. And I am constantly looking out the windows, because at all times of the day, what I see is bewitching.

Here's the view toward town just before dawn, with all its shades of blue, pink, azure and gold.


A few hours later, the canvas is different and it is telling: it's going to be a fine day on the Isle of Islay!


Get going! Do not linger over breakfast! You hear? Do not linger!

(I linger...)


In the breakfast room, there is much discussion with Andrew, the innkeeper and Martin, a local who stopped by, on the topic of where I might find the purple hue of Scotland in August. I'm sure they're amused by this longing that I have, but then, if you live among heather, you're used to the August palate of pinks and purples. For me -- everything is new, because summer on Islay is not at all like late spring here.

I settle on going to Lily Loch. That is, after I find it. It's nowhere on the map! -- I complain to the men in the room. After losing my way a number of times on the trails, I have long ago purchased a very detailed map of Islay.
I suppose it's just a local term for it. It's because of the lilies there, though I guess they're past their bloom. Andrew points to where I should roam.

I drive toward Port Askaig, where the people who ferry over from Jura and then the mainland come in. The landscape here is lovely -- I remember it well from my hike toward the lighthouse last year.


I pull over just where Andrew indicated there's room for a car and find the trail he spoke of.

Yes! He's right! Heather.


There is, you know, more than one kind of heather. This...


Or this, and probably a dozen more varieties...


As I go off trail and stomp through the bogs, I'm grateful for my boots.

Selfie number one attempts to show of the wellies. As in the past, Alison (of the incredible pair of innkeepers -- Andrew and Alison) has lent me hers.


Where in purple hue, the Islay hills we view...




I come to a hill that looks over the straight that separates Islay from the next (even smaller and more desolate) island of Jura. The Islay hills spill into the water. A ship moves through the lightly choppy waters.


And the heather: it's all around me, isn't it?


I go down to the water's edge. (The Paps of Jura in the background!) It's breezy but warm. After the hike, I'm done with my fleece pullover.


I get too bold. I've got wellies! I can cross roaring brooks! (No I can't. Damn slippery stones! Just managed not to slide down into said roaring brook.)


So what, besides the heather, is blooming on Islay in August?

The rowan (which, frankly, reminds me of Poland) has its berries.


Fuchsia! (It tells you something about how mild winters here are. I think the temperature range on Islay is between 40 and 65F.)


The ever beautiful Scottish lily, which is not done with its bloom! Well, it's not really a lily -- I believe it's a "montbretia." Nonetheless, if you follow local custom, you'll say -- wow, that's one beautiful lily.


I've looped the hills and the straight. I've spooked at least a half dozen grouse. I've taken (too many) photos of purple hues. 

Time to get in the car and be really brave and follow the four mile single track road to the Bunnahabhain Distillery. Honestly, if I'd have to do this every day, I'd quit and find work elsewhere. (Though I suppose you get used to it.)

I slow down, open the window, take the photo to my right. There's nowhere to pull over, but no matter -- it's as beautiful as can be.


Andrew told me that Bunnahabhain did a special handfill (where they open the casks and fill just a small number of bottles, to be sold out of the ordinary sequence). They are selling the smaller bottles and you can choose between the peaty ones and the unpeated (meaning you'll get smoke in your mouth from one and more of a sweeter sherry flavor from another).

It's a smaller distillery and it's quite informal. Few people come here and so they are generous with their samples and completely disarming in their friendliness.



I make a few purchases and return to the car.  Time to brave my way on their little road.

Don't worry! -- the woman at the shop tells me. We're done sending out the trucks for the day!
Oh, it's not the truck drivers whom I mind. They know this bit of road inside out. It's the visitor who doesn't know to go slow around corners or who cannot drive backwards to find a passing spot at the side of the winding, hilly road.

Phew! Made it. I'm on the "main" road again, grateful for the space it offers. You do not appreciate two full lanes of road until you lose one.

This time, the feathery brushstrokes of the clouds are what cause me to pull over and take out the camera. The sheep are the side show.


I'm back in the village of Bowmore now. I realize I have yet to walk through it and check out what's what this year. I head for the one cafe/bookshop/souvenir place and it's a lovely one -- it's where I first discovered the Slinky Malinky cat books that Snowdrop loves so much.

A local lassie, at the book shelves. Note boots.


I meander with a smile, remembering past visits, thinking of the changes that have taken place here and in my life in the year I've been away.

I walk down to the pier. School starts here on Wednesday and not surprisingly on this brisk but sunny day, I see the local laddies and a lassie taking a swim in the Bowmore way: jumping straight into the water from the pier. It can't have been warm in the water!


Finally, I eat dinner at the Lochside Restaurant. Andrew said that this year they really upped their attention to the food. I agree. I have a wonderful fresh melon with fruits, followed by a superb pot of Islay mussels steamed in whiskyed cream.


I walk back to the Bowmore House -- it's bathed in a lovely tone in the evening light. Yes, that's my corner room on the top floor.


On past trips, the days were even longer: in mid June, sunset was at 10:15. Now it's at 9.

I'd forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful a sunset here can be. There's a solemnity to it: I think about important things as it goes down. Visually, it's beyond reproach.


So ends my first full day on Islay.

Before coming here, I wondered if my stay, at six days, was too long. I'd done many and perhaps most of the good walks. I've visited each of the big distilleries and some of the small ones. But I realize now that coming back again and again is like visiting your grandmother's home each summer. Nearly everything is familiar and known. You merely want to repeat your favorite days again and again, because they're gentle and beautiful and they offer a path to clearing your heart and soul for the year ahead.